Jakarta moves to control deforestation and fires

Deforestation in Riau province, Sumatra, cleared for an oil-palm plantation. Source: Wikimedia 

Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission says cooperation is needed across government departments to combat fraudulent forestry activity that costs the authorities billions of dollars in lost revenue and sparked last year’s devastating fires.

The longstanding crisis is the subject of a study by the Corruption Eradication Commission (CEC) that estimated the commercial value of undeclared logging was between US$60.7 billion to US$81.4 billion from 2003 to 2014. It estimated that the authorities lost revenue worth US$6.5 billion to US$9 billion over the same period.

Home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests and a large-scale palm oil and pulp and paper producer, Indonesia lost 1.5 million hectares of forest in 2015, up from 1.1 million hectares in 2013 due to unregulated land clearing.

Dian Patria, head of the CEC’s natural resources branch, said government leaders had backed the plan.

Protecting its tropical forest is a key challenge for Indonesia. Untaxed timber denies the central and regional governments considerable revenue that could be challenged into improving infrastructure and services.

The burning of forests and peat-land in Sumatra and Kalimantan for palm-oil plantations affects the entire region, as far away as Thailand, often forcing people indoors and grounding flights.

Monica Tanuhandaru, the executive director of Kemitraan, which lobbies for transparent government and business, said the plan needed the ongoing support of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

A detailed picture of where illegal deforestation and conversion of peat-land into farmland is occurring.

The CEC is hoping to use Landsat satellites, drones and LIDAR pulsed laser-based mapping to identify land clearing on almost a real-time basis. Accurate data could provide the basis to prosecute firms that fell more trees than they declare.

The report, released in October, says statistics account for less than a quarter of woodland that is cleared.

The strategy requires the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to disclose more information about its monitoring activities. It plans to issue quarterly reports on where deforestation and peat-land conversion has occurred and detail if the authorities had taken any action.

The environment and forestry and finance ministries and financial regulatory agencies have been asked to cooperate with the initiative.