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Indonesia seeks to increase deforestation rate, already world’s highest

Indonesia seeks to increase logging of virgin forests

Indonesia seeks to increase logging of virgin forests
Deforestation rate, already world’s highest, may accelerate
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
April 9, 2007

Already having the highest deforestation rate in the world, Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry announced the country would increase its harvest quota for natural timber for 2007 by 12 percent to 9.1 million cubic meters according to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). ITTO said the target quota may actually be 12.4 million cubic meters (53 percent higher than 2006) for the year.

In recent years Indonesia’s timber industry has shrunken dramatically due to declining forest cover. As a result, the wood processing industry has been plagued with over-capacity. The shortfall in legal wood supplies for processors in both Indonesia and Malaysia has driven widespread illegal logging in the country–more than 70 percent of logging in Indonesia is said to be illicit. Much of this harvesting has taken place in Borneo, Sumatra, and the Papua province of New Guinea where the bulk of Indonesia’s forest cover remains.


Slash-and-burn agriculture in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Logging roads can open remote rainforest areas to colonists and developers who clear rainforest for subsistence agriculture and oil palm plantations. Photo by R. Butler.

Logging, combined with large-scale clearing for oil palm plantations and other forms of agriculture, caused the loss of around 3 million hectares (30,000 square kilometers) of forest in Indonesia for 2006, giving the country the world’s highest deforestation rate, well ahead of Brazil. Between 1990 and 2005 Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 million hectares of virgin forest according to U.N. figures.

The ITTO said that the proposed logging quota for 2007 is ambitious, noting that the 2006 logging quota of 8.13 million cubic meters “was not fully used by local mills due to the reduced production capacity and financial difficulties.”



Illegal logging in Indonesia is starting to cause ripples in the international marketplace. Last month, in a rare alliance between the American logging industry and environmental groups, U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation that would ban the import, export, possession, purchase or sale of illicitly harvested timber. The law was largely aimed at cheap wood imports originating in southeast Asia. Also last month, the Dutch Housing and Construction Association said it will only purchase Indonesian timber products certified to be legally harvested from sustainably managed forests.



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Eco-friendly palm oil could help alleviate poverty in Indonesia. Palm oil is quite obviously not a failure as a biofuel—it is derived from perhaps the most productive energy crop on the planet. A single hectare of oil palm may yield nearly 6,000 liters of crude biodiesel. In comparison, soybeans and corn generate only 446 and 172 liters per hectare, respectively. The problem with palm oil is not its yield, but how it is produced. Presently much of the world’s palm oil is coming out of the forests of Southeast Asia—increasingly in the biodiverse rainforests of Indonesia.



Borneo. Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago. In the 1980s and 1990s Borneo underwent a remarkable transition. Its forests were leveled at a rate unparallel in human history. Borneo’s rainforests went to industrialized countries like Japan and the United States in the form of garden furniture, paper pulp and chopsticks. Initially most of the timber was taken from the Malaysian part of the island in the northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. Later forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for tropical timber. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of those of legend and those that remain are highly threatened by the emerging biofuels market, specifically, oil palm.



Indonesia wants to be paid for slowing deforestation. Indonesia voiced support for a proposal by a coalition of developing countries seeking compensation for forest conservation, according to a report from Reuters. Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s minister of the environment, told Reuters that poor countries should be paid for conserving forests and the services they provide the world.