Environmentalists welcome Sinar Mas rainforest pledge

The Jakarta Globe: February 16, 2011

Environmentalists and the government have welcomed a pledge by Indonesia's largest palm oil producer to follow new standards to protect carbon-rich forests and peat land.

"This could be good news for the forests, endangered species like the orangutan and for the Indonesian economy," said Bustar Maitar, chief forest campaigner for Greenpeace in Indonesia.

"On paper, the new commitments from Golden Agri-Resources are a major step towards ending their involvement in deforestation," he said.

"And if they do make these changes, large areas of forests will be saved. But now they've actually got to implement these plans, and we're watching closely to make sure this happens."

On 9 February, Golden Agri-Resources, a unit of the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas and the world's second-largest palm oil producer, announced that it was working with the government and The Forest Trust (TFT), a Geneva-based global NGO, to develop sustainable palm oil plantations.

With annual revenues of US$2.3 billion, Golden Agri-Resources is the largest palm oil producer in Indonesia, the world's leading palm oil-producing country.

Under the agreement with TFT, the company said a new conservation policy had been established to focus on avoiding developing plantations on high carbon stock forests, high conservation value forest areas and peat land.

"Palm oil is a strategic commodity for Indonesia and we are committed to play a leading role in finding solutions to ensure sustainable long-term growth of the industry and the Indonesian economy as well as improving the lives of communities," Golden Agri chairman Franky Widjaja said in a statement.

Under a $1 billion agreement with Norway, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged a two-year moratorium on all new forest and peat land concessions from January 2011 as part of efforts to avert a climate change crisis.

Maitar of Greenpeace said Golden Agri's plan would boost the government's pledge.

"Now the Indonesian government must support this initiative by stopping any more licences being granted for forest and peat land clearance, and by reviewing activities in areas where licences have already been handed out," he said.

Deputy Trade Ministry Mahendra Siregar said Golden Agri's initiative "is an example of efforts to find real solutions" for sustainable development in Indonesia.

In a November report, Greenpeace said government documents revealed plans for expansion in the pulp, palm, agriculture, bio-fuel and coal sectors that could bring an additional 63 million hectares of land into use by 2030.

The documents showed that areas earmarked for the expansion include 40 percent of Indonesia's forest area, some 37 million hectares, according to Greenpeace.