* Government decision on forest moratorium expected in May
* Agriculture and Forestry ministries have conflicting views
* Palm industry urged to use degraded forest land
By Michael Taylor
JAKARTA, Jan 14 Indonesia should embrace its key
role in climate change and extend a ban on the destruction of
forests and peatlands despite opposition from the agriculture
minister and the influential palm oil industry, a senior
forestry ministry official said.
Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest expanse of
tropical forests, is under intense international pressure to
limit deforestation and destruction of its carbon-rich
peatlands, at risk from urbanisation and the rapidly expanding
palm oil and mining sectors.
Southeast Asia's largest economy 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.
Hadi Daryanto, secretary general at Indonesia's forestry
ministry, told Reuters he hoped it would be extended.
"The ministry of forestry would like to continue the
moratorium and provide degraded land for business," said
Daryanto, whose ministry is legally responsible for the economic
and ecological management of Indonesia's forests.
"We have had success with the moratorium," he added, citing
a decline of the deforestation rate since 2011.
Illegal deforestation is common in Indonesia, and especially
in Central Kalimantan, where scores of palm oil and mining
concessions overlap with protected forests.
The forestry ministry makes millions of dollars from selling
permits to use forests each year, and a recent survey by the
government's anti-graft agency showed it was perceived as one of
the most corrupt institutions in the country.
Daryanto said a more transparent tender procedure should put
an end to allegations of graft, adding: "The corruption is in
Indonesia in the world's biggest producer of palm oil and
its pledge to protect its forests is being tested by soaring
demand for the edible oil. Palm oil companies such as Sime Darby
, Wilmar International, Sinar Mas
and Astra Agro Lestari, are some of the biggest in the
country, and edible oil exports totalled $21.6 billion in 2011.
Environmental groups see the moratorium as a step in the
right direction, but activists lament the various loopholes in
the ban that they say are concessions to the palm oil industry.
Palm oil companies want the moratorium scrapped, saying it
casts Indonesia's management of plantations in a bad light.
The agriculture minister also says the ban is unnecessary
and should be replaced by a stricter permit criteria for palm
Palm estates sprawl across around 8.5 million hectares in
Indonesia, and that number is expected to rise by about 200,000
hectares a year for the next decade.
Daryanto said palm oil plantations should expand on the
almost 24 million hectares of degraded forest land currently
available, even if the area is inhabited.
"It is better to use degraded land for investment for palm
oil," he said. "The companies don't want degraded land because
normally people are already there, and to remove them is very
Last month, Indonesia approved a rainforest conservation
project that sets aside an area roughly the size of Singapore
and rewards investors with tradeable carbon credits in the first
of its kind to win formal backing in the country.
The project, Rimbay Raya Biodiversity Reserver, is part of a
U.N.-led scheme called reducing emissions from deforestation and
degradation (REDD) and is aimed at showing forests can pay for
themselves and compete with powerful palm oil, mining and timber
Norway, however, 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.
($1 = 9635.0000 Indonesian rupiah)
(Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna and Rieka Rahadiana;
Editing by Miral Fahmy)