Indonesian MPs urge gov’t to drop Norway’s reforestation fund

Indonesian lawmakers threatened on Friday to freeze the budget for reforestation projects if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono continues the nation’s deforestation moratorium until 2014.
, reports the Jakarta Globe.

Yudhoyono issued a two-year moratorium on new forestry permits for peat and primary forests after the Norwegian government promised $1 billion in conservation assistance. To receive the funds Indonesia has to provide verifiable proof that it has reduced deforestation rates in a nation where more than a million hectares of forests are cut down annually.

The bulk of the money won’t be paid until Indonesia can prove reforestation efforts have made an impact.

But the promise of funds was not enough for United Development Party (PPP) lawmaker Romahurmuzy.

The head of the House of Representatives forestry and agriculture commission said Indonesia was losing too much money setting up reforestation projects when it could be issuing more permits for palm oil plantations. 

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “Our total budget is Rp 1,600 trillion. The budget for the Forest Ministry is Rp 6 trillion. The reward is not equal to the economic potential being lost in the forest sector.”

The government receives some 300 applications for new palm oil plantations a year, Romahurmuzy said. It approves between 70 and 80 a year.

One 10,000 hectare plantation can provide work for entire villages in rural Indonesia, Romahurmuzy said.

“If Norwegian is not serious about the compensation, the government should seriously consider not continuing it,” he said.

The Ministry of Forests will recommend the moratorium stays in effect until the 2014 presidential election, ministry spokesman Sumarto said. The ministry still has 40 million hectares of cleared land to replant, he added. 

“The Forest Ministry plans to continue the moratorium,” Sumarto said. “[Minister] Zulkifli [Hasan] will soon report the plan to the president.”

The government has a responsibility to restore the nation’s forests and should not focus on the compensation funds, Sumarto said.

“We have the responsibility to maintain our economy by changing the consumptive pattern in managing the forest,” he said.

It will take at least 25 years to restore the nation’s forestland, Sumarto said. The reforestation programs also provide jobs for some of the four million people who live near deforested areas, he added.

“So we try to extend the moratorium at least until 2014, as long as this government term,” he said.

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