By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – State-owned forest areas will never be offered for sale, Minister of Agriculture Saeed Masri said on Monday.

He was responding to news reports stating that a new article in the Agriculture Law will allow the sale of state-owned forest land to investors.

The reports said the Agriculture Law is currently being amended to allow investors to buy forest areas, stirring the ire of environmentalists who expressed concern over the fate of the already-limited forests in Jordan.

“Endorsing such a law would threaten the few forests we have in Jordan,” Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature Director General Yehya Khalid told The Jordan Times.

Masri confirmed that the Agriculture Law is currently being amended and will be referred to the Cabinet within two weeks for approval, but stressed that the legislation does not contain such a provision.

The amendments will allow the Housing and Urban Development Corporation to implement projects on “barren state-owned land” for the sake of public interest, Masri told The Jordan Times yesterday in a phone interview.

“For example, there are violations on private agricultural lands in the Jordan Valley, where people illegally build houses. The new amendment will allow the corporation to build housing units for those people to preserve agricultural lands and end the violations,” the minister said.

He underscored that the government is concerned with the protection of the Kingdom’s forests and expanding agricultural land.

Khalid stressed the importance of preserving the remaining forests in Jordan, which constitute less than 1 per cent of the country’s total area of 97,000 square kilometres.

Agriculture accounts for 80,152 plots of lands in Jordan, covering a total area of almost 2.7 million dunums, according to a state-funded census on the structure of the agriculture sector released in 2009.