Indonesia: Oil palm trees cleared from protected forest

Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post 16 Dec 15;

The Aceh Tamiang regional administration on Tuesday began cutting down thousands of oil palm trees illegally planted in the Leuser Ecosystem Area in order to protect the conservation forest from the unlawful expansion of oil palm plantations by both individuals and major companies.

Aceh Tamiang Regent Hamdan Sati said his administration had found that 1,070 hectares within the forest had been used to illegally grow oil palm trees in recent years.

The illegal oil palm plantations, located within the jurisdiction of Tenggulun district, according to Hamdan, are owned by residents and private companies who have been destroying the forest for a long time. The law breaking parties have severely damaged the natural environment and caused recurrent floods in the regency.

“We are against activities that damage our water sources. We must reforest the damaged areas [within the protected forest],” Hamdan said.

Aceh Tamiang, some 400 kilometers southeast of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, is located on the border of Aceh and North Sumatra. According to Hamdani, oil palm is a prime commodity in the regency. However, the profits from oil palm production have not contributed significantly to the regency’s locally generated recurring revenue (PAD).

“We also don’t want the illegal oil palm plantations be maintained for the sake of our PAD. The quicker we restore the forest, the quicker we can benefit from a stable water source and non-timber products produced in the forest,” Hamdan said.

Aceh Tamiang Forestry and Plantation Agency head Alfuadi admitted that the regency had to deal with extended damage in the forest due to illegal plantations. Alfuadi said his agency was currently teaming up with various stakeholders to protect the remaining forests.

“Only through teamwork with other stakeholders can we save the forest and today we have proven that we can replace the illegal oil palm plantations with forest,” said Alfuadi.

The agency, he said, had also worked with Leuser Conservation Forum since the end of last year to clear the forest of illegal oil palm trees.

“We will try to clean all the oil palm trees growing in the protected forest, especially in the Lauser Ecosystem Area,” said Alfuadi.

As of earlier this month, around 100 hectares of illegal oil palm plantation had been cut and reforested by the Krueng Aceh River Basin Area Management Center (BPDAS) and 80 hectares by the Aceh Tamiang Forestry and Plantation Agency.

“Another 250 hectares are currently being reforested by three community groups in Tenggulun district and the rest by the Lauser Conservation Forum through natural regeneration,” said forum coordinator Tezar Pahlevi.

According to Tezar, the local community will manage a 250-hectare forested area based on a joint management system with the Aceh Forestry Agency. They will grow plants with beneficial yields, such as aren palm, durian, gelugur, jengkol and petai. Members of the community are required to take care of the trees and benefit from the fruits.

“We want to prove that forest plants are actually more profitable for common people than oil palm. We need vast areas to grow oil palm, but a small area to grow the forest plants,” he said.

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