JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia must do more to save pristine rainforests in Papua from destruction, particularly with plans to open up huge tracts of land to develop palm oil plantations, environmentalists said on Wednesday.
The rapidly expanding palm oil industry in Southeast Asia has come under attack by green groups for destroying rainforests and wildlife, as well the emission of greenhouse gases.
“Although the deforestation rate in Papua is still low, the threat is very high, for instance, with palm oil plantation expansion,” Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace said.
He was speaking by telephone from aboard a ship the group is using to tour Indonesia’s easternmost province to raise awareness on forests and climate change.
Indonesia’s administration in Papua has said it is opening up to 15 million acres (6 million hectares) of land for palm oil, despite earlier pledges to save Indonesia’s last forest frontier by tapping carbon trading projects.
Alex Hesegem, Papua’s deputy governor, said at least 93,000 hectares of land had been opened for palm oil plantations, but that was being done following environmental principles and government regulations.
“Some regencies have signed a contract with the government and private companies for this palm oil plantation and some more will sign a contract in the near future,” Hesegem told Reuters.
Activists said they suspected some companies aimed to use the licenses for logging.
“In my estimation, the maximum they can open is 200-300 thousand hectares because the contour of the area is mountainous,” said Jefri Saragih of Sawit Watch, a pressure group that monitors the impact of palm oil on forests.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report that Indonesia was suffering the fastest forest loss in the world at almost 1.9 million hectares per year.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, produced 17.18 million tons of crude palm oil in 2007, and production is expected to rise to 18.6 million tons this year.
Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu and John Pakage, editing by Ed Davies and Jerry Norton
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