The Jakarta Post
We were dumbfounded to learn of two completely opposing policy measures the government plans to launch in the forestry sector.
On the one hand, the government is considering extending the two-year moratorium on forest clearing, which will end later next month. The moratorium was issued in May, 2011 after Indonesia and Norway signed a US$1 billion deal to help Indonesia reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.
But alas, the forestry ministry also is mulling over a plan to reopen log exports, which have been banned for more than 12 years, arguing that log prices have fallen sharply to as low as US$30 per cubic meter, compared to $80 in other ASEAN countries, due to the weak domestic demand.
The ministry further claims that the low prices have discouraged the development of industrial forests. Hence the export market should be reopened to boost the demand, and consequently increase prices.
We see this argument as illogical and even pathetic because industrial forests or timber estates are supposedly developed to feed pulp and paper manufacturers, not to produce logs with a big diameter for the furniture industry.
That is why industrial forests only plant fast-growing species that can be harvested after three to four years to feed pulp mills.
The plan to reopen log exports also is completely contradictory to the government strategy to extract higher value from natural resources. Last year the government enforced the rule that prohibits the export of unprocessed minerals (outside oil and gas) starting in 2014, thereby requiring mining firms to build smelters in the country. Even though the deadline for the smelter construction has been rescheduled, the policy aimed at increasing the value added in the mining sector has been maintained.
We therefore urge environmentalists and all civil society organizations to join hands in opposing this ridiculous, insensible plan because even while the log export ban is still effective, its enforcement has notoriously been weak, especially in the border areas between West Kalimantan and Serawak in Malaysia.
Reopening log exports would even encourage reckless logging, especially in Kalimantan.
We also urge all NGOs to be united in their campaign to ensure that the government does not succumb to the pressures from businesses not to extend the two-year moratorium on forest clearing, which is to end on May 20.
True, even if the moratorium is not extended, we still have many laws designed to protect the forests and the environment in general.
The problem is that the moratorium itself has never been fully enforced due to the many clearing permits issued before May 2011 and unclear mapping of protected forests. Hence, extending the moratorium could serve as another layer of defense for our forests.
The government should reject the demand from oil palm plantation companies to end the moratorium because many firms have yet to plant the areas already allotted to them for estate development.
Moreover, as Indonesia is already the world's largest palm oil producer with an annual output of more than 26 million tons and with more than 9 million hectare of estates, it is now high time to temporarily stop issuing new permits for new plantations and begin drawing a road map on the direction of the upstream and downstream of the palm oil-based industry for the next 15 to 20 years.
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