Indonesia’s dwindling forests may be cleared for farmland under a government-led program to boost domestic food production, raising fears of a surge in deforestation.
The government’s “food estate” program calls for establishing millions of hectares of new farmland, mostly for rice and other staple crops. To ensure there’s sufficient land for the program, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued a regulation on Oct. 26 permitting protected forest areas to be cleared for that purpose on a “large scale.”
Under existing laws, forest areas in Indonesia are off-limits for plantations unless the ministry issues a forest conversion permit to allow farming there. But under the new regulation, plantation operators won’t have to apply for such a permit, and the once-protected forests will be redesignated as “forest areas for food security,” or KHKP by the Indonesian acronym.
These areas may be developed as food estates for up to 20 years, extended indefinitely thereafter.
The KHKP regulation has drawn immediate criticism from environmental groups, who warn it strips away what few protections still apply to Indonesia’s last remaining swaths of biodiverse rainforest.
“The term ‘large scale’ indicates that this food estate program will alter the natural landscape in vast areas, thousands of hectares,” Nur Hidayati, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said at a recent online press conference. “This is very worrying because there have never been cases where large-scale land or forest conversion has created a positive impact on the ecosystem or our environment.”
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