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.
“It [Permit issuance] 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, he said, there were exceptions to allow conversion for plantations related to vital and strategic projects, including for geothermal energy, oil and gas, electricity, rice or sugarcane.
Conversion could also be approved for ecosystem restoration, he said.
“The forestry minister has already allocated 300,000 hectares for food areas and 300,000 hectares for sugarcane this year.” he said, adding that the permits were issued in the form of a Forest Area Release Letter.
“The forestry 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,” he said.
Tri said that after the letter of release was issued, the land fell under the jurisdiction of the National Land Agency (BPN), and in the event of a land conflict, the ministry would not longer 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 some 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,” he said, without elaborating on the replacement forests.
This article was written by Fidelis E. Satriastanti of the Jakarta Globe.