April 24, 2018

Minister highlights lack of substance in biased news report

( - Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has expressed her regret at the missing substance and lack of context in a Reuters news report (Apr 23) titled ‘Indonesian environment minister rebuffs groups who want more forest preserved.’

As a result of this, the message to the global public conveyed by the Reuters news report is not only technically and legally fragmented but also disregards ongoing efforts on the part of President Joko Widodo's administration which have seen continual improvement of forest and peatland governance over the last three years.

The minister emphasized these points to after a dinner event at the 3rd Asia-Pacific Rainforest Submit in Yogyakarta (Apr 24).

Minister Nurbaya reasserted that since the revised peat-related government regulation was signed by President Joko Widodo in early December last year, there has been a complete ban on new peat development, the cause of peat drainage. 

In fact, the minister explained, prior to this - in early November 2015 - she issued a circular letter to plantation and forestry companies banning new peat development, including secondary peat forests, acting on an order from the President following 2015's catastrophic peat fires.

The following photos highlight the ministry's efforts to stop new peat development partly involving forested peatlands in the PT RAPP concession, which belongs to Singapore-based pulp and paper giant APRIL, located in Sumatra's Riau Peninsula Kampar landscape. This peat development was carried out in violation of the minister's circular letter. 

New permit processing deprioritized

Minister Nurbaya lamented Reuters’ reporting, especially in quoting her out of context as saying “secondary forests are a secondary priority".

"It is clear that any new clearing and draining of peatlands, including secondary peat forests,  have been banned, with those scattered among existing and new concessions no exception,” she explained.

The minister elaborated further on efforts she has made, since President Joko Widodo announced a moratorium on palm expansion in mid-April 2016, by deprioritizing the process for issuing new permits for palm oil development in about 1.5 million hectares of both peat and non-peat forests. The majority of these are secondary forests situated in Papua and West Papua provinces. 

"The government has many instruments available to control the level of deforestation. The moratorium is not a single policy to achieve that goal," she stressed.

The photos below depict recent law enforcement action taken by the ministry to end peat forest clearing by two palm oil companies linked to global palm oil supply chains

The minister went on to say that Reuters should also look at the facts about how her ministry has conducted monitoring and law enforcement efforts on the ground level to halt new peat development, including the clearing of peat secondary forests spread among palm oillogging and pulpwood concessions.

“This is something that was never done by any previous government regimes,” she underlined.

Backing up the minister's claims of successful law enforcement measures, the team has documented recent evidence of the impact of the imposition of a sanction on a logging concession in West Kalimantan's Sungai Putri landscape, home to the critically-endangered Bornean orangutan. These following photos demonstrate that major parts of the concession are still dominated by relatively intact peat forests.

Minister Nurbaya gave a reminder that during the three years of President Joko Widodo's administration, significant reforms have been and continue to be made in the forestry and peatland sector despite the substantial risks involved, particularly from a political standpoint and coming from certain vested interests who want to maintain their business-as-usual practices.

“Nonetheless, the President continues to show consistency and strength, never backing down when it comes to executing law enforcement involving big business players. This is something for which we should be grateful. I really need to re-emphasize that such consistency, backed up by action, has never existed in previous regimes,” she affirmed. 

The minister concluded by saying, “The issue is not (only) secondary forests, but much bigger than that. We must not close our eyes and ears to the substantial reforms that have taken place over the last three years. Enormous sacrifices have been made and risks faced. However, everything must be done in a measured, focused and gradual manner.”