Indonesia's environment minister wants permanent ban on licences to use forest land

This picture taken on May 7, 2017, shows an Indonesian forest ranger observing a population of orang utans in the Leuser ecosystem rainforest, located mostly within the province of Aceh on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.
This picture taken on May 7, 2017, shows an Indonesian forest ranger observing a population of orang utans in the Leuser ecosystem rainforest, located mostly within the province of Aceh on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's environment minister said on Monday (July 24) she wants to make permanent a moratorium on issuing new licences to use land designated as primary forest and peatland.

The moratorium, part of an effort to reduce emissions from fires caused by deforestation, was extended by President Joko Widodo for a third time in May.

"So far, it has only been extended, and extended again. I want a permanent (moratorium)," said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar. "Our primary forest cannot be cleared out."

Indonesia is prone to outbreaks of forest fires during dry seasons, often blamed on the draining of peatland forests and land clearance for agriculture such as the cultivation of palm oil.

The resulting choking smoke from the world's biggest palm oil producer often blows across to neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, slashing visibility and causing a health hazard.

Established in 2011, the moratorium covered an area of more than 66 million hectares by November 2016.