Fidelis E. Satriastanti & Arientha Primanita
The Forestry Ministry has so far this year issued permits to convert more than 300,000 hectares of forest into plantations, an official said on Tuesday.
Tri Joko Mulyono, the ministry’s director for forest area zoning, said permits were issued for 342,709 hectares so far this year, compared to a total of 4.9 million hectares in 2009, 8,613 hectares in 2010 and 366,259 hectares in 2011.
“The area of concessions granted decreased drastically in 2010, almost stopping due to the moratorium on the conversion of forest areas, but then it rose again the year after that,” he said.
Even under the moratorium, Tri said, there were exceptions to allow conversion of forested land for strategic purposes, including for developing geothermal energy, oil and gas exploration, electricity generation and cultivating rice and sugarcane. Conversion can also be approved for ecosystem restoration, he said.
“The forestry minister [Zulkifli Hasan] has already allocated 300,000 hectares for food areas and 300,000 hectares for sugarcane this year,” he said. “The minister has already issued a letter so regional heads can allocate this land for food crops and sugar cane, but many [companies] still prefer to use it for palm oil.”
Tri said that once the letter of release was issued by the minister, the land fell under the jurisdiction of the National Land Agency (BPN), and in the event of a dispute, the ministry would not be involved.
“Once the forest area is released, its management becomes the responsibility of the land institution,” he said, referring to the BPN.
He said only convertible production forests (HPK), which total 20 million hectares, could be converted into plantations, and companies were also required to get another permit from the ministry to use it.
“Forest areas also can’t be released unless they’re swapped with other forest areas. They should have a replacement,” Tri said, without elaborating on the replacement forests.
The increase in the amount of forest land converted for plantations comes as the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pushes for greater efforts to attain food self-sufficiency.
“Indonesia should become increasingly self-sufficient in food,” the president said at a meeting with Agriculture Ministry officials on Monday. “Not only in rice, but also corn, sugar, meat and even soybeans.”
He acknowledged that changes to the environment proved a growing challenge for food production. “It will be our challenge because of climate change and the long drought. There have been warnings from international institutions that global food prices could rise,” he said.
He asked all government institutions to be ready to confront the challenges and to step up food resilience.
Yudhoyono also called for more land availability, pointing to a recent BPN study that indicated that as many as 7.2 million hectares of land across the country had been abandoned by concession holders and were therefore going to waste.