The Forestry Ministry is drafting a decree to include oil palm plantations in the forest sector to comply with international standards in mitigating climate change.
The ministry said it believed the policy would not lead to massive forest conversion into palm oil plantations as many critics feared.
“By definition, oil palm plantations will be defined as forest, but its management will be under the Agriculture Ministry,” head of research and development at the ministry, Tachrir Fathoni told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
He argued that many countries such as Malaysia, the world’s second biggest palm oil producer after Indonesia, had included oil palm plantations in its forest sector.
“By doing so, Malaysia can reap financial incentives from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of carbon trade,” he said.
He said that the UN only categorized trees with a certain height as forest trees, without identifying their species.
“It is to anticipate the implementation of the REDD scheme,” he said.
Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) allows forestry countries to receive financial benefits by stopping tree lopping.
Indonesia is home to the world’s third largest forest nation after Brazil and the Republic of Congo.
But the deforestation rate in Indonesia is the highest on the planet with more than 1 million hectares cleared per year due to illegal logging and massive forest conversion, including creating oil palm plantations.
Activists have said poor environmental management of oil palm plantations in Indonesia has led to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
But the Agriculture Ministry, managing the sector, insisted that the oil palm industry did not relate to deforestation.
It said that palm oil trees covered only 7 million hectares or 6 percent of the country’s total forest area.
Agriculture Minister Suswono earlier claimed that oil palm plantations utilized critical or marginal land into productive land.
The Agriculture Ministry issued a 2009 decree to allow oil palm plantations to be developed in Indonesia’s peat land.
The Greenomics Indonesia urged the Forestry Ministry to focus on its core business including managing industrial forest concessions (HTI) and forest concession holders.
“The ministry’s much-promoted sustainable forest management also remains in question. The Forestry Ministry should focus on its main core business,” Greenomics executive director Elfian Effendi told the Post.
He said that the Forestry Ministry should also resolve its different opinion of plantations to the Environment Ministry.
Greenpeace Indonesia media campaigner Hikmat Soeriatanuwijaya warned that the policy involving converting palm oil plantations into forest could lead to massive forest conversion.