The Forest Scribe

Food Estate Policy Needs Revision, To Conserve Forests: Expert

A number of forestry experts are questioning the government’s policy to use protected forest areas for the development of food estates and said there was a need to revise the policy on these estates so as to ensure the preservation of protected forests.

Speaking at a webinar, Director of the Forest and Climate Program of Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan, Anggalia Putri, said that the Food Estate project could backfire and disadvantage smallholders because current food policies, such as on prices, imports, supply of agricultural inputs, and land ownership systems were not favoring smallholders.

“It is said that the Food Estate which requires large tracks of land is the solution for food problems, but in our opinion and based on existing data, we think these Food Estates will actually make it difficult for farmers. The problem is that food politics have not been too in favor of smallholders, in terms of prices, imports, supply of agricultural inputs, land ownership, and others,” said Putri.

Putri also added that currently, the protection and empowerment of the agricultural sector was still very weak. It is also felt that Indonesia has not been able to quickly adapt to the impacts of climate change, and besides that, the possibility of corruption taking place in this project was also inevitable.

“Another problem is the lack of protection and empowerment of existing agricultural land, so the rate of conversion of agricultural land is high. The lack of adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and also corruption,” said Putri.

She also questioned what would be done with the timber harvested from the clearing of land for Food Estates. “If the food estate program is implemented, logging for land clearing can generate profits of 209 trillion. The question is, is this not just a way to legally cut down trees? Then the question is, where will these logs go to?,” added Putri.

Dwi Andreas Santosa, Professor and Head of the Center for Biotechnology, IPB University also agrees with Anggalia, saying that it was not the first time that food estates have been launched by the current  government and he described a number of past failures of the food estate concept.

“Food Estate Projects have existed since a long time ago, even under the New Order era. The one million hectare peatland program in 1995 proved to be a failure. The program was planned to make available 1,457,100 hectares of land split into five working areas. In two years 31,000 hectares of land were cleared and occupied by 13,000 families, but 17,000 hectares of land that had been cleared have not been occupied, so there are still 1,409,150 hectares left,” said Santosa.

He also cited the example of the 2012 Food Estate program which also failed. “The 2012 Bulungan Food Estate also failed, the planned land use was for 298,221 hectares, but the land used according to the report was only at 1,024 hectares and only five hectares were planted,” Santosa added.

Rizaldi Boer,Executive Director of CCROM SEAP IPB University, said that the policy on Food Estate projects was in contradiction with the goals of Indonesia’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC.)

“The NDC has the extraordinary targets of reducing emissions, and now, these targets can be achieved by slowing the deforestation rate, and by restoring peatland. But now these two targets are threatened by the existence of Food Estates and it will become even harder for Indonesia to reach its emission target,” said Boer.Boer also questioned the existence of a large amount of idle and unproductive land. “There are a lot of idle and unproductive land, so why are we looking for land by clearing out forests?,” Boer added.

Putri and the Madani Sustainable Foundation also expressed the hopes they hadfor the government regarding this policy.

“Our hope is that the government removes natural forest, peat ecosystems, and the land of indigenous and local communities from the food estates, the government should not allow logging and the clearing of peatland for food estate so as to be consistent with its climate commitments, and the government should apply principles of good governance (transparency, participation, accountability) in the implementation of all its development programs including in its special programs,” Putri concluded.

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