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Indonesia Defends Converting Peatlands To Palm Estates

“Some companies are interested in peatlands and we are working with those who want to safeguard the environment and ensure our country’s prosperity.”

PALM PROTESTS: Protesters from Greenpeace, dressed as orangutans, demonstrating outside the Unilever building in London last year. Greenpeace said it wanted to raise awareness of companies who buy palm oil from companies that are

destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. Indonesia is pressing ahead with development of peatland forests for plantation crops such as palm oil. (RSPO).

Indonesia will press ahead with a plan to open up peatland forests for plantation crops such as palm oil, an official said Nov. 4, despite protests from green groups that such a land conversion speeds climate change.

The Southeast Asian country wants to maintain its position as the world’s top palm oil producer as it looks to hand over degraded land including peatlands to planters, Rosediana Suharto, head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission, said.

Peat is the accumulation of partially decayed vegetation in very wet places and burning peatland forests in Indonesia pumps large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and fans choking smoke across the region during the dry season.

Suharto said Indonesia, the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter, has set aside only that portion of the peatlands that have low carbon stores to limit environment damage. Only eight per cent of its 25 million hectares of peatlands is being offered for conversion this year.

“We have not issued any licences so far because of the strict criteria like maintaining water tables and we do have a zero-burning tolerance for these lands,” she told Reuters at the sidelines of a palm oil conference in the Malaysian capital.

“Some companies are interested in peatlands and we are working with those who want to safeguard the environment and ensure our country’s prosperity.”

Indonesia has planted palm

estates of 7.1 million hectares. Palm oil generated exports revenue of $10.7 billion, or about 10 per cent of the country’s non-oil and gas exports in 2008.

PEATLANDS VERSUS PALM ESTATES

Suharto said companies belonging to the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry initiative trying to develop green standards for palm oil production and distribution, stand to lose out on valuable opportunities to expand.

“If the peatland we have set aside has low carbon reserves and given palm oil estates’ ability to act as net carbon sink, then expansion in these areas should go on,” Suharto said.

“We have not been wantonly cutting down forests the way the green groups accuse us of doing.”

About two million hectares are suitable for palm oil estates and since the 1970s, a little less

than half have been taken up by planters, Suharto said.

The rest of the peatland forests hold the world’s largest carbon reserves, holding around 37.8 billion tonnes, according to environment group Greenpeace.

Indonesia’s government has said the country has released 2.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005 – or 10 tonnes per Indonesian and forecast it would jump to 2.8 billion due to the farm and forestry sector expansion.

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