Mapping out the progress of Indonesia’s One Map Policy Initiative

While meeting with various experts in Jakarta on subjects ranging from forests and peatlands, to forest fires, marine fisheries, climate change, and oil palm plantations, we kept hearing one recurring problem: land tenure woes were at the center of forestry degradation and conflict between communities, government, and private sector developers.

Conflict ensues when multiple interests have competing claims on a piece of land. For instance, in 2013, a major dispute over land in Lampung, Sumatra led to the deaths of nine people, and escalated tensions between farmers and a commercial plantation developer. The dispute began when the Ministry of Forestry gave a concession to the PT Silva company to plant trees for commercial purposes on previously protected forest land. The concession was then expanded twice, and eventually covered land that was claimed by a community living in the area, migrants from Bali and Java, and people who were evicted from other parts of Lampung. The issue garnered even more attention when politicians interested in votes picked sides, raising tensions. The commercial developer brought in police officers who evicted over 800 families in 2011 (IPAC, 2013). To complicate the issue, there are competing authorities in the administration of land between the national and district governments, with the several different actors including politicians, non-governmental organizations, farmer groups, and governance institutions (courts and the police) that few trust. As the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) reports, this is a microcosm of land tenure problems in Indonesia today.

The government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President of Indonesia, 2004-2014) initiated the One Map Policy to tackle this intractable problem in 2011, after two ministries, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and the Ministry of Forestry produced two differing maps of forests (Oxford Business Group, 2017). The government recognized that there were competing claims of ownership among the numerous stakeholders, competing concessionary powers between the central and local governments, and a lack of clarity about who, among the National Land Agency, Ministry of Forestry, and Ministry of Agriculture, had administrative authority over the land (IPAC, 2013). As stated, the government expects One Map to help “…resolve overlapping land-use conflicts, and improve the reliability of information related to the location of economic activities, which will speed the land use licensing process” (Bellfield et al. 2016). This goal of one true map was launched to bring all stakeholders to the table to find agreement on the problems at hand and form a consultative framework to map out the land.

The process has not been without challenges. For instance, the Indonesian Community Mapping Network (JKPP), which produces customary maps, has had some of their maps rejected by the Geospatial Information Agency (BIG).  The BIG claims that the maps do not meet required standards. BIG’s main complaint is that JKPP uses the more widely available, but less accurate, global positioning system (GPS) devices, as opposed to standard, more accurate, more expensive devices. Further, the maps provided by JKPP were not verified by the relevant coordinating agency, a step that is required before they can be incorporated into the base map (Shahab, 2017).

Ministries have also faced budget cuts, which has complicated One Map advancement. For instance, the coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs had its budget reduced and had to reschedule mapping training and clinics until a later time. This has slowed progress.

Despite these challenges, success stories abound. President Joko Widodo reaffirmed the commitment to the One Map Policy initiative by signing a presidential regulation accelerating its implementation as part of the eighth economic stimulus package (Bellfield, 2016). Since its establishment, the initiative has provided an engagement platform for ministries that previously did not coordinate on matters of forestry and land. Because various agencies needed to collaborate to establish the baseline map, there has been increased information-sharing, cooperation, and trust. As Kamarzuki, who coordinates the One Map initiative in the Ministry of Economic Affairs points out, “…there is currently a high degree of cooperation among the agencies” (Shahab, 2017).

Furthermore, participatory mapping has helped to improve the understanding of indigenous communities about their rights over their environment and natural resources. For instance, JKPP, in partnership with Oxfam, runs a community mapping project in Sekadau district of West Kalimantan to empower the Dayak people to claim access to and control over their natural resources. Further, the district government has accepted these maps, which have been used to resolve land conflict problems and fix village boundaries (Oxfam, 2017). WRI Indonesia country director, Tjokorda Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi, says that the process has greatly improved the consultative nature of land and forest governance. This not only provides grounds for engaging to resolve inevitable land conflict issues, but also includes the voice of the people in the development agenda of the government.

By 2016, BIG had completed 79 thematic maps for Kalimantan, the region with the most variety in land use. Further, a report to the president indicated that BIG had completed 26 of the 85 thematic maps from across the country (Halim, 2017). With a target of 2019 to complete all 85 thematic maps, it will be interesting to see how Indonesia performs in the next two years, largely because the integration of thematic maps onto one reference map is already behind schedule (Shahab, 2017). There has been significant progress, however, especially in getting ministries to work together and in incorporating local communities in the mapping exercises. There is great commitment to the One Map initiative from the highest levels of the Jokowi administration. It remains to be seen whether this commitment will lead to the completion of the exercise by the target date, and what this might mean for the attendant economic development plans.

By Munene Ndereba


Bellfield et al. 2016. Lessons from REDD+ for Achieving Water, Energy and Food Security in Indonesia. CDKN.

Halim H. Jakarta Post. 14 Jun 2017. One Map Faces Obstacles.

[IPAC] 2013. Mesuji: Anatomy of an Indonesian Land Conflict. Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

Oxford Business Group. Indonesia introduces one map policy as a solution to overlapping land claims. 2017.

Oxfam. Feb 2017. Towards a More Equal Indonesia.

Shahab, N. 2017.  Indonesia: One Map Policy. Open Government Partnership.

Tessier, et al. 2016. Indigenous Peoples’ Initiatives for Land Rights Recognition in Asia.  Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation.


Indonesia and Climate Change in 2018

In November of 2016, Indonesia submitted its first nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The country committed to a 29% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a business as usual scenario by 2030. They call this NDC an unconditional NDC because this is the level they believe they could reach without any international help. However, the country’s conditional NDC – conditional upon international financing and capacity building – is a 41% reduction by 2030. These goals are in conjunction with a voluntary commitment made by the country back in 2010 to reduce emissions by 26% from business as usual by 2020. Indonesia hopes to meet these goals through reducing deforestation and forest degradation, developing clean energy sources, and improving waste management. However, these strategies are easier said than done and will require actionable items [1]. When I asked Ambassador Rachmat Witoelar, Special Envoy to the President on Climate Change, and his staff what are the top three things Indonesia can do in 2018 to further climate change mitigation and adaptation ambition, they stressed: education, policy making, and inclusion of non-state actors. They did not elaborate on their vision for these three topic areas, but here I’ll provide my  view on ways to use these avenues.

Education is integral for identifying and solving almost any problem. If an individual does not understand that a problem exists, then there will be no motivation to help find answers. Indonesia has made steps to incorporate climate change into the country’s thinking through the National Climate Change Learning Strategy launched in 2013 and leadership camps such as the Youth Leadership Camp for Climate Change 2017 in conjunction with UN CC:Learn, UNESCO, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and Youth for Climate Change Indonesia [2]. These are positive signs that education on climate change in Indonesia is moving forward. One avenue that could be explored is analyzing the bright spots throughout the country, like the Green School Bali, and see if aspects of their curricula could be integrated into public schools around the country. For example, the Green School’s website states that “we educate for sustainability, through community-integrated, entrepreneurial learning, in a wall-less, natural environment. Our holistic, student-guided approach inspires and empowers us to be green leaders” [3]. Generating a culture of sustainability with the country’s next crop of leaders will be important for ensuring Indonesia is ready to tackle the future impacts of climate change.


The Green School in Bali is one example targeting climate change education toward younger groups in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Jeremy Piper, NY Times (Source:

Policy making and the strengthening of existing policies will be important for Indonesia to further climate change mitigation and adaptation ambitions in 2018. Strong commitments have been made through the voluntary emissions reductions in 2010, the doubling down in 2016 with the country’s NDC, the forest moratorium, and other policies such as a minimum of 23% renewable energy by 2025 from the National Energy Policy [4]. According to analysts, however, the existing measures will not be enough to meet the country’s NDC. Therefore, the focus in 2018 should be on determining new measures the country can take to meet their unconditional and, hopefully, conditional NDC. This may come in the form of strengthening existing policies. For example, the renewable energy target could be strengthened, especially as development plans to electrify more of Indonesia are realized [5].  Additionally, policies to ensure enforcement mechanisms are in place and are understood could be enhanced. For example, the forest moratorium affects all residents of an area, but if local residents do not know the policy is in place and the consequences for violating the law, then emissions reductions through this mechanism will not be effective.

Finally, Indonesia needs to increase its involvement of non-state actors in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Non-state actors include businesses, universities, or states/provinces, really any group that is not a part of the national government apparatus. The necessity of these entities has been an important development since the 2015 Paris Agreement reinforced at subsequent annual UN climate conferences. These entities are relatively absent from the climate change mitigation and adaptation stage in Indonesia even though they contribute a significant proportion of emissions through their activities. The biggest hurdle for incorporating more non-state actors is encouraging them to analyze their potential risks to climate change so that they understand the urgency involved in reducing emissions and preparing for climate change consequences.

I believe the outlook for Indonesia in increasing its ambition on climate change mitigation and adaptation is promising. The country has many people on the ground at all levels – from the President’s Special Envoy on Climate Change to the teachers at the Green School Bali – doing important work to further emissions reductions and sustainability. If Indonesia learns from the work done by these few groups thus far and focuses on education, policy making, and inclusion of non-state actors in 2018, the country will be able to further its ambition for mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts.

By Jessica Frech


  1. First Nationally Determined Contribution Republic of Indonesia. UNFCCC, Nov. 2016.
  2. From Theory to Action: Indonesian Students Learn to Address Climate Change.” United Nations Institute for Training and Research, 25 Apr. 2017.
  3. About.” Green School Bali.
  4. National Energy Policy (Government Regulation No. 79/2014) Indonesia 2014.” NewClimate, 2015.
  5. Chrysolite, Hanny, et al. “Evaluating Indonesia’s Progress on its Climate Commitments.” World Resources Institute, 4 Oct. 2017.

Snapshot from Indonesia: What do you think about Indonesian traffic?

It is a normal Friday night. Danny, Jenny, and Tommy are at a party. They chat with each other, and share recent fun or funny stories. Today, their group’s topic is experiences during their last trip.


My last trip was to Bali, Indonesia. I had a lot of fun. But I have to say, the most impressive thing to me there was the traffic. You know, tourism on the island is well developed and there are many tourists. Some of the main commercial streets are particularly crowded. There are also a lot of motorcycles on the road as well as cabs and buses. To make the traffic even more difficult, the roads in Bali are very narrow. As a result, almost every time we tried to go somewhere, it would take us a long time. However, I do not think this is a bad thing. In fact, I enjoyed a lot on the way. For example, one time when we went to a temple we were trapped in traffic for an hour to cover a six-mile distance. But I saw a lot during this hour. I saw many tourists from different countries, judging from their outfit styles, and observed their moods and imagined their stories. I saw many stores selling local goods including food, clothes, souvenirs and cosmetics. I saw cute monkeys as we passed a monkey forest. I also took amazing pictures of typical sculptures and figures in the center of the region, which I could not have otherwise taken from a fast-moving car. Moreover, we found there was a karaoke machine on our bus, so we sang together happily and excitedly. It was so memorable!

Generally, thanks to the traffic, I had more fun experiences than I expected.


A street view with unusually good traffic. photo by Yitong Zhang.


Our group enjoying karaoke.  Photo by Yitong Zhang.


By coincidence, I am also impressed by the traffic in Indonesia! I went there several months ago, and spent most of my trip in its capital city, Jakarta. Contrary to your experience in Bali, however, I have to say that this city’s traffic is terrible. As you said, there are a lot of motorcycles and vehicles, and some roads are narrow. What’s worse, Jakarta has many one-way roads. When you need to go to a certain place on a one-way street and you come from the opposite direction, or when you make a mistake while driving, it cannot be worse. The problem is that most of the time we were in a hurry because we had meetings every day. Believe it or not, one time we spent one and a half hours over a five-mile distance. When you have limited time, wasting a lot of time on the roads is worrisome rather than enjoyable. Additionally, it can be dangerous in such bad traffic. Accidents can happen especially when drivers lose patience. Imagine that situation!

So… sorry my friend, I cannot agree with you this time.


Traffic on our way to a meeting.  Photo by Munene Ndereba.


Wait, are you going to fight with each other? That would be funny. As far as I am concerned, you’re both saying something similar: that the traffic in Indonesia is not well organized. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on your mood and your plans. But it is true that it can be dangerous when pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles mix together on narrow roads. A potential solution is to widen the country’s roads. So why don’t you submit a suggestion to the government online?

All right, I am just kidding. I love the music at this party, let’s dance!

By Yitong Zhang

Trouble in Paradise: REDD+ and Deforestation in Indonesia

When thinking of Indonesia, the first thing that comes to mind is the luscious green rainforest and abundant biodiversity. The sad reality is that the rainforest, much of it primary forest, is disappearing at an alarmingly fast rate. According to WRI data, Indonesia is home to the world’s third largest tropical forest. [1] Today, it is estimated that 72% of Indonesia‘s primary forest landscapes have already been lost forever. [2]

Illegal activities, such as logging timber for export and to make way for palm oil plantations, are among the main causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Indonesia. Deforestation of rainforests is concerning because these forests are home to much of the world’s biodiversity. In addition, rainforests provide vital ecosystem services such as carbon capture and storage, emissions offsetting, watershed protection, and climate security. Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter and ranks second in the world for tropical deforestation. According to data from Global Forest Watch, 61.6% of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 came from land-use change and forestry. [3]

Kaegi Pic1

During our visit in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, our group was fortunate enough to go on a jungle expedition to experience the mystical beauty of the rainforest . This photo was taken at our base camp in Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia. Photo by Daniela Kaegi

In 2007, the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) took place in Bali, Indonesia.  In an attempt to reduce deforestation in developing countries, the Norwegian government, a major contributor to REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) funds, pledged to contribute $1 billion over a five-year period towards efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia. [4] The REDD framework financially rewards developing countries for achieving emissions reductions associated with decreased conversion of forests to alternate land uses. [5] At COP 16 in 2010, REDD became REDD+ and now also includes “enhancement of forest carbon stocks” as a component eligible for funding.

As of today, Norway has not been able to disburse all of the money to Indonesia. Largely due to an increasing demand for palm oil, deforestation has not decreased in Indonesia. REDD+ is a results-based payment and, unfortunately, Indonesia has not been able to show results.

In a meeting at CIFOR, scientist Amy E. Duchelle told us that initially there was a lot of enthusiasm to receive REDD+ funds to preserve forests. However, many of these goals have not been achieved over a 10-year period. CIFOR sees part of the problem with REDD+ in the fact that the carbon market never took off. In addition, many NGOs in Indonesia are against REDD+’s strategy to capitalize the forest for preservation purposes. REDD+ programs often target swidden agriculture (sometimes referred to as slash-and-burn agriculture), an approach usually practiced on a small scale by economically vulnerable communities and indigenous groups. Targeting smallholders as the main culprit of deforestation may not be the right approach as it does not address the larger drivers of deforestation. However, going after large corporations is more difficult than going after the small actors.

Another part of the problem with REDD+ can be attributed to a 2013 government restructuring. In an attempt to streamline government structures, Indonesia’s current President, Joko Widodo, integrated the REDD+ agency into the Ministry of Forestry and Environment. According to a conversation with Heru Prasetyo, former head of Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency, the transition slowed REDD+ program implementation. The Norwegian government grew suspicious of the changes in program management and has given less support since REDD+ was merged into the new ministry.

Under the Paris Agreement, Indonesia voluntarily pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from business as usual on its own, and up to 41% with international support by 2020 [6].  In a meeting with Nur Masripatin, Director General on Climate Change at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, we learned that one of the main points of action to combat climate change in Indonesia includes the reduction of deforestation under REDD+. However, the national government in Indonesia is worried about receiving sufficient funding from the international community.

Facing many challenges, it remains to be seen if Indonesia, with the support of the international community and especially through REDD+, will be able to reduce deforestation and save much of the world’s precious rainforests and biodiversity.

By Daniela Kaegi



[1] WRI

[2] Greenpeace International

[3] Global Forest Watch

[4] UNFCC Report of the Conference of the Parties COP13

[5] The REDD Desk

[6] First Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Agreement

The Balance Between Sustainability and Economic Development in the Palm Oil Industry: Can Local Governments Make This Possible?

What do you do when a government official visits your town and introduces a new crop (often referred to as the golden crop) and subsequently tells you that this crop is multipurpose, highly productive, low maintenance, and essentially cheaper than any other alternative that you could potentially grow? Obviously, any farmer would tell you to jump at this opportunity. Now, what happens if every farmer in your village decides to also chase after this golden crop? The entire town is now perpetuated by a desire to enhance their own economic circumstances, and invest in a crop that is undeniably going to offer economic benefits for the individual, for the town as a whole, and for the entire country. This is the dilemma with palm oil: in economic terms, it’s too good to stop and local governments in Indonesia have no viable incentive to do so – except the environment.

For several decades, Indonesian policies have focused their political agenda on expeditious growth, which has predominantly been exacerbated by a dependence on the palm oil industry. The Indonesian palm oil industry has thus expanded at a rapid rate and posited the country as the largest global producer of palm oil. As of 2015, Indonesia’s palm exports accounted for 7.6% of its traded commodities. Unsurprisingly, some of the largest importers of Indonesian palm oil are India, China, and the U.S. (purchasing the most palm oil in North and South America).[1] Through these efforts the palm oil sector has emerged as an important contributor to export revenue and rural employment, and growing demand for palm oil as cheap cooking oil especially from China and India, and increasingly as biofuel, is likely to support the industry’s prospective future. Demand for palm oil is essentially driving an interminable expansion of palm oil plantations, which has been complemented by an increase in yields as improved seedlings become available.[2] Nevertheless, while the economic benefits of palm oil have guised the external costs to the world’s golden crop, it is an unequivocal fact that palm oil development has adversely impacted ecological systems across the archipelago, with local governments frequently culpable for this destruction.


A local oil palm grower stacks fruit bunches by the roadside. These bunches will be picked up by trucks and transported for processing. Photo by Daniela Tizabi.

In 1998, after the fall of Suharto’s 31-year dictatorship, Indonesia went through a significant process of decentralizing power. In relation to the palm oil industry, this meant that much of the power over land allocation circulated to bupatis (often called “regents” or “district heads” in English) who govern over districts (kabupatens). In fact, many bupatis have been under fire for accusations of widespread corruption in the way they hand out logging concessions.[3] Some violations included the “flouting of plantation licensing laws, attempts by a palm oil firm to bribe police to drop an investigation into its activities and regional governments transferring community resources to private firms.”[4] Over the years the Indonesian government has ultimately contended with various allegations that the palm oil industry is contributing to illegal logging, deforestation, environmental degradation, and human rights violations related to land-grabbing and land right issues across the country.

Despite the negative elements that have been inherently present within the palm oil industry for the past two decades, companies, international officials, and local Indonesian governments have set the pace for future action and actively sought to transform palm oil practices. As part of the efforts to address the palm oil industry’s sustainability challenge, Indonesia’s Sustainable Palm Oil System (ISPO) was introduced in 2011 as the mandatory certification scheme intended to cover all palm oil producers in the country.[5] The Ministry of Agriculture, with UNDP support, “has also taken the lead in conducting a comparative analysis of the ISPO and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s largest voluntary certification scheme for sustainable palm oil, which consumers trust most.”[6]

The Ministry of Agriculture is currently working on aligning these two certification schemes. The Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs has established a task force to revise the principles and criteria of ISPO and strengthen its legal standing through a higher-level decree. This would in turn help address dimensions of sustainability that depend on public policies (such as registration, monitoring, training, governance of enforcement), which cannot be properly assessed at the level of mills and plantations that constituted RSPO-certified value chains. Alternatively, while the central government is making strides to promote sustainable palm oil expansion at the national level, it is paramount that the feasibility of these efforts at the ground-level are also considered – this is where the role of local governing bodies (kabupatens) is vital.


Oil palm fruit bunches stacked and ready for transport. Photo by Annisah Smith.

In order for mechanisms such as the ISPO certification to be effective, scholars elucidate how “it is imperative to support producers so that they can meet standards and access markets.”[7] This is crucial in Indonesia where approximately half of all palm oil plantations are held by smallholder farmers. Many of these farmers face myriad barriers to sustainability such as lack of training, access to basic agricultural requirements including certification-standard fertilizer or seeds, and funds to pay the costs of new certification, for example land certificates from local government bodies.[8] Smallholders who are deprived of these basic tools to implement sustainable commitments are thus denied access to the formal market, and more likely to perpetuate “unlawful deforestation and labor practices.”[9] It is therefore necessary for local kabupatens to be engaged with local smallholders and provide support to forms of education and sustainable production of palm oil.

All in all, problems within the palm oil industry have arisen due to the deep economic incentives for expansion that are superimposed on a governance framework that has weak capacity for pushing the development of new plantation areas onto low environmental impact zones. While it may be impossible to completely prevent environmental degradation, improved governance at the kabupaten level has the potential to ensure that oil palm plantation development occurs in areas where the development benefits outweigh the environmental costs. Many of Indonesia’s ecologically at-risk areas that palm oil expansion is threatening are globally important carbon sinks (such as in Riau and throughout Kalimantan) and the potential emergence of governance cooperation and engagement, supplemented by economic incentives by the federal government through carbon offset programs, can promote the transition of palm oil development to non-forested and non-peat areas. It is thus imperative that Indonesia support a larger transition into sustainable policies that not only recognizes the significance of the palm oil industry relative to the national economy, but is cognizant of the environmental implications that unsustainable practices have on Indonesia’s environmental milieu.

By Annisah Smith


[1]AJG Simoes, and CA Hidalgo, “What Does Indonesia Export?” The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development, (2015)

[2] “Getting the Logic Straight on Palm Oil Expansion and Deforestation.” THAMRIN SCHOOL OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY, 27 Apr. 2017.

[3] Milman, Oliver. “Local and national interests clash in Indonesia’s palm oil industry.” The Guardian, April 23, 2015. Accessed February 1, 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bahuet, Christophe. “Sustainable palm oil for all.” The Jakarta Post, June 16, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2017.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Rice Cultivation and Palm Oil in Indonesia: The Economy against the Environment

With the widely differing landscapes and culture of Bali and North Sumatra, it was only natural to find that the local people’s livelihoods were different too, each facing their own economic challenges. If you have heard anything about Bali, you probably have heard of their beautiful rice fields, which are a source of income for many Balinese families. On the other hand, in North Sumatra, palm oil cultivation was common, given the availability of thick rainforests that are convenient for crop production (once they are cut and cleared). Our visits to both islands exposed us to the challenges these individual islands face, and their struggle to achieve a sustainable method of crop production.

Bali’s rice paddies really are as rich and beautiful as they say, but a regular tourist is often not exposed to the difficulties the subak system is currently facing. For those who do not know, many of the rice paddies in Bali belong to an intricate subak system, which is an autonomous method of managing the irrigation system and is deeply integrated with spiritual practices and ceremonies. The subak system has long been the subject of many studies for its sustainable practices combined with community effort to manage in common elements of the system such as irrigation.


Jatiluwih Rice Terraces in Bali: a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Wardah Zaman.

For many years, the Indonesian government has been trying to make the country’s rice production self-sufficient. Despite rice cultivation being a common practice in Indonesia, particularly in Bali, the country still imports its rice from cheaper sources, such as from India and Pakistan. Therefore, in the 1970s, the government, inspired by the cultivation reforms of the Philippines, attempted to increase its crop yield and production. Thus began the Green Revolution in Indonesia, and there were new agricultural policies through which farms were incentivized to try new technologies that would improve crop yield.[i] However, while productivity did rise at first, it declined quickly due to water shortages, pest invasions, and crop failures, leaving people to believe that the subak system was efficient on its own and that harmony between farmers was more essential than they had originally realized.

However, the rice cultivation sector of Bali has given rise to an entirely new economic sector: tourism. The beauty of the subak rice fields have drawn large numbers of tourists over the past few decades. While this appears to be highly beneficial for the economy of the state, it has also given rise to a completely new set of problems for the subak farmers. Younger generations who are expected to take over their father’s lands in the subak community are now being pulled by the lucrative tourism sector. Working in hotels, restaurants, tourist resorts, etc., generates more income than working tediously in rice paddies.[i] 

On the positive side, the subak systems have gained protection through UNESCO World Heritage status, and as awareness grows of the delicate social ecological system, so does the drive to protect it. In fact, during our visit to Dwijendra University, we interacted with many students who were studying agri-business, and were willing to work on improving the subak system of Bali.

A few days after studying the subak system, we flew to North Sumatra, only to find that its economic sector was a huge contrast to Bali. In North Sumatra, we were exposed to one of Indonesia’s main industries: the production of palm oil. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil with an annual production of over 18 million tons. The industry is expanding at a high rate and with business-as-usual, current predictions are that production is expected to increase by 32% by 2020.[ii] This is because palm oil is a high-demand product worldwide, as it appears in almost all of our everyday products ranging from beauty products such as lipstick to edible goods like Nutella.


The nut inside a palm fruit used in beauty products. Photo by Munene Ndereba.

However, like the subak system, not everything is as perfect as it seems. The palm oil industry too has its challenges. One of the major concerns with palm oil production is that it involves heavy deforestation, which is opening up a range of problems for Indonesia. Indonesia is known for its rich and diverse rainforests, but with the expansion of this industry, the complex ecosystem of Indonesia is becoming heavily endangered. These forests are habitat to many endangered animals, such as orangutans and Sumatran rhinos. And while there are many nonprofits currently working in Indonesia to increase awareness of wildlife protection, corporations still push for policies for increased productivity of palm oil.[i]

The palm oil industry also faces a constraint in terms of land use. If the industry continues to expand, more land will have to be converted for fertile production. While the government has policies regarding land conversion, this is still giving rise to more illegal production and poor practices regarding palm oil trees. Weak regulation and land mapping, combined with the people’s dependence on palm oil production for their livelihoods, means that deforestation is happening at an uncontrollable rate. The government, along with REDD+, is looking for a number of ways to promote sustainable growth, but a lot of uncertainty and controversy still surround the industry.

In conclusion, one thing we gained from our trip to Indonesia was the understanding of the complexity of the economic sectors of Bali and North Sumatra. Many developing countries face such challenges as they try to make what is seen as a tradeoff between environmental protection and economic development.

By Wardah Zaman



[i] “Ecological impact of palm oil expansion in Indonesia.” The International Council on Clean Transportation,

[i] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “World Heritage List.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre,

[ii] “The Economic Benefit of Palm Oil to Indonesia.” World Growth,

[i] Wei, Cynthia, et al. “The Blind Spot in the Green Revolution: Temples, Terraces, and Rice Farmers of Bali.” CORE, 1 Jan. 1970,

Snapshot from Indonesia: Culinary Delights

One of the things I was really hyped up about before getting to Indonesia was the plethora of food I would to get try there — and I was NOT disappointed. Here are some of my personal favorites!


Photo by Ariana Scurti.

Mie goreng: Mie is Bahasa Indonesia for “noodles” and goreng is “fried,” so this dish is basically Indonesian fried noodles. This turned out to be my staple food throughout the trip, while I occasionally tried out new dishes every place we went. It’s spicy, greasy, and  generally chicken-based. A perfect meal to complement the rainy weather that followed us all through the trip.


Photo by Munene Ndereba.

Nasi goreng: Nasi translates to “rice” and it’s basically the rice equivalent of the mie goreng. So of course, it was the obvious substitute for when I wasn’t in the mood for noodles. It is also one of the safest bets to go for if you don’t want to experiment, in that it can rarely go wrong.


Photo by Yitong Zhang.

Gado Gado: This is an Indonesian salad consisting of mildly blanched or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, and tempeh, tofu, and prawn wafers as sides, with a dressing of peanut sauce — a beautiful mix of flavors and textures!

Ikan Teri Sambal: One of the spiciest dishes I’ve had during my time in Indonesia, teri sambal is a mix of fried, crispy anchovies and peanuts in a hot chili paste, served with hot white/ brown rice. I would say this is probably my favorite dish of the trip. Unfortunately, I downed this meal before I could take a picture of it.


Photo by Matt Regan.

Bee salad: Personally, this was probably the most interesting dish of the trip. It was at Mr. Chakra Widia’s house. Mr. Widia lives in a self-sufficient unit — with his own vermiculture pit, vegetable garden, and apiary. We got to try some honey right off the honeycomb, followed by this salad that was made by boiling a honeycomb with bees and their larvae in some hot water. And then drying, frying and adding it to the mix (shown above) of leaves, fried seeds, sambal and ginger paste.


Photo by Yitong Zhang.

Bebek goreng: Bebek is duck in Indonesian. This fried duck dish was juicy and succulent on the inside and crispy on the outside. Probably one of the fanciest and most expensive dishes, it was totally worth it!


Photo by Andrea Prada.

One of my regrets was not being able to try out the Babi Guling or the suckling pig, which is a Balinese crowd favorite. But here is a picture that Andrea managed to take when she came back to Bali, post our program.


Photo by Annisah Smith.

This post would be incomplete without a special shout out to my favorite side dish — the Sambal. A simple dish that can be paired with almost anything, there are slight variations in the recipe across Indonesia. Here is the Medan version of it! (you’re welcome):


– 5 red jalapeños
– 5 red bird’s eye chilies
– Half a red onion
– Half a frozen tomato
– Pinch of salt
– 1 tsp white sugar
– 1 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste)
– Juice of 1 Persian-type lime or 2 calamansi (tiny ones)


  1. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the chilies, sugar and salt to a mix.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan and add chopped onions. Cook till they are golden brown.
  3. Add the shrimp paste to the onions and mix for around a minute or so.
  4. Cut the frozen tomato into small pieces and add to chilies mix made earlier. Also add some lime juice to this mix and pound to a fine paste.
  5. Store in a clean jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

By Renuka Pai