The Palm Scribe

Land Swap Policy is Legalized Deforestation, Environmental Groups Say

A group of Indonesian environmental organizations is criticizing a government policy that allows a land swap policy for protected peatland located inside concessions awarded to companies, saying that this only encourages deforestation besides being only in favor of large corporations.


The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), The Agrarian Renewal Consortium (KPA) and Transformation for Justice Indonesia (TUK Indonesia) criticizing the land swap policy as a big mistake. the policy was issued in 2017 to protect peat bog ecosystems and is the basis for a moratorium on the expansion of palm oil plantation and the use of peatland for the industry. The policy is seen as encouraging legal deforestation by stakeholders at a time when even the restoration of damaged land and peatland is not yet running as expected.

“In the future, the expansion of palm oil plantation is to be put under a moratorium, but now the opportunity is provided to get more land,” Yahya Zakaria, the head of the Advocacy Department of KPA said in a joint conference by WALHI, KPA and TUK Indonesia here on Wednesday (28/3).

A Regulation of the Minister of the Environment and of Forestry Number 17 of 2017 allows holders of Forest Timber Product Exploitation Permit (IUPHHK-HTI) which has more than or 40 percent of their concession in the form of peatland with protection functions to request a land swap.

According to the ministry, more than 2.5 million hectares of peatland with protection functions are among some four million hectares that needed to be restored from deforestation.

The land swap policy is also deemed to be in favor of large corporation and further disadvantages smallholders as the land tenure are really imbalanced between those of corporations and those of small farmers. “The quota for plasm (plantation) is only 20 percent while the other 80 percent is in the hands of corporations,” Zakaria said.

Environmentalists also said that the policy runs against the agenda for agrarian reforms that the government has long touted in efforts to redress the imbalance in land tenure in forest areas. This, they said, could only give rise to many problems in the agrarian sector, especially in a time when Indonesia was entering into a political year in the run up to local and national elections.

In the joint press conference, the activists also discussed the strengthening of the dominance of corporation in spatial distribution since the large businesses would be able to acquire new land. It would also open the opportunity for the corporations to just make use of the wood and timber from the new land for their industrial raw materials, including by pulp and paper players.

Landscape Indonesia CEO Agus Sari, commenting on the mater, said that the land under the land swap policy remained land that is only lent by the state to the corporation and has to be fully returned to the government after a certain period. “The Land Swap is a policy of officially borrowing land from the government and the land is not fully handed over to the corporation,” Sari told The Palm Scribe.

Agus said that the land swap policy also carried limitation so that the lending of new land can continue to be under control through the land restoration policy, The two policies are deemed to be two mutually complementing policies,

However, Agus did not deny that there were still weaknesses in the policy, especially linked to the wrong land allocation, so that there may be forest area that is not yet registered as being part of the moratorium but are included in the land swap policy.

According to him, this provided a momentum for the government and environmental activists to sit together and discuss the existing loopholes instead of blaming each other without coming out with a solution that carries a positive impact on the development of a sustainable agrarian industry in Indonesia.

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