From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published August 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmental Group Slams Indonesian Plan for Huge Plantation in Heart of Borneo Forest

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's proposal to build the world's largest palm oil plantation along its border with Malaysia would have a devastating impact on forests, wildlife and the local population, an environmental group warned Monday.


Indonesian in recent months has floated a plan to spend US$560 million (euro460 million) to develop the 214,000-hectare (528,794-acre) plantation on the island of Borneo. Financed by local and foreign investors including the Chinese, Indonesia says it would create 100,000 jobs.


The World Wildlife Fund said the area under consideration has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, supporting endangered species like orangutans and pygmy elephants. Fourteen of 20 rivers on the island also originate from this area, it said, and new species are being discovered at a rate of three per month.


"It doesn't make commercial or conservation sense to rip the forest out of the heart of Borneo to plant a crop that cannot grow in mountainous conditions," said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, chief executive director of WWF-Indonesia. "Such a project could have long-lasting, damaging consequences for the people who depend on the area and its massive water resources, which feed the whole island."


The proposal comes at a time when fires from palm oil plantations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are spreading noxious haze to Malaysia, Brunei and southern Thailand. Plantation workers light the fires every year to clear land, an illegal practice that has been largely overlooked by the government.


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Derom Bangun, chairman of the Indonesia Palm Oil Producers trade association, said he supported the plan but called on the government to ensure that "high-value forests" are protected.


"Investment should be encouraged provided the environmental considerations are taken fully into consideration," Bangun said. "We're not only interested in the economic aspects of the business."


Indonesia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer after Malaysia, produced 12.4 million tons of crude palm oil in 2004. The new project is expected to boost the country's annual output by around 554,000 metric tons by 2011.


Since 2002, growers, producers, financiers and NGOs have signed a pact promising not to destroy habitat that is home to endangered species or crucial to a village's water supply, Bangun said. The agreement also calls for each plantation to give back a portion of its earnings to nearby villages.


Source: Associated Press


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