By Chris Lang
Indonesia was one of more than 100 countries that signed on to the Glasgow Declaration on Forests on 2 November 2021. The following day, at a presentation at the University of Glasgow, Siti Nurbaya, Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry, said that “Forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is obviously inappropriate and unfair”.
Indonesia is aiming for “carbon neutrality” in the forestry sector by 2030. Siti argued that this “should not be interpreted as zero deforestation.”
Siti wrote on Twitter that, “The massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or in the name of deforestation.”
She also wrote that Indonesia questions how deforestation is defined:
We also reject the use of deforestation terminology that is not in accordance with existing conditions in Indonesia. Since in Europe for example, a tree is cut down behind a house, it may fall into the category and be judged as deforestation. This is certainly different from Indonesia.
She added that if roads cannot be built through forests because of the a no deforestation concept, villages will remain isolated. “The state must really be present in the midst of its people,” she wrote on Twitter.
Sustainable forest management
The Glasgow Forest Declaration states that,
We therefore commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.
Yet in response to questions from Reuters, Indonesia’s vice foreign minister, Mahendra Siregar, denied that zero deforestation by 2030 was in the Declaration. He said, “The declaration issued does not refer at all to the ‘end deforestation by 2030’. It is important to move beyond mere narrative, rhetoric, arbitrary targets and sound bites.”
Mahendra told Reuters that Indonesia interprets the phrase “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030” as meaning “sustainable forest management… not end deforestation by 2030”.
Corruption and deforestation
Rather than arguing about the Glasgow Forest Declaration, which is in any case voluntary and just another in a long series of meaningless UN Declarations, Siti would do well to address the ongoing deforestation taking place in the country right now.
Investigative research by The Gecko Project and Tempo published in October 2021 reveals that the Ministry of Defence is behind the destruction of forests in Gunung Mas in Central Kalimantan.
Rainforest that is orangutan habitat is being clearcut to make way for more than 30,000 hectares of cassava plantations. Villagers living in the area were not told where the plantation would be, or when the forest clearing would start.
Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has a central role in Indonesia’s “food estate” programme, launched by President Widodo in June 2020. The programme is aimed at addressing a global food crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials from the Ministry of Defence have drawn up plans for more than one million hectares of cassava plantations in the country. These plans include destroying biodiverse forests in Papua to make way for agricultural plantations.
If food estates are directed towards creating environmental destruction, it is clear that the concept of ecological resilience and the long-term development of conservation landscapes aligned with targeted food estate goals are not needed. We don’t choose this track.
According to Siti, then, this photograph by Tempo/Save Our Borneo of a clearcut for the food estate plantations in Gunung Mas is not environmental destruction:
A company called Agrinas is involved in the cassava plantations project in Gunung Mas. The Gecko Project and Tempo uncovered a corporate brochure that states that, “Agrinas is owned by the Indonesia Ministry of Defense, with direct report to Minister Prabowo.” Several members of Gerindra, Prabowo’s political party, have leadership positions in Agrinas.
The conflict of interest could hardly be more blatant. And the threat to Indonesia’s people and forests is enormous. In July 2020, Harrydin Mahardika, director of marketing at Agrinas, wrote that cassava “could become a new prima donna that spurs economic growth from agrobusiness as in the booming palm oil industry in the early 1980s”.
PHOTO Credits: The Ministry of Defence has clearcut hundreds of hectares of rainforest in Gunung Mas to make way for cassava plantations – Tempo/Save Our Borneo.