Rebel hero who has ‘betrayed’ the last of Aceh’s orang-utans

Governor has dismayed supporters by allowing the destruction of a Sumatran forest where the apes live

Kathy Marks  Tuesday 31 January 2012
The Independent

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When the former rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf became governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province, he proclaimed a “green vision” for the war-torn region. Aceh’s lush forests – still relatively pristine despite decades of civil conflict – would not be sacrificed for short-term profit, he promised. True to his word, he even chased down illegal loggers in his own jeep.

But, five years on, Mr Irwandi has dismayed supporters by authorising the destruction of a peat swamp forest which is one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan. The move breaches a presidential moratorium – part of an international deal to save Indonesia’s forests – as well as legislation protecting a conservation area where the Tripa swamp is located.

Aceh lies at the north-western tip of Sumatra, where three-quarters of the Tripa forest has already been replaced by palm oil plantations. Conservationists warn the remainder – home to the densest population of Sumatran orang-utans – is crucial to the ape’s survival.

Global demand for palm oil is blamed for widespread forest destruction by the two main producers, Indonesia and Malaysia. The lowland forests, on Sumatra and Borneo, shelter the last orang-utans on the planet. The granting of a new permit to one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil companies, PT Kallista Alam, threatens another 4,000 acres of Tripa peatland. Although the area is comparatively small, the move could set a dangerous precedent, according to Ian Singleton, who runs the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme. “If this goes ahead, no forest is safe,” he said.

Mr Irwandi, 51, used to be idolised by many Acehnese. He was a leader of the rebel movement, which fought for independence from Indonesia for 30 years, and was in prison in the capital, Banda Aceh, when the province was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2004. The walls of his jail came crashing down. “I didn’t escape from prison – it escaped from me,” he said later. After fleeing the country, he helped negotiate the peace deal that granted Aceh limited autonomy and he became governor in 2006.

There are believed to be only 6,600 Sumatran orang-utans left in the wild, with up to 1,000 in Tripa on Aceh’s west coast. Palm oil, along with the timber and paper industries, represents their biggest threat. The cheap and versatile oil is used in soap, biscuits and biofuels, and countless other products.

The peat swamps are renowned for their biodiversity and harbour a dozen endangered species including the white-handed gibbon, clouded leopard and giant soft-shelled turtle. They also hold massive carbon stocks which are released as trees are burnt and chopped down.

In Aceh, some locals call oil palm the “golden plant”, the cash crop they hope will lift them out of poverty. In Tripa, though, the conversion of an ancient forest to a monoculture is causing hardship to communities, which depend on the peatland system for drinking water, fish and medicinal plants. Villagers, who accuse the palm oil companies of taking their land, have filed a criminal complaint against the governor.

Mr Irwandi – whose actions have been linked by some observers to his campaign to be re-elected next month – is also being sued by WALHI Aceh, an environmental group. “We’re really disappointed with our governor,” said Muhammad Nizar, the group’s campaigns director. “It seems like he tries to get a good image in Indonesia and abroad, but he doesn’t really care about the forest.”

The two-year moratorium on new permits to log or convert primary forest and peatland was signed last May by the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as part of a $1bn (£637m) deal with Norway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, largely because of rampant deforestation.

But even without the moratorium, Tripa, a key orang-utan habitat because of its abundant fruit trees, should enjoy legal protection because it falls within a conservation area known as the Leuser Ecosystem. A vast swathe of tropical rainforest, it is the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orang-utans are found in one spot.

Mr Singleton said satellite imagery showed that Kallista Alam had been felling and draining the peat forest since 2010, long before the permit was granted. He alleged that the company had also lit illegal fires – seen by The Independent in June 2009 on Kallista’s estate – to clear land in Tripa, designated a priority conservation site under the United Nations’ Great Ape Survival Plan.

Environmentalists say orang-utans are under increasing pressure as their habitats and food sources shrink. The apes stray into fields on the edge of forests to raid fruit trees and are shot at by farmers, who capture their babies and sell them as pets. There are also claims orang-utans discovered in forests being cleared for palm oil are systematically slaughtered.

In the Indonesian part of Borneo, four employees of a palm oil company, Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, were arrested last month on suspicion of killing at least 20 orang-utans. Khaleda allegedly ordered its workers to carry out the “pest control” programme, offering a bounty of 1m rupiah (£72) per orang-utan. Those arrested include the senior estate manager and a supervisor. The company has denied the allegations.

The controversy in Aceh is embarrassing for President Yudhoyono, who stressed to an international conference in Jakarta last September the need to “walk the talk … not just talk the talk” in relation to protecting Indonesia’s forests.

A spokesman for Mr Irwandi has said that correct procedures were followed in granting the permit to Kallista Alam. However, the Indonesian Forestry Ministry said that if the new concession was inside peatland, it would be in breach of the moratorium. Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.


Will his action match his promises??


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum

JAKARTA, Indonesia (27 September, 2011)_Indonesia’s President has vowed to dedicate the last three years of his administration to safeguarding his nation’s rainforests – a pledge that received broad support at a major conference in Jakarta.

Hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the conference provided a platform for 1,000 leaders of Indonesia’s government, business community and civil society, as well as foreign donors, to discuss the future of the forests, the third-largest tropical forest in the world.

“I will continue my work and dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the conference. “If it weren’t for the benefits that our forests provide, then our way of life, our people, our economy, our environment and our society would be so much the poorer.”

“Our success in managing our forests will determine our future and the opportunities that will be available to our children.”

According to independent sources, Indonesia is losing about 1.1 million hectares of its forests each year. Most of it is due to unsustainable logging that includes the conversion of forests to plantations for palm oil and the pulp and paper industry. It is also partly due to large-scale illegal logging, which is estimated to cost Indonesia about $4 billion annually.

“We must change the way we treat our forests so that they are conserved even as we drive hard to accelerate our economic growth,” the President said. “I do not want to later explain to my granddaughter Almira that we, in our time, could not save the forests and the people that depend on it. I do not want to tell her the sad news that tigers, rhinoceroses, and orangutans vanished like the dinosaurs.”

In his speech, the president reiterated a 2009 pledge to cut Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 41 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020 – a vow only achievable if the forests are safeguarded.

Globally, deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In Indonesia, however that figure is up to 85 percent, Yudhoyono said. This makes the country one of the highest emitters in the world.

Norway has committed up to US$1 billion to help Indonesia meet its emissions reduction target, and in May this year the Indonesian government issued a two-year moratorium on new forestry concessions.

“Norway is proud of the partnership with Indonesia,” Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister for the Environment and International Development, said at the conference. “We strongly encourage other countries to support the work that President Yudhoyono and the government of Indonesia is doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Yudhoyono is now one of the foremost statesmen leading the international fight to combat climate change.”

It is predicted that up to US$30 billion could flow from developed to developing countries each year to help facilitate significant reductions in deforestation, and Indonesia could potentially claim a significant share of these funds through REDD+, a global mechanism forReducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Indonesia is one of the countries with the most REDD+ demonstration activities in various stages of development, and Indonesia has been an early participant in various bilateral and multilateral initiatives to prepare for REDD+ implementation at the national level.

In addition to potential funding opportunities through REDD+ in coming years, Indonesia has a range of options available to reduce the pace of deforestation, while at the same time expanding agricultural production to guarantee food security targets and promote economic growth.

This includes focusing future agricultural development on so-called degraded land, rather than clearing rainforest to make way for plantations or developing carbon-rich peatland. The government could also support a push for agricultural intensification – increasing yields per hectare, which are currently relatively low.

“While there are some ‘win-win’ opportunities to reconcile forest management to meet both global and domestic objectives, there will also be some trade-offs that will require leadership from government, business, and civil society to determine the best way forward for Indonesia in a manner that is transparent and fair,” said Frances Seymour, CIFOR Director General.

As part of his push to safeguard the forests, President Yudhoyono called on Indonesia’s captains of industry to adopt more sustainable forests management practices.

“I call upon our business leaders, particularly those in the palm oil, pulp wood and mining sectors, to partner with us by enhancing the environmental sustainability of their operations,” the President said. “I ask you to join me in pledging to safeguard this national treasure for the sake of our children.”

The President’s pledge received widespread support from conference attendees.

“I am pleased to be here at the Forests Indonesia Conference because the UK recognizes the importance of climate change in Indonesia. We are pleased to be supporting the government of Indonesia’s work to meet its internationals climate change commitments,” said Jim Paice, UK Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

published by CIFOR blog

Indonesia investigates violations of forest agreement with Norway

Indonesia undersøker brudd på skogavtalen med Norge

Indonesia investigates violations of forest agreement with Norway

Stine Barstad 28 feb 2012

Aften Posten Norway

(note: This post is originally published in Norwegian and translated using google translate)

On the map on the right is a large protected area – marked in red in the red circle in the original map (left), removed.The map was changed after the Aceh governor gave a palm oil company license to establish a plantation in protected as part of the agreement with Norway.

Governor would have palm oil plantation in the middle of an area that was protected by Norwegian forest-money. Now the conservation area removed from the map.

Indonesian authorities have started investigation into a possible violation of the forestry agreement with Norway, after the governor of Aceh province in Indonesia in august surprisingly gave the company permission to create a palm oil plantation in the middle of the province’s protected torvmyrområde.

The area was protected in May 2011 as part of the forest agreement between Norway and Indonesia – where the government has promised the country up to six billion in the years ahead if they manage to preserve the country’s rain forests and peat bogs.

Major CO2 savings

These are important repositories for the greenhouse gas CO 2, and a braking of deforestation in Indonesia is therefore an important and highly effective climate with global consequences.

As part of the agreement committed Indonesia to institute a two-year halt in the issuance of new licenses to clear natural forests and peatlands, and detailed maps were compiled to show which areas were covered by this logging-stop – the so-called moratorium.


– Fatal error

So, just three months after the agreement was in the box, sign the governor of Aceh province, an agreement that provides a palm oil company permission to remove 1600 hectares of the protected peat bog.

A map TKPRT – Coalition Team for the Rehabilitation of Trips – has drawn up clearly show that the entire plantation area is within protected areas.

Head of group president has appointed to overlook the implementation of forest agreement, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, told Reuters during the international climate negotiations in Durban in November last year that it was a “serious mistake” to open up the protected area for palm oil production.

– To sign a contract with a palm oil company that allows conversion of protected peatlands for palm oil plantations, clearly in breach of the moratorium, he told Reuters.

Clearing without a license

Also Indonesia’s forestry minister, Hadi Daryanto, told the Jakarta Post that the permit was a violation of the treaty:

– It violates the 2011 moratorium on new hugsttillatelser because Irwandi issued the permit after the moratorium was signed, he said, and asked the country’s interior minister to revoke the permit.

However, it seems to be too late: According to the Jakarta Post the company started PT Kallista Alam to clarify the area in January 2010 – over half a year before the permit was signed. TKPRT Data obtained show that the effort to prepare the area for palm oil production was virtually completed in October 2010.

Norwegian Ambassador: Surprised

According to the Forest Minister of the Ministry is currently working on gathering information to see whether the information is correct. If it proves to be the case, the Forest Department to go to court against the company.

– The governor of Aceh is considered a pioneer in terms of green development, and use the moratorium as a tool for this. Therefore, we are surprised to hear allegations that he may have violated the President’s moratorium. This is a case Indonesian authorities, including Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, should consider and take action, said the Norwegian ambassador in Jakarta, forever Homme, told Reuters at the UN climate talks in Durban.

Protected areas removed

Then the case took a strange turn.

According to the agreement between Norway and Indonesia to the maps for the areas covered by the moratorium is updated with the best data available every 6 month, as Indonesia gains more and better view of the country’s conservation areas.

After the first revision of the maps were presented last December, was the area where the controversial plantation is suddenly no longer marked as protected.

It was the Indonesian environmental organization Greenomics to react.

– Forest Minister has said that the license issued by the Aceh governor violates the first moratorium map. If true, why has he gone away and removed the peat bog in question from the revised map?This is truly an embarrassing situation, says the leader of Greenomisc Indonesia, Elfian Effendi, in a press release .

He now demands that the government is investigating his own actions to find out how and why this could happen.

Greenpeace: A new violation of the agreement

Several other protected areas are also removed from the map – according to Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace Norway, a total of 3.6 million hectares of forests and bogs that were marked protection of the fetus moratorium map is no longer protected under the brand audit.

– The audit represents a further deterioration of an already very weak moratorium, and is a new violation of the rainforest agreement between Norway and Indonesia, says Gulowsen to

According to Ambassador Homme, the Indonesian government has not yet reached the bottom of the matter.

– Indonesian authorities are still investigating this matter and we await their conclusion. Moratorium is one of Indonesia’s chosen tool for reducing deforestation, therefore, any violation of the moratorium seriously. We expect that the moratorium be followed up and prosecuted violations of the moratorium, he said.

Embassy: Do not be a violation

He stressed that it was expected that there would be changes to the protected areas along the way – and that changes in the map is not necessarily the same as a breach of the moratorium.

He points out that it is now developed more detailed maps with higher resolution level, and that one has a better overview of the licenses that were issued since the moratorium came into force. The areas that were already in use for agriculture, or where there are settlements, are now exempt from the moratorium. He says this reality need not mean loss of protected areas, but that one has a better correlation between map and terrain.

Indonesia’s Aceh breaches forest clearing moratorium

Indonesia’s Aceh breaches forest clearing moratorium

08 Dec 2011 08:48

Source: Reuters

An Indonesian villager cuts timber illegally at a forest in Indonesia’s Aceh province, Apr. 25, 2007. REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva

* Aceh governor inks permit for palm oil firm to clear swamp

* Moratorium breach “grave mistake” — senior govt official

* Aceh government says did nothing wrong

By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA, Dec 8 (Reuters) – The governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province has breached a ban on clearing forests that is at the heart of a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, earning a rebuke by a senior government official on Thursday.

The two-year moratorium on issuing permits to log and convert forests, effective from May this year, is meant to protect primary forests and peatlands in the Asian country in a bid to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

About 80 percent of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from deforestation and land use change, with the rapidly expanding palm oil, timber, agriculture and mining sectors driving forest loss.

Aceh’s governor Irwandi Yusuf signed a permit to let PT Kallista Alam to develop 1,605 hectares (4,000 acres) of swamp, which includes protected peatlands, in Nagan Raya district for palm oil plantations, a document obtained by Reuters showed. The company is based in Medan, North Sumatra, but does not have a website or information on ownership.

The head of UKP4, a body monitoring the implementation of the moratorium, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto criticised the decision in a statement emailed to Reuters. Mangkusubroto is a respected technocrat and is head of the government’s oversight body.

“I spent four years in Aceh during the tsunami reconstruction. Opening up Kuala Tripa — an area with high conservation value and home to many animals endemic to Indonesia — is a grave mistake,” said Mangkusubroto, who was the architect of Aceh’s reconstruction after a major earthquake and tsunami devastated the province in 2004.

The Aceh breach illustrates the problem Southeast Asia’s top economy faces in balancing economic development and powerful business interests with conserving nature, as well as a policy gap between the central government and local administrations.

Yusuf, who is expected to run again in a governor election next year, signed the permit on Aug. 25, three months after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the decree for the moratorium.

“While we recognise the need for the palm oil industry to also grow, signing an agreement with a palm oil company to allow the conversion of protected peat land into palm oil plantations, very clearly breaks the moratorium,” Mangkusubroto added.

The Aceh government had followed correct procedures for issuing the permit, said spokesman Usamah El Madny.

Mangkusubroto urged the provincial government to reassess the decision and find alternative land for palm oil development.

A local green group, the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), said a court hearing had started this week seeking to have the permit revoked.

WALHI Aceh’s head Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar said opening up the swamp was threatening endangered orangutan.

Norway’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Eivind Homme, told Reuters he was surprised by news of the breach and called on the national government to investigate.

Nigeria, Indonesia and North Korea have the world’s highest rates of deforestation, a global ranking released last month showed. (Additional reporting by Reza Munawir in Aceh; Editing by David Fogarty and Jonathan Thatcher)