By Hana Namrouqa – Jun 29,2015

AMMAN — The Ministry of Agriculture on Monday announced a new policy to end violations on bare forest lands, with 12,000 violations currently registered across the Kingdom.

Under the new policy, the agriculture and interior ministries will enhance monitoring and handling of violations on uncultivated forest land, while the former will draft new regulations that ban issuing commuted sentences to those who commit such infringements, Agriculture Minister Akef Zu’bi said at a press conference.

Zu’bi explained that forest lands include terrain covered with forest trees and uncultivated land intended for greening projects, underscoring that the government is cracking down on violations on the latter.

A total of 12,000 violations have been recorded on bare forestry lands, the minister said, highlighting that 7,000-8,000 breaches occurred during the past 25 years.

“The violations entail construction of buildings, agricultural projects or fences built on part of the land by owners of adjacent properties,” Zu’bi told reporters.

He attributed the violations to several factors, including weakness in dealing with them on the side of the ministry, weak coordination between the ministries of interior and agriculture and the Arab Spring, during which the level of monitoring and addressing violations dropped.

The main reason behind the violations, Zu’bi noted, is the issuance of commuted sentences to those involved due to “culture-related considerations”.

“The Penal Code is being referred to when issuing rulings against violators… when the specialised Agriculture Law should be the basis for handling similar violations,” Zu’bi said.

The Penal Code allows for commuted sentences for violations on bare forest land, the minister added, highlighting that the Agriculture Law stipulates stiffer penalties.

To address the issue, Zu’bi said the ministry is currently looking into two options — either to draft new regulations as part of the Agriculture Law that prohibit the issuance of commuted sentences for violators, or to add new articles to the Penal Code stipulating the same.

In addition, the ministry’s policy also entails a media campaign to inform the public that the iftaa department, the state body responsible for issuing religious edicts, has deemed violations against bare forestry lands as forbidden in Islam.

Moreover, the Cabinet has approved appointing 30 new rangers to be deployed in Jerash and Ajloun, doubled the amount of fuel allocated for rangers’ vehicles and appointed 12 new surveyors.

“During the past week, the ministry referred 157 cases of violations on bare forest lands to court… and in the future we might announce names of the violators,” Zu’bi highlighted.

The ministry did not specify the area of land affected by violations, but said that on average each violation takes place over one to two dunums and has never exceeded 20 dunums.

Forestry lands amount to 1.5 million dunums, of which 250,000 dunums are bare, 400,000 dunums are natural forests, 500,000 dunums are planted forests and 350,000 are nature reserves, forestry department director Eid Zu’bi told The Jordan Times during the press conference.

Forests in Jordan constitute less than 1 per cent of the country’s total area of 97,000 square kilometres.

Jordan is among the poorest countries worldwide in terms of green cover, with the internationally accepted average of land covered by forests standing at 15 per cent of the total area.

Ministry figures indicate that 1,399 violations in the country’s forests were registered in 2014, and 800 cases are still in court.

In April, the ministry announced that it was drafting new regulations that ban issuing commuted sentences to those involved in violations on the Kingdom’s forests, underscoring that judges are basing their rulings in forestry-related cases on the Penal Code instead of the Agriculture Law, which stipulates strict penalties against illegal loggers.