Oil Palms on Razed Land to Be Torched
Berau, East Kalimantan. Forestry officials in Berau have vowed to burn down all oil palm plantations found inside the district’s Tanjung Batu protected forest, in response to findings that the operators razed more than 200 hectares of land in the restricted zone to set up the estates.
Heri Suparno, head of forest protection at the district forestry office, said on Sunday that oil palm estates covered at least 30 hectares of land inside Tanjung Batu, two-thirds of which was ready for harvesting.
“This is clearly against the 2007 Law on Protected Areas, so we’re going to burn down all 30 hectares of plantations, including those about to be harvested,” he said.
“By clearing 200 hectares of protected forest, these operators have caused an estimated Rp 4 billion [$418,000] in losses to the state, based on prevailing timber prices. Once we’ve cleared them out, we’re going to reforest the area. We’ve already prepared the seedlings.”
The plantation operators, who Heri declined to name but said were working illegally, are accused of paying local residents to clear the land through slash-and-burn methods.
Police have already arrested five people and named them suspects in connection with the burnings and are still looking for several others believed to have gone into hiding in the forest.
Four of those in custody were identified as having previously been warned by the forestry office for burning land inside the protected forest.
“Back then we caught them burning down the forest and we warned them not to do it again,” Heri said.
“We even had them sign a statement to that effect. The case at the time was similar to the current case, but smaller in scale. It was only one hectare.”
He acknowledged that illegal logging was still a common practice in Berau’s protected and community forests. The former are off-limits to all logging, farming and mining activities, while the latter are restricted only to subsistence farming.
Separately over the weekend, the East Kalimantan Plantations Agency destroyed 42,000 oil palm seedlings seized during smuggling attempts at ports and airports throughout the province so far this year.
Etnawati, the agency head, said 27,000 of the seedlings were categorized as incapable of bearing fruit, and warned that the distribution of dud seedlings was a increasing as more small-scale farmers ventured into the lucrative palm oil sector.
“They’ll only find out they’ve bought a dud after the trees reach maturity, which can take four or five years,” she said.
“This can obviously cause huge losses to the farmers if they don’t know enough to distinguish an oil palm seedling that will bear fruit from one that won’t.”
She added that those arrested for selling the duds could face up to five years in prison under the 1992 Plantations Law.