The Jakarta Post
The forestry ministry dropped its controversial initiative to classify oil palm plantations as forests after strong protests from environmental activists on fears that it would speed up deforestation.
The statement was made by the ministry’s head of research and development Tachrir Fathoni on the sidelines of a seminar on Indonesian forestry following the Copenhagen climate talks.
“We have dropped it. No more talk about it,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
He said the ministry acknowledged that any changes on forest definitions should be made by amending the 1999 forest law.
The law defines forest as an integrated ecosystem in the form of land comprising biological resources, dominated by trees in natural forms and surrounding environment, and which cannot be separated from each other.
The same statement was also made by Nur Masripatin, the ministry’s director of the center for social economics and policy research.
“Indonesia will not include palm plantations as part of forest although some countries have done it,” she said on the sideline of seminar.
Malaysia, the second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia, uses the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) standard to identify forest — which is land with tree crown cover of more than 10 percent and an area of more than 0.5 hectares with trees reaching a minimum height of five meters.
The forestry ministry planned to draft a ministerial decree to include oil palm plantations as forest after the Copenhagen meeting.
But a group of activists from Greenpeace Indonesia and the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) criticized the government over its plans accusing the authorities of not being serious on promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenpeace Indonesia then put a giant banner at the ministry of forestry building reading “plantations are not forests”.
Greenpeace said inclusion of ‘plantations’ in the definition of forests, would lead to massive concealment of emissions from the destruction of peat land and forests.
On Tuesday, Walhi welcomed the decision from the government to drop the plan.
“The ministry’s decision to not include plantations in forest is correct, the most important thing
now is the ministry should exclude the industrial forest concessions (HTI) as part of the forest,” Walhi’s forest campaign director, Teguh Surya.
HTI usually carries monoculture plants like acacia for paper mills.
He said that the ministry should also audit the existing oil palm plantations which converted forest areas without permits.
“Forestry Minister [Zulkilfli Hasan] should gather the courage to withdraw the licenses of oil palm plantations operating in forest areas,” he said.
The Agriculture Ministry earlier said it planned to use 1.8 million hectares of land designated as industrial forests (HTI) for oil palm plantations.
Agriculture Minister Suswono said that of 9.7 million hectares of land available for oil palm plantation, some 7.9 million hectares was already developed, leaving 1.8 million hectares designated as HTI.