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Moratorium: Setting the Record Straight

A storm in a teacup has been generated over the past few weeks by WWF, Rainforest Action Network and allied NGOs, around the end of Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium, which lapsed this month. The NGOs demanded that the government must “extend it for longer as we still have the same problems”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As was stated clearly by Musdalifah Machmud, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs, Minister Musdalifah highlighted as reported by Reuters that the government could simply “run it according to existing regulations.

In other words, the Government of Indonesia is able to maintain the conditions of the palm oil moratorium without requiring an overarching presidential decree.

This straightforward solution is compelling for three main reasons.

First, Indonesia has strengthened its existing regulations and actions aimed at curbing deforestation and protecting forests. These include the recent Omnibus Law that restricts palm oil permits; a permanent moratorium preventing forest clearance (that has been in place since 2011); and a change of emphasis from Indonesian industry away from expansion towards chasing productivity gains.

Second, these existing regulations are working. Indonesia’s deforestation rate has declined by 75% and hit a new record low level this past month. The World Resources Institute (WRI) and Global Forest Watch (GFW) as well as the United Nations’ report on the state of global forests, have confirmed this success.

Third, a key output of the moratorium is a series of policies that are to be reviewed at Presidential level and then implemented. These policies will seek to improve productivity, maintain deforestation commitments and insure consistency with existing rules at the national, provincial and regency levels.

Given the reality of strong laws and successful enforcement leading to a proven massive reduction in deforestation, as well as significant improvements to productivity and governance in the sector, why the noise around the unnecessary moratorium expiring?

Perhaps there is something else behind the campaign: it is noticeable that many of the groups attempting to pressure Indonesia on this issue have received funding from certain European governments. It is in the interest of many European governments and agricultural lobbies to maintain negativity towards palm oil. This is a concern the authorities in Jakarta have raised before.

Whatever the truth, efforts would be much better served supporting Indonesia to continue its record-breaking recent track record on reducing deforestation, rather than chasing a few headlines about a moratorium that has expired for the simple reason that it is redundant.

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