Palm oil, paper drive large-scale destruction of Indonesia's forests, but account for diminishing role in economy, says report

July 27, 2011

Forest destruction in Indonesia
Forest destruction in Indonesian Borneo.

Indonesia's forests were cleared at a rate of 1.5 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2009, reports a new satellite-based assessment by Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), an NGO. Expansion of oil palm and wood-pulp plantations were the biggest drivers of deforestation, yet account for a declining share of the national economy.

The study, which compared year 2000 data with 2009 Landsat images from NASA, found that Indonesia's forest cover declined from 103.32 million hectares to 88.17 million hectares in ten years. Since 1950 Indonesia lost more than 46 percent of its forests.

Indonesia's annual deforestation rate of 1.5 million ha puts it second only to Brazil in terms of annual forest loss over the period. But Indonesia's deforestation rate as a percentage of total forest was more than three times higher than Brazil.

Deforestation concentrated in Borneo, Sumatra

All figures in hectares
More than one-third of Indonesia's forest loss occurred in Kalimantan — the Indonesian part of Borneo — where the palm oil industry is expanding rapidly. Overall 5.5 million hectares of forest was cleared across the four provinces in Kalimantan. Sumatra lost 3.7 million hectares, Sulawesi 1.7 million, Java 1.4 million, Maluku 1.3 million, Bali-Nusa Tenggara 1 million, and Papua 630,000 ha during the period.

The study found evidence that Indonesian government is failing to meet its commitments to protect forests, showing that protected forests declined by 2 million hectares while forests designated for conservation declined 1.27 million hectares.

The study also looked at loss of peatlands, swampy ecosystems that store large amounts of carbon in their soil. It found that 2 million hectares of peatlands were destroyed between 2000 and 2009, nearly half of which occurred in Sumatra, where both the pulp and paper industry and the palm oil industry are expanding operations. Forests cover roughly half or 10.77 million hectares of Indonesia's remaining peatland area.

FWI executive director Wirendro Sumargo told the Jakarta Post that while the report shows industrial plantations are the biggest cause of deforestation in Indonesia, the underlying driver is corruption.

"The root was our corrupt political and economic system. Government policy is often inconsistent and less strict, and it is therefore very easy for many parties (palm oil and pulp companies) to cause deforestation," he was quoted as saying.

The report says that while deforestation rates remain high, forestry accounts for a declining share of the national economy. In 2008 forestry amounted to 0.79 percent of GDP, a figure that has since dropped 5 percent, according to the latest government data, which show that plantations (2.1 percent), pulp and paper (1 percent), and wood-based products and other forest products (1 percent) contribute only 4 percent to Indonesia's GDP.

Deforestation by island and island group in Indonesia
(from Forest Watch Indonesia)
Forest 2000 Forest 2009 Forest Loss
Sumatra 15,516,959 11,805,161 3,711,797
Java 2,281,184 897,979 1,383,205
Bali-Nusa Tenggara 2,184,833 1,181,604 1,003,229
Kalimantan 32,856,107 27,350,243 5,505,864
Sulawesi 10,707,186 9,039,345 1,667,841
Maluku 5,015,207 3,757,115 1,258,092
Papua 34,767,891 34,138,993 628,898

All figures in hectares

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mongabay.com (July 27, 2011).

Palm oil, paper drive large-scale destruction of Indonesia's forests, but account for diminishing role in economy, says report.