Cleared land owned by oil palm company PT Megakarya Jaya Raya in Boven Digoel, Papua province, in this 2018 file photo. (Photo courtesy of Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace)
Environmental organizations including church groups have warned that deforestation in Indonesia’s natural forests is reaching a critical level, especially in Papua where the clearance rate has increased significantly in the last two decades.
In a report titled "Planned Deforestation Forest Policy in Papua," the Indonesian Monitoring Coalition said deforestation in the country’s easternmost region amounted to 663,443 hectares over the past two decades or an average of 34,000 hectares per year.
"Of that total, 71 percent went between 2011 and 2019, a significant increase on the previous decade," coalition spokesman Dedy Sukmara told an online press conference on Feb. 10.
The coalition comprises 11 organizations and includes two church groups — the Papua Franciscans’ Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and Merauke Archdiocese’s JPIC.
It warned that deforestation in Papua would continue on a large scale, considering that 72 forest concession permits — the majority for palm oil — were issued by the Forest Affairs Ministry between 1992 and 2019 covering 1,549,205 hectares.
The coalition's report said most deforestation has occurred since 2014 during President Joko Widodo's administration, namely 298,600 hectares.
Papua is known as Indonesia’s natural forest paradise, where there are 33.8 million hectares out of a national total of 88 million.
Nunu Anugrah, head of the public relations bureau at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Affairs, did not dismiss the report but said many concessions given for plantations were on the recommendation from local governments.
He also said that deforestation in Papua during Widodo's term were a result of permits granted by the previous administration.
Father John Djonga, an activist priest in Papua, said efforts to protect natural forests were efforts to protect the future of indigenous Papuans.
“Papuans in principle really respect the forest. They call it ‘mother,’ where they can hunt and find food," he told UCA News.
“However, various governments with an economic-capitalist agenda have easily deceived and brushed them aside.”
He said the government needs to re-evaluate the permits that have been granted and strengthen efforts to preserve forests.