June 12, 2019 / 10:37 AM / 15 days ago

Indonesia plans permanent moratorium on new forest clearance: minister

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s moratorium on new forest clearing for palm plantations or logging operations, which has been regularly extended since 2011, will become permanent, the environment minister said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows an excavator in a forest in Indonesia's Sumatra island October 16, 2010. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo/File Photo

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with more than 74 million hectares of rainforest - an area nearly twice the size of Japan - logged, burned or degraded in the last half century, according to Greenpeace.

The moratorium covering more than 60 million hectares (231,661 square miles) of primary forest and peatland was introduced in 2011 in an effort to reduce emissions from fires caused by deforestation. (reut.rs/2IbOXBf)

“I have decided to keep the moratorium instead of renewing it every two years,” Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told reporters.

Indonesia is prone to outbreaks of forest fires during dry seasons, often blamed on the draining of peatland forests and land clearance for agriculture.

The resulting choking smoke often blows across to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, slashing visibility and causing a health hazard.

President Joko Widodo last year also put in place a three-year moratorium on new permits for palm plantations, and said there will also be a review of unused long-standing plantation permits.

Planters, especially smallholders, are instead being pushed to optimize the yield from existing areas under cultivation instead of expanding such areas.

The World Bank has estimated that 2.6 million hectares of land in Indonesia was destroyed during 2015 forest and peat land fires, causing damage worth $16 billion.

Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two biggest palm oil producers, have faced pressure over the crop’s environmental toll after the European Commission said palm oil should not be considered a renewable transport fuel, albeit with some exemptions.

Reporting by Bernadette Christina; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and Darren Schuettler

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