Govt Denies Report of Illegal Land Clearing for Palm Oil Use  

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Agriculture Minister Suswono denies accusations of illegal forest clearings for palm oil plantation use. Palm oil plantations, he said, make use of abandoned land to reduce global emissions. "Deforestation occurred in the past. Abandoned land is utilized for growing palm oil," Suswono told Tempo in Senayan yesterday.

    Suswono said the contribution of palm oil plantations in reducing the effects of global warming should be appreciated. Especially since many people are affected by non-government organizations' reports that smell of negative campaign against palm oil plantations.

    A study by Washington-based NGO Forest Trends said that some 80 percent of land clearing for palm oil plantation was done illegally. The study, titled 'Consumer Goods and Deforestation', says Indonesia and Brazil account for 75 percent of the total area illegally cleared over the period of 2000-2012.

    Forest Trends CEO Michael Jenkins said that 80 percent of forest destruction in Indonesia is attributable to illegal land clearing for palm oil plantation and logging purposes.

    "We've known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide," said Jenkins.

    "Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably."

    Hadi Daryanto, secretary general of the Ministry of Forestry, said Forest Trends' report should be double-checked. "That's just their indication. We need to see the details first," he told Tempo.

    Fadhil Hasan, executive director of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, said oil palm cultivation cannot be categorized as deforestation. This is set in the Forest Act. "[Forest Trends] definition of deforestation is based on the FAO's (Food and Agricultural Organization), while in Indonesia we follow the rules of the Ministry of Forestry," he said.

    Fadhil said palm oil planting actually reduces carbon emissions due to the vast use of peat land, which Indonesia has 14.9 million hectares of. This potential is what attracts investors to expand their plantation areas. Currently, about 1.5 million hectares of peat land are planted with palm oil. "By next year, the amount will double," Fadhil said. 

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