Environmental activists have raised concern that businesses will focus on securing permits to convert secondary forests, because a recently imposed moratorium on forest conversion only covers primary forests.
Palm oil producers, who are a major force in the nation’s forestry sector, have said that the recently signed forest-clearing moratorium does not allow them to operate on degraded land located in areas designated as primary forest areas.
“It is almost impossible to expand business in those areas,” Association of Palm Oil Producers (Gapki) secretary-general Joko Supriyono told The Jakarta Post.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that palm oil producers would be allowed to operate in degraded forests.
The two-year-binding pact was signed last week. The moratorium was one of the stipulations of a letter of intent that the country signed with Norway last year, under which Norway pledged Indonesia US$1 billion.
The moratorium covers only primary forests and peatland, but not secondary forests.
The moratorium also protects degraded forest land within primary forest areas.
“With the moratorium, the real opportunity for palm oil plantations is secondary forests,” Presidential aid on climate change Agus Purnomo said.
The Forestry Ministry announced last year that Indonesia possessed a total forest area of 132 million hectares, comprising 48.6 million hectares of primary forests and 82.8 million of secondary forests.
Joko said it was not easy for businesses to operate on degraded areas in primary forests, as that would require an amendment of the national spatial planning law, which would have to be endorsed by the House of Representatives.
“I can assure you that no one from the plantation sector would dare convert [forest land] if the regulations are not changed. No one is interested in going to jail,” Joko said.
The world’s largest crude palm oil producer and exporter, Indonesia has 8 million hectares of oil palm plantations, 40 percent of which is managed by small growers, Gapki said.
Oil palm plantations have expanded by 300,000 to 400,000 hectares per year on average over the last few years. There are 849,498 hectares of oil palm plantations on peatland.
The director of the Oslo-based Rainforest Foundation Norway, Lars Løvold, said he was concerned about the lack of protection for secondary forests extended by the moratorium. He said secondary forests were rich in biodiversity and were crucial to local livelihoods.
“[The forests] can store huge amounts of carbon,” he said in a statement.
Without necessary political will from the government, Løvold said, there would be no credible protection of Indonesian rainforests.
“Until Indonesia is able to implement necessary measures to actually reduce deforestation, Norway has to cut its transfers to Indonesia significantly. If not, they will undermine the credibility of REDD Plus,” he said.
The foundation said it was also concerned because the moratorium decree did not stipulate punishments for violators.
Research by the Leiden-based Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI) showed that by the end of 2010 the Forestry Ministry had designated 78,110 hectares of land as community forests, 29,680 hectares of which had been contracted out to businesses through concession permits approved by local administrations.