INTERVIEW-Top Indonesia official throws weight behind keeping forest clearing ban
* Kuntoro Mangkusubroto wants one or two year extension
* Prudent approach to $1 billion climate deal being taken
* Says palm firms can improve productivity without expansion
By Michael Taylor
JAKARTA, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest expanse of tropical forests, should resist pressure from the powerful palm oil industry and extend a ban on forest clearing by one or two years, an influential government official said.
Southeast Asia's largest economy is under international pressure to curb deforestation and destruction of its carbon-rich peatlands, which the palm oil and mining sectors say is hindering economic growth.
Indonesia imposed a two-year moratorium on clearing forest in May 2011 under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, and the government has yet to announce what it plans to do about the ban.
"From my perspective, I've proposed to the president to extend," said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a technocrat who oversees forestry sector reform and heads a presidential delivery unit aimed at cutting through red tape. "It is good that we can extend for another year, maybe two."
"I'm happy with the results so far," he said in an interview. "It is still not perfect but at least we are close. We've achieved a lot, although I'm not totally satisfied."
The moratorium, which covers 65 million hectares or about a third of Indonesia, is part of a climate change deal signed with Norway in 2010, although officials said only $28-$29 million of the $30 million disbursed so far has been used.
"I'm a fairly conservative person when it comes to utilizing funds," he added. "I know the environment, the bureaucracy, the problem in the areas ... I have to be very prudent."
Kuntoro is known for being able to get policy implemented in a country where stifling bureaucracy and corruption often blunt efforts to reform.
The former Indonesian energy and mines minister was credited with being the architect of the rebuilding of Aceh after the province was devastated by a tsunami in 2004.
No decision on whether to change, extend or scrap the forest moratorium had been made, and Kuntoro said the president was unlikely to make a final decision before May.
INCREASE PALM YIELDS, NOT ACREAGE
Indonesia in the world's biggest producer of palm oil, with estates sprawling across around 8.5 million hectares and expected to rise by about 200,000 hectares a year for the next decade.
The agriculture minister says the forest ban should be replaced with a stricter permit criteria for plantations, while palm firms want it scrapped because they say it casts Indonesia's management of plantations in a bad light.
"If the objective is to increase the production of palm oil, you can easily reach that without extension of the acreage," Kuntoro, who also heads a taskforce on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) said. "You can improve productivity."
Earlier this week, the Indonesian forestry ministry said the moratorium should be extended, and urged palm firms to instead expand on the almost 24 million hectares of degraded forest land.
Green groups see the moratorium as a positive step, but some activists are critical of the concessions to the palm industry.
Norway has said Indonesia's progress in reforming its forestry sector will not be sufficient to meet its pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020.
"(Norway) are very enthusiastic -- they understand the complexity of having this programme in Indonesia," Kuntoro said, ruling out any chance of the deal Norway falling through. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Thatcher and Rieka Rahadiana; Editing by Ed Davies)
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