Report says Indonesia 'land swap' plan puts forests at risk

FILE - In this Nov. 2., 2007, file aerial photo, stacks of acacia logs wait to be transported as the natural forest sits untouched on the right in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau province, on Sumatra island, Indonesia. Researchers say a plan by the Indonesian government to give plantation companies new lands in exchange for restoring areas they destroyed could result in more tropical forests being cut down. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
In this Saturday, July 21, 2018, photo, firefighters spray water to extinguish a forest fire in Pali, South Sumatra, Indonesia. Researchers say a plan by the Indonesian government to give plantation companies new lands in exchange for restoring areas they destroyed could result in more tropical forests being cut down. (AP Photo/Iwan Cheristian )

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Researchers say an Indonesian government plan to give plantation companies new lands in exchange for restoring areas they destroyed could result in more tropical forests being cut down.

Spatial analysis released Tuesday by civil society groups shows 40 percent of the 921,000 hectares (3,556 square miles) designated for land swaps is natural forest. Indonesia is second only to Brazil in the amount of forest cut down in the past decade.

The Ministry of Forestry and Environment plan is part of Indonesia's attempts to avoid a repeat of disastrous 2015 fires that swept through vast acreages of swampland that were cleared and drained by pulp and paper companies for industrial plantations.

In exchange for "re-wetting" the so-called peatlands, making them unsuitable for plantations, conglomerates such as Sinarmas and April would be given lands elsewhere.

The land swap plan has raised concerns among conservation groups because of the potential for new conflicts with communities and fears companies might be given new land even before they've completed restoration of the degraded swampland forests.

It's also unpopular with plantation operators because new areas they're allocated could be distant from their factories and mills.

Forestry Ministry officials didn't answer calls.

The Anti-Forestry Mafia Coalition, which overlaid government maps of the land swap areas with Indonesia's forest cover map to arrive at the 40 percent figure, said any new land handed out should only come from areas previously approved for industrial forestry plantations.

It also criticized lack of a legally binding requirement to ensure companies restore degraded lands at their own expense before getting new allocations.

"Without this provision, the companies can simply walk away from the disaster they've created," the coalition of 14 groups said in a statement. "Restoration may never take place and abandoned areas may be vulnerable to catastrophic fires for years to come."

A 2017 study by a University of Queensland environmental scientist estimated it would cost at least $4.6 billion to re-wet just the 2 million hectares of peatland designated as a priority for restoration by the government.

Degraded peatland makes up nearly a quarter of Kalimantan — the Indonesian part of Borneo — and Sumatra. Aside from forestry plantations, a vast area of peatland was drained in Kalimantan for rice production in the 1990s but abandoned by 1999 due to low productivity, according to the University of Queensland research.

The World Bank estimated the 2015 fires cost Indonesia $16 billion and a joint Harvard-Columbia study said 100,000 deaths were hastened by the health-damaging haze that spread across the region for weeks.

People also read these

China says 2,500 wartime Japanese chemical weapons destroyed

Jan 17, 2017

China's military says more than 2,500 abandoned Japanese chemical weapons collected from northern...

China swings back at golf, shutting down 111 courses

Jan 23, 2017

China has launched a renewed crackdown on golf, closing 111 courses and telling members of the...

China closes live poultry markets amid deadly flu outbreak

Feb 17, 2017

China is ordering the closure of live poultry markets in its south-central regions where the worst...

China's coal consumption falls for 3rd year in a row

Feb 28, 2017

China has released data showing that the country's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third...

China plans panda preserve 3 times size of Yellowstone park

Mar 31, 2017

China plans a preserve for giant pandas that will be three times the size of Yellowstone National...

AseanCoverage is a next-gen news site focusing exclusively on online news from South East Asia.

Contact us: sales[at]aseancoverage.com