Indonesia promises to deliver on community forestry rights

Indonesian forestsandpeople nature_org
Forestry experts say forest communities have the best hope of sustainably managing the world's forests. Photo:

An Indonesian official yesterday pledged to renew efforts to safeguard the rights of forest communities, a move widely recognised by experts as key to the long-term protection of the country’s forests and cultures.

At a global forestry conference held this week in Lombok, the head of the president’s Special Delivery Unit, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, told forestry experts the government would prioritise the welfare of forest communities and the recognition of Adat rights, or the customary land rights of indigenous people.

Mr Kuntoro, tasked with making the reforms necessary for implementing the government’s programmes on climate change and governance, said in a statement issued by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), “My role has enabled me to look cross-sectorally, across walls, to make sure that things happen on the ground. I want to ensure that the President’s Special Delivery Unit lives up to its name – delivers.”

RRI, a global coalition of organisations dedicated to empowering local and indigenous communities in the area of forest management, organised the event alongside the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). In addition to Mr Kuntaro, speakers included Indonesian vice president Boediono and Minister of Forests Zulkifli Hasan.

A study released earlier in the week found that Indonesia’s lack of progress on addressing local land tenure rights was a significant impediment to successful management of the nation’s forests and its carbon emissions due to deforestation.

“There is ample evidence that communities are reliable managers of natural resources and forests, yet for some reason Indonesia has yet to embrace the concept of local tenure rights with any seriousness,” said the report’s author, Dominic Elson of Trevaylor Consulting. “Until addressed, it will be hard to make more than token progress on the pressing issues facing the land use sector, such as deforestation, conflict and misguided investments that undermine development.  This will not only have poor outcomes for the forests, biodiversity and climate change – it will also have profound implications for the economy and long-term social development.”

Policy experts noted that the high level support for forestry land rights reform, and the recognition of the issue’s impact on climate change initiatives, indicates a significant policy shift for the government.

“This represents a tipping point in Indonesia’s policies toward the rights of the people who live in and around the nation’s forests,” said Iman Santoso, coordinator of a group of experts from government, academia and civil society that has worked to resolve the nation’s forest tenure issues for the last ten years. “Because Pak Kuntoro represents the President, this means that all government agencies will have to align their policies with the directives communicated today,” he added.

Former secretary general of the Ministry of Forestry Boen Purnama said, “The fact that Indonesia is a co-sponsor of one of the biggest conferences ever held on forest tenure, governance and enterprise in Asia, by itself says a lot about the realisation at very high levels that the status quo is not a perfect one and it needs improvement.”

Indonesia’s forestry management is inseparable from its climate change policies, which target an emissions reduction of 26 per cent from projected 2020 levels. Deforestation is the country’s largest source of climate-changing carbon emissions, a fact that has led to multiple offers of assistance from the international community for forest preservation. In May, the president signed a two year moratorium on issuing new permits for land clearance as part of a US$1 billion agreement with Norway signed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programme.

Critics of the moratorium have said that the final version not only provides too many exemptions for industry to be truly effective, it’s also unclear with regard to the location and quantity of land included. Wire agency Reuters recently reported that the Forestry Ministry and Presidential advisors on climate change were using different sets of data, with estimates of primary forest land varying from 55 million hectares to 64 million hectares.

The lack of an authoritative map of Indonesia’s forests affects its forest communities land tenure rights as well as the country’s climate change initiatives.

Mr Kuntoro’s first goal is to address this problem. “First, we must urgently develop one map as the basis for all decision-making to be used by all ministries and government institutions,” he said, adding that stakeholders, including indigenous communities, will be encouraged to provide input.

The next step, he said, would be to accelerate the delineation of the legal status of the nation’s forest area and guarantee the recognition of Adat customary rights. He clarified that only about 12 per cent of the nation’s forest area has been legally delineated or defined for mapping purposes. He added that all future action on land use should be based on the principle of “recognition, respect and protection of customary Adat rights,” and that this recognition should take place before the allocation of state land for other uses.

Mr Elson’s study notes that progress on community land tenure has moved backward  since 2002, when 600,000 hectares of land was reserved for communities. In 2010 less than 100,000 hectares was legally recognised as under local control. The government’s target is to transfer management of at least 500,000 hectares of state controlled land per year.

About 20 per cent, or 33,000, of Indonesia’s villages exist on forestlands claimed by the government, said Mr Kuntoro. Those communities could technically be considered illegal, despite claims from villagers that their families have lived there for generations, he added.

Not all of the communities living on land designated as state forest land actually live in forests, notes Mr Elson, who found that 40 million Indonesians live in treeless areas that are nonetheless designated as public forests. “This limits their livelihood options, as the land cannot be used for agriculture, yet in most cases they also cannot get a permit for reforestation, and do not have political power to get a permit for estate crops such as oil palm or cocoa,” he said.

He further notes that Indonesia’s forest policies to date have favoured extraction by timber and palm oil industries without providing significant gains for local communities. “Natural forest has continually been made available for industry at far below its social of economic value, while forest communities have been systematically ignored,” he writes. These policies have led to an estimated 30 million hectares of degraded forest land, according to Mr Elson.

Indonesia made steps to address this inequity on Monday by allocating certificates for the management of 89,000 hectares, representing slightly less than one per cent of the country’s forests, to local communities.

“Some people say that we need more land allocation for this purpose,” said Mr Kuntoro, adding, “I say this is a step in the right direction.”

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