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  Yahoo News 28 Sep 06
Indonesia to offer 17 mln hectares of forest concessions

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia plans to offer some 17 million hectares (42 million acres) of lapsed or unused forest concessions to investors interested in developing timber and farming estates.

"We will offer nine million hectares for timber estates from forest concessions which are no longer productive," Forestry Minister Malem Sambet Kaban told reporters on Thursday.

He said the move was aimed at boosting timber production and opening up more job opportunities, with plots to be given out for management for a period of 100 years, which would allow some 15 harvests of trees such as acacias.

Some 9.7 trillion rupiah (1.0 billion dollars) from the government's reforestation fund had been allocated to prepare the land on Sumatra, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, and in Sulawesi.

Institutions to manage the funds would first need to be set up and could start work in November, he said. He did not give details on how the concessions would be determined or under what terms.

Agriculture minister Anton Apriyantono, speaking at the same occasion, said that the government was also preparing 8.2 million hectares of land for plantations and agriculture, particularly for palm oil and sugar cane.

He said the land had been cleared some time ago and was not virgin forest. The head of the land registry agency, Joyo Winoto, said that about three million hectares would be alloted for palm oil.

Environmentalists have warned that the Indonesian government's new drive to focus on producing clean-burning biofuels -- produced from plants such as palm oil -- should not come at the expense of razing rapidly-disappearing forests.

Amid soaring global oil costs, Indonesia has been trying to boost its energy security by turning its attention to rapidly expanding production of biofuels.

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