Palm oil firms reject forest moratorium


27 August, 2008 - Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Palm oil companies operating in Indonesia have opposed any moratorium on forest and peat land conversions, saying it will play havoc with the industry and the national economy.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (GAPKI) said halting forest conversion would only slow the country's economy, causing more job losses and further poverty, beleaguering the country.

"Indonesia does not need to apply a moratorium on its forest. GAPKI strongly rejects the forest conversion moratorium idea," GAPKI executive Derom Bangun said on the sidelines of a Greenpeace-organized dialogue on palm oil companies in Indonesia on Tuesday.

Some 250 palm oil producers are GAPKI members.

"If we stop expanding our business, many rich nations will be happy because then they don't need to take action to tackle global warming. We don't want to be the good boy."

International environmental group Greenpeace had asked palm oil industry players to temporarily stop converting forest into plantation as part of their large-scale expansion program. Greenpeace's request accords with that of developed nations which have cautioned the change in forest use will aggravate global warming.

Derom said the producers' association had asked richer nations to prove their concern about climate change by shifting their farmland to forest to help cap carbon emissions.

Derom said palm oil companies in Indonesia had embraced greener ways set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to protect the environment.

The RSPO, supported by World Wildlife Fund, was established to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through cooperation within the supply chain and open dialogue among stakeholders.

The RSPO has called for improving the land use planning process for the development of new oil palm plantations.

Derom claimed GAPKI members had stopped tilling virgin forest or forest with high conservation value since 2005.

Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, harvesting 17.2 million tons in 2007. The industry occupies about 6.7 million hectares of land across the country.

Political observer Arief Wijaksono said poor governance of palm oil companies had caused deforestation and worsening greenhouse gas emissions.

"The palm oil industries should not take advantage of the poor governance of our forests," he said.

Greenpeace has long campaigned for a forest conversion moratorium to meet zero emissions in an effort to tackle global warming.

The group estimated about 1.8 billion tons of carbon has been released into the atmosphere from forest degradation and the burning of peatland in Indonesia, or about 4 percent of global emissions.

It stated Indonesia held the global record for carbon emissions due to deforestation, putting it third behind the United States and China in terms of total man-made emissions.

Greenpeace said, during the last 50 years, more than 74 million hectares of Indonesia's forest has been destroyed -- logged, burned, degraded, pulped -- and its products shipped around the planet.

The director general for plantation at the Agriculture Ministry, Mangga Barani, said the government was currently studying whether to use the country's huge peatland for palm oil expansion.