Stop converting peatlands

EoF Press Release / 06 August 2006

Press Release - For immediate release on August 7, 2006

Jakarta, Pekanbaru, INDONESIA - Several NGOs are calling on the Government to stop granting concessions for conversion and land clearing on peatlands, citing data that shows the major factor inciting this year's forest fires is forest conversion, mainly on peat soil sites. Monitoring conducted by an NGO coalition in Riau, Eyes on the Forest, during the month of July found that 56% of hotspots detected in Riau Province were located on peatlands. In the same period, nearly 30% of hotspots detected in West Kalimantan were situated on peat soil.

Peat soil is highly flammable, producing much more smoke and carbon emissions than fires on other soil types. "Once burned, it will be very difficult to extinguish fires on the peatlands. Therefore the best way to prevent forest fires is by halting license-granting for land clearing on peatlands and by conserving the areas", said Zulfahmi, coordinator of the NGO Network for Riau Forest Rescue (Jikalahari).

That call is in line with the Riau Declaration on Peatlands and Climate Change on January 26, where expert representatives from 12 countries recommended that conversion of peatlands be stopped and immediate action taken to rehabilitate and responsibly utilize the tropical peatlands.

"It is time for the Government of Indonesia to implement a moratorium on peatland forest conversion into industrial timber plantation and palm oil plantation", said Hapsoro, Regional Forest Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. The Government is also urged to adopt forest land use practices that take into account ecological and social importance.

The NGO activists also demand the Government bring the perpetrators of forest and land fires to court and impose effective sanctions, particularly for those allegedly involved in repeat incidents. "To ensure a deterrent effect, the Government should revoke operational licenses of companies that are proved to deliberately initiate open burning in the forest," says Johny S. Mundung, Director Executive of WALHI Riau. Inadequate legislation is also believed to be a factor hampering authorities from bringing the culprits to the jail.

"Forest and plantation-based companies should operate by complying with the law and respecting efforts of sustainable forest conservation," said Mubariq Ahmad, Executive Director of WWF-Indonesia. Besides halting new land clearing on peatlands and sustainably managing the land, companies are also urged to rehabilitate or restore areas that had been cleared and conserve them. "We also call on consumer countries to ensure that their supply chain is not sourced from companies that converted and burned peatlands," adds Mubariq.

Intensive and sustainable forest fire management should be practiced regularly, not only when haze pollution and hotspots escalate. At all times, companies and communities should be reminded to take care to prevent forest fires. Riau and West Kalimantan are the two provinces with the most hotspots during July 2006. According to Eyes on the Forest data, hotspots detected in Riau Province in July 2006 reached 1,419. Out of that number, 786 hotspots (55.39 %) were situated inside communities sites, 338 hotspots (23.82 %) inside HTI (Industrial Timber Plantation) concession, and 295 hotspots (20.79 %) inside palm oil plantations. Meanwhile, in the period of July 1-25 in West Kalimantan, there were 684 hotspots detected, with 400 (58.48 %) situated inside communities sites, 166 (24.27 %) inside concession of plantations/palm oil, 60 (8.77 %) inside HTI concession, and 58 (8.48 %) inside HPH (Selective Logging) concessions.

The NGO activists also urged the Government to immediately ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and to take a key role in implementing the Agreement. Concerns about the viability of the Agreement among certain parties should not delay the Government's ratification of the Agreement. This Agreement is the first one in the world at the regional level that requires countries to jointly tackle transboundary haze pollution caused by forest and land fires.

To further information, please contact:

Zulfahmi, Coordinator Jikalahari,
ph +62 812 682 1214, 

Fitrian Ardiansyah, Program Coordinator - Forest Restoration and Threats Mitigation, WWF-Indonesia, 
ph +62 812 9355 105, 

Hapsoro, Regional Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, 
ph: +62 812 110 8256

Jhonny S. Mundung, Executive Director, WALHI Riau, 
ph +62 761 709 7844, 
e-mail:< br>

Note for editors:

Data on hotspots and interactive maps in Riau from 2004 to July 2006 along with its analysis is downloadable:

Weekly Fire Bulletin newsletter can be downloaded at

The ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution contains provisions on monitoring assessment and prevention, technology cooperation and scientific research, mechanism for coordination, lines of communication and simplified customs and immigration procedures for disaster response.