EoF News (PEKANBARU) - The President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, accompanied by the Minister of Forestry and Environment Siti Nurbaya, came to Riau province last week to monitor the burned forest areas that caused haze in Sungai Tohor village, Meranti Islands District, media reported.
Joko Widodo said his government would review licenses for monoculture plantations that damaged peatlands, Antara news agency reported (27/11/2014). “If they are indeed destroying the ecosystem because of their monoculture plantations, they will have to be terminated. It must be stopped, we mustn’t allow our tropical rainforest to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palm.”
Joko Widodo also said he would strengthen legal protection for peatlands, which store massive amounts of carbon and rarely burn if left undisturbed, theguardian.com reported.
“Peatlands can’t be underestimated, they must be protected because they constitute a special ecosystem,” he said. “This [drainage] canal dam is very good and must be made permanent. What’s best is for peatland to be given to the community to be managed for sago [palm starch similar to tapioca]. Community management is usually environmentally friendly, but if it’s given to companies it is turned into monocultures like acacia and oil palm.”
On his two-day visit to Riau Province, President Joko Widodo monitored the condition of the forest in the province by using TNI Air Force’s Super Puma helicopter. Locations visited, among others are a refining sago, sago land owned by citizens, and peat canals in Sungai Tohor, tempo.co reported.
On the first day, Joko Widodo flew over Tesso Nilo and Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve, but cancelled his field visit to Sungai Tohor village due to weather condition.
Joko visited some of spots that hit by forest fires in February-March this year in Sungai Tohor village. In the location, Jokowi directly talked with the community and endorsed damming of peat canals to prevent forest fires and haze.
The President’s visit to Sungai Tohor was scheduled after a petition by Abdul Manan, a villager of Sungai Tohor, on change.orgonline petition website. The petition was signed by more than 27,000 signatures. Jokowi asked the community to work together to prevent land and forest fires that has been happening repeatedly in Riau.
Manan asked the President to come and see the ground situation in his village. He complained about HTI company’s canals constructed by PT Lestari Unggul Makmur (PT LUM), a timber supplier of APRIL, which has stopped operation. The new concession located in the area is PT Nusantara Sago Prima, a supplier of Sampoerna Group planting sago trees. PT NSP is a suspect of forest fires in 2014 that investigated by the Riau Police.
The canalization makes peatlands wasted to dry. Hence, the peatlands becomes easily burned. During his visit, Joko gave an assistance of 300 million rupiahs to the villagers for the construction of canal bulkhead, Mongabay Indonesia reported.
Riau is one of the provinces in Indonesia that has a high rate of forestry issues, not just the problem of forest fires, but also the worst deforestation, encroachment and land clearing licensing for forestry companies as well that have contributed a lot of damages to the country and sent many Riau government officials to prison. However, the related companies remain untouched.
To bbc.co.uk, Gusnita, a citizen of Pekanbaru expressed her pessimism towards Jokowi, "Not really sure if Jokowi can solve the haze with blusukan (groundcheck). There are many timber mafias here, if he could organize and be strict, it could be. But the problem is there are too many plantations and it’s not clear whether it’s (the fire) started by local people or the mafias.”
Henri Subagyo of Indonesia’s Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) urged the new government to take action against the company's corporate and criminals. "All it takes is a decisive action from the government, will Jokowi dare or not to give the companies a lesson by taking out their permits. Secondly, it needs both firmness and courage to ensnare the real masterminds of all these," Henri said.
Appreciating President’s action, Zenzi Suhadi of WALHI (Indonesia’s Friends of the Earth) also requested Jokowi to seriously review the licensing to companies that have damaged the environment and also encourage law enforcement towards more than 600 companies engaged in forestry sector in Indonesia, quoted by mongabay.co.id.
For forest fires happened in the beginning of this year, Eyes on the Forest analyzed based on NASA Modis Fires, that in February 2014 there were 6937 hotspots detected totally in Riau. By industrial timber plantation (HTI) concessions, APP group had 1354, APRIL 891 hotspots. Palm oil plantation had 1370 hotspots..
The fire and haze case that occured in the beginning of this year is one of the worst that ever happened in the history of Riau’s annual disaster during the last 17 years. The air quality peaked to dangerous level for weeks then caused over 100,000 people suffering from respiratory infections and disrupted national flights as well.