During our travels across Indonesia we had the opportunity to meet with a number of different NGOs, government ministries, and individuals who were all working on the issue of deforestation. Through these conversations I saw two key issues emerge: land tenure and the mechanisms through which national policy reaches people living in areas affected by deforestation. One meeting in particular, with Moira Moeliono of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), highlighted this challenging dynamic and offered the solution of community-based forestry or social forestry.
The Food and Agricultural Organization defines social forestry as “…encompass[ing] the management of forest lands and forest resources by or with local people, individually or in groups, and for commercial or non-commercial purposes. [Social forestry] covers a range of activities including indigenous management of sacred sites of cultural importance, smallholder forestry schemes, small-scale forest-based enterprises, company-community partnerships, as well as decentralized and devolved forest management” (2015)
This discussion around how indigenous populations manage land and how that might be incorporated into government planning has been going on since at least the 1960s but has recently gained more attention. A groundbreaking report from Rights and Resources was released outlining the critical role forest dwelling people have in climate change mitigation and protecting the carbon stored up in the worlds tropical ecosystems (2016). Expanding our view of how land is valued beyond simple economic terms and exploring alternative management approaches is an exciting step forward.
Indonesia, which made significant pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (Climate Tracker 2017), has acknowledged this connection and has begun to make an effort to restore land tenure rights to indigenous groups with a social forestry scheme. The program, launched in 2016, has five social forestry designations and has promised to return 12 million hectares of land to local communities by 2019. The government has been establishing legal access for communities living in and around forests to manage forest resources through five different management schemes: Community Plantation Forests, Village Forests, Community Forests, Partnership, and Customary Forests. Through these schemes, community-based forestry management aims to build a legal framework to support local communities and ensure sustainable resource management (Millennium Challenge Account 2017).
I was initially optimistic about the program but two years after its launch there has been little progress made. A recent Mongabay article entitled “Indonesian villages see virtually zero progress in program to manage peatlands,” was critical of the government’s work and highlighted several major shortcomings. As of January 15th of this year, only 10% of the 12 million hectares has been returned to communities and in the particularly vulnerable peatforest ecosystem, only one permit for less than 4 square miles has been issued. The government response has been to shrink their initial target of 12 million hectares to around 4.3 million (Jorg 2018).
The issue of social forestry designations is inherently complicated because it requires a very diverse set of groups with different world views to quantify their relationship with nature through a government application process. While I appreciate the ambition to increase land tenure I worry that this effort misses the larger issue of how to appropriately incorporate indigenous peoples into a modern state.
Ethical and philosophical quandaries aside there are some more tangible improvements to be made within the social forestry program as it is currently operating. The first is improving the government infrastructure and NGO support help to handle the large flow of applications and general interest. Thousands of communities are applying and there simply isn’t enough money or manpower to manage the process.
The second is to find a way to check the tremendous pressure the extractive resource industry is putting on the land tenure process. Palm oil and pulp plantations are able to take advantage of weak local governance structures and exert land claims in areas with indigenous populations. If Indonesia is to make serious progress towards checking their carbon emissions, empowering local communities, and meeting their Paris Agreement commitments they need to confront the imbalance between economic development and environmental stewardship.
By Russell King
“Community-Based Forestry.” FAO.Org, 2015, http://www.fao.org/forestry/participatory/90729/en/.
Jong, Hans. “Indonesian Villages See Virtually Zero Progress In Program To Manage Peatlands.” Mongabay, 2018, https://news.mongabay.com/2018/01/indonesian-villages-see-virtually-zero-progress-in-program-to-manage-peatlands/.
“New Era Of Social Forestry: For People’s Welfare – Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia.” Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia, 2017, http://www.mca-indonesia.go.id/en/our_news/news/new_era_of_social_forestry_for_peoples_welfare-1212.
Rights and Resources Initiative. Toward A Global Baseline Of Carbon Storage In Collective Lands. 2016.
Tracker, Climate. “Indonesia – Climate Action Tracker.” Climateactiontracker.Org, 2018, http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/indonesia.html.