Indonesia has rejected palm oil operation applications from scores of companies, a government official said on Wednesday, as it cracks down on an industry whose growth has caused toxic forest fires and major deforestation of the natural environment.
“We want to save our forests — development should continue but we can’t let it destroy our environment,” said San Afri Awang, a senior official from the environment and forestry ministry.
Awang told reporters in Jakarta that this decision meant that almost a million hectares of land were spared from becoming oil palm plantations. Applications from 61 companies had been rejected.
This move comes after the President Joko Widodo announced a moratorium on oil palm plantations and mining areas at a press conference in April. The president explain that this directive is part of the government’s focus on protecting natural resources, and that existing land put aside for palm oil plantations is considered sufficient to support the industry.
Jokowi’s moratorium is an extension of the measures introduced by the government in 2011, which was a temporary ban on clearing new forests. Indonesia is the world’s biggest palm oil producer, and it is estimated that 18.6 USD billion worth of palm oil will be exported in 2016. The sector also provides employment opportunities to millions of Indonesians. The total area of oil palm plantations is currently 8 million hectares, and this is expected to increase to 13 million hectares by 2020.
In 2015 seasonal fires lit to clear lands of plantations bumped Indonesia from the world’s sixth-highest emitter to the fourth in just six weeks. More than 500,000 cases of haze-related illnesses were caused by the 2015 fires, with at least 19 deaths reported.