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Palm oil producers in Indonesia reject moratorium on forest destruction

Palm oil producers in Indonesia reject moratorium on forest destruction

Palm oil producers in Indonesia reject moratorium on forest destruction
August 28, 2008

Palm oil companies operating in Indonesia have rejected a proposed moratorium on clearing forests and peatlands for oil palm plantations, reports the Jakarta Post.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (GAPKI) — a group with 250 palm oil producers — said that a ban on converting natural ecosystem for oil palm estates would hurt the economy, increasing unemployment and poverty.

“Indonesia does not need to apply a moratorium on its forest. GAPKI strongly rejects the forest conversion moratorium idea,” GAPKI executive Derom Bangun was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post at a Greenpeace-organized conference on palm oil in Semarang, Indonesia.

Derom’s comments come three months after Didiek Hadjar Goenadi, executive director of GAPKI, said that palm oil companies would only develop “idle land” — including former forest concession areas, some of which include rainforests and peatlands. At the time Didiek estimated that Indonesia has some seven million hectares of idle land suitable for oil palm or rubber plantations.

Speaking at the Greenpeace meeting Tuesday, Derom also said that efforts to fight climate change by conserving forests are a way to let developed nations off the hook for their emissions.

Oil palm plantation and forest in Malaysian Borneo.

Oil palm plantations and heavily logged forest near Lahad Datu, Malaysia. Photos by Rhett A. Butler

“If we stop expanding our business, many rich nations will be happy because then they don’t need to take action to tackle global warming. We don’t want to be the good boy.”

Instead, Derom said that palm oil producers are working voluntarily to reduce their impact when establishing new plantations by following guidelines set forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The initiative, founded in 2003 by the palm oil industry and environmental groups as a way to “green” operations and reward members for compliance, was recently eviscerated by a Greenpeace report which uncovered evidence of “cheating” by members, including sub-contacting to unscrupulous operators. Since the report, RSPO has promised stricter rules.

In recent months palm oil has seen rising consumer backlash in the United States and Western Europe as a result of campaigns by environmental groups who say oil palm expansion in Indonesia — especially on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), and New Guinea (Papua) — is fueling deforestation and threatening endangered species like the orangutan. Earlier this month, the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network started tagging palm oil-containing goods in grocery stores with stickers warning the product “May contain rainforest destruction”.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer, producing 17.2 million tons from 6.7 million hectares of plantations in 2007, but recent research indicates that its expansion has indeed come partly at the expense of natural forests. A study published in the journal Conservation Letters showed that more than half of oil palm expansion in Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 occurred on forest land.

Overall, Indonesia lost more than 1.8 million hectares (4.7 m acres) of forest annually between 2000 and 2005, giving it the second highest rate of forest loss after Brazil. Scientists say the clearing of forest and peatlands is also releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By some estimates, Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, largely due to land degradation.

Indonesia’s deforestation — and the fires associated with land-clearing — has sparked regional controversy in recent years. Tired of the choking haze that emerges from forest fires each dry season and causes wide-ranging health and economic impacts, Malaysia and Singapore have asked Indonesia to crack down on burning. While Indonesia is now collaborating on fire prevention and control strategies with its neighbors, the country notes that fires are often set by Singaporean and Malaysian oil palm firms operating on Indonesian soil.

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