JAKARTA Indonesia's environment and forestry ministry wants to extend a moratorium on issuing new licenses to use primary forest and peatland in the Southeast Asian country by two years, an official said on Wednesday.
The moratorium was established under the previous administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a bid to reduce gas emissions linked to fires caused by deforestation, with peatlands particularly vulnerable.
The ministry requested the presidential office approve the extension of the moratorium, which is due to expire on May 20, said Yuyu Rahayu, acting director general of forestry at the ministry.
If approved, this would be the third extension of the moratorium, which was first implemented in 2011.
"We are hoping there will be an extension to this presidential instruction because we need to improve forest governance in these areas," Rahayu said.
Despite not issuing new licenses, some areas of primary forest and peatlands were still being used by farmers who has been cultivating the land prior to the moratorium, he said.
Indonesia's government has come under pressure from its neighbors to take more action to stop regular forest fires that send choking smoke across the region.
Indonesia suffered its worst forest fires in 2015, hitting mainly the island of Sumatra and in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island.
The World Bank, citing government data, said that 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing $16 billion of estimated economic damage.
Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank report said.
By November 2016, the government's forest moratorium covered more than 66 million hectares area.
(Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Additional reporting and writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and Randy Fabi)