By Chris Arsenault
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A drop in world palm oil prices is not expected to slow illegal logging in Indonesia's rainforests as companies continue to expand plantations, according to a new report.
Between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia's palm oil plantations grew more than seven-fold to 7.8 million hectares, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in the report released on Tuesday.
About half the new plantations used land once occupied by natural forests, making the palm oil industry the leading driver of deforestation in recent years.
Much of the land is cleared without the proper permits, and local authorities have failed to enforce laws protecting forests from clear-cutting for plantations, the report said.
"The most depressing thing is the degree to which the government allows these crimes to go unpunished," Jago Wadley, the EIA's senior forest campaigner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer.
Many of the archipelago’s plantations are evading Indonesia’s Timber Legality Verification System, legislation enacted in 2010 to stop the flow of illegal timber, the report said.
Indonesia’s government aims eventually to expand palm oil production to cover 20 million hectares, so the problem of illegal logging to clear land could intensify.
The government acknowledges the problem of widespread illegal logging.
Last month newly inaugurated President Joko Widodo said: "It (illegal logging) must be stopped. We mustn’t allow our tropical rainforest to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palm."
Corruption among local police helps drive environmental impunity, according to the report.
More than 1,000 land-related conflicts are under way across Indonesia, Wadley said, with rainforest residents often squaring off against palm oil plantation operators or illegal loggers.
(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Tim Pearce)