Indonesia: Palm Oil Planters Bid to End Deforestation Moratorium

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 10 May 13;

Balikpapan. Palm oil planters have denounced a two-year forest-clearing moratorium that ends this month, saying it has throttled palm oil production and are urging the government against its extension.

Topan, a spokesman for the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers (Gapsi), said in Balikpapan that the freeze on permits to clear primary and peat forests had impacted the producers’ operations and resulted in Indonesia being overtaken by Malaysia as the world’s biggest producer of crude palm oil.

“We firmly reject any proposal to extend this moratorium because we stand to lose more than we gain from it,” he said.

The moratorium, which went into force in May 2011, was imposed as part of a deal with the Norwegian government in which the latter would provide $1 billion to Indonesia for programs to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD.

But Topan said Indonesia had nothing to show in this regard after two years, while the lost economic potential from restricting the expansion of oil palm plantations continued to mount.

“The moratorium ends this May, but already environmental groups such as Greenpeace are running an anti-palm oil campaign near Cikeas,” he said, referring to the area in Bogor where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono lives.

“They’ve put up banners saying that extending the moratorium will guarantee the future of the young generation.”

Topan said in response, Gapsi had made clear its objection to extending the moratorium, including a submission of its grievances to the House of Representatives. He added that the association was also considering possible legal steps if the moratorium was extended.

“Our hope is that there’s no extension and that the moratorium is allowed to end on May 20,” he said.

Mansuetus Darto, coordinator of the Palm Oil Farmers Union (SPKS), an association of smallholders, said separately that his organization was lobbying the government to extend the moratorium and also to expand its scope to include land that was disputed by both local communities and plantation companies.

“Over the past two years, permits for some 700,000 hectares of new oil palm plantations have been put on hold. So we support the moratorium and we urge the government to continue it and to broaden its reach that it may also cover lands with conflicting claims,” Mansuetus said.

He acknowledged that Indonesia’s total crude palm oil production had declined from 28 million metric tons a year to 26 million during the moratorium period, but said this should prompt growers to improve their efficiency and productivity.

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