Firms tell BRG to stay out of plantations
Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
Efforts to repair the environmental damage to peatland areas are under threat as the government's plan to restore over the next five years 2 million hectares of peatland damaged by forest fires is being challenged by the private sector that is in control of concession areas.
The newly established Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) said on Thursday it expected the private sector to restore the peatland that had been damaged in its areas.
'From the 600,000 hectares of peatland [targeted to be restored this year], I targeted half of it to be carried out by companies with their own money in their concessions,' BRG head Nazir Foead said at his office in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
He argued that the private sector, i.e. concession holders, was responsible for making sure that concessions were free from fires.
'It's not that the government is begging for companies [to help us], but what we're talking about is the notion that concessions and companies are fully responsible for protecting their areas,' said Nazir.
Speaking about the other half of the targeted areas, the agency chief said the restoration projects would be carried out by the government. It will cover protected forest areas, conservation zones and peatland areas that are managed by small farmers.
'For the other half, we will do the restoration work by using the state budget, funding from donors and financial aid from companies,' Nazir said. 'But if companies wanted to provide financial aid, I will ask them whether they have restored peatland in their concessions first. If not, then don't help us. Work on [restoring] your concessions first.'
In pursuit of the restoration target, the agency had met and discussed with the related private sector, including the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) and members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP), a partnership of palm oil companies, regarding the matter.
'We've agreed that peatland that is still in good condition must be protected. But in terms of peatland that have been cultivated, we still have to discuss that,' Nazir said. 'But in general, all [companies that I've talked to] said that they were ready to support this restoration agenda.'
Gapki chairman Joko Supriyono, however, asked the government to focus on restoring peatland still owned by the government, such as peatland in conservation areas, instead of pursuing the private sector's commitment.
'The areas that need to be restored are those in protected areas. So if peatland is in a protected area, but damaged, that should be the priority [of the government]. If peatland has been converted to plantation, don't meddle with it,' he told The Jakarta Post.
Joko said that if a concession had been granted by the government to the private sector, then the concession should be cultivated.
'If the peatland is in a concession, why restore it? It's for cultivation anyway. Restoration is not our concern,' he said.
Joko added that the government had no right to force companies to restore damaged peatland in their concessions.
'If peatland is in a concession, then it must have been taken care of by the company. So [the full authority over] the peatland should be given to the company because it is the one that has the resources [to manage and cultivate it],' he said.
The IPOP, which is an agreement among leading palm oil producers Asian Agri, Astra Agro Lestari, Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, Musim Mas, Wilmar and Musim Mas, as part of their commitment to sustainability practices, said members of the partnership would support the BRG in its work.
'We will support the BRG to the extent of our capabilities,' IPOP executive director Nurdiana Darus told the Post.
However, IPOP members have not decided on what kind of support that they could give, according to Nurdiana.
'We want to work with the BRG to find solutions that are most fitting for businesses, as well as people surrounding the businesses. So we can't say yet what we want to do. We are still waiting for another dialogue with Pak Nazir,' Nurdiana said.
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