Asia Pacific

Environmentalists urge extension of Indonesia palm permit moratorium

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JAKARTA, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Green groups on Thursday urged Indonesia to extend a moratorium on new palm oil permits and improve its implementation, warning of a risk of losing millions of acres of forest to plantation expansion.

Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer, launched the moratorium in September 2018 to try to stop deforestation caused by palm oil, while seeking to boost output from existing cultivated areas. The moratorium ends on Sept. 19.

Three years is not enough to solve palm issues related to deforestation, Inda Fatinaware, executive director at non-governmental group Sawit Watch, said in a virtual seminar.

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"Not only the moratorium needs to be extended, but it also needs concrete governance improvement," she added.

In its implementation, Inda said, the government has not been transparent and issues beyond permits were barely addressed.

Aside from suspending new permits, the government is required to review areas given to companies for palm cultivation that have not yet been utilised, or are suspected of being used for other purposes.

As of July 2019, the government had found 1.49 million hectare of unused concession area and over 1.5 million hectares used not in accordance with their permits, government data showed.

Some land will be re-designated as forest area.

Officials at the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs, which oversees the moratorium, did not immediately respond to Reuters messages seeking comment.

Separately, Forest Watch Indonesia found deforestation linked to palm oil was continuing, despite the ban.

It estimated more than 21 million hectares (51.89 million acres) of forest could potentially be destroyed for cultivation of the vegetable oil if the moratorium ends, executive director Mufti Fathul Barri said on Wednesday.

Indonesia has over 16 million hectare of plantation area for the vegetable oil, mostly on Borneo and Sumatra islands, but expansion of cultivation has started to shift eastwards, to areas such as the Papua region.

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Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe, additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Martin Petty

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