Peace accord reached in violent conflict between locals and Indonesian state plantation company

November 23, 2011

A peace accord has been announced to resolve a long-running conflict between a giant state-owned plantation company and local communities on the Indonesian island of Java.

The Forest Trust (TFT), an international NGO that works to improve the environmental performance of companies' supply chains, says it has negotiated a deal under which timber giant Perum Perhutani will no longer use armed guards to patrol its teak plantations. Perhutani security forces had become notorious for their heavy-handed response to those found illegally cutting teak from their plantations. Some illegal loggers were villagers, others were large-scale illegal timber operators. Either way a number of violent incidents — including outright killings with machine guns — had tarnished Perhutani's reputation to the degree to which the company lost its certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 2001.

"Change had to happen," said TFT executive director Scott Poynton. "The big global buyers of teak told Perhutani that armed patrols were not an acceptable answer to illegal logging."

Machine guns once issued to Perhutani security forces are now "locked away" in a warehouse. Image courtesy of TFT.
TFT says it worked with Perhutani to "transform" how it manages its plantations, confronts illegal loggers, and interacts with local communities. Central to the effort has been establishing ways for communities to benefit legally from forests. A statement from TFT explains:
    The program Perhutani set up has allowed local people to benefit from every harvested tree that they guarded. Between 2005 and 2010, communities received the equivalent of US$19 million (IDR169 billion) from the sale of timber and non-timber forest products. In exchange, villagers have taken on a new role as guardians of the forests.

    Perhutani also established small local enterprises and farms inside the forests. Under the trees, villagers grow peanut, rice, beans, corn, bengkuang, mungbean and porang, a crop used for making noodles in Japan. Community members also collect a set amount of firewood every year
The measures have paid off — Perhutani has now regained its FSC certification for 2 of the 57 districts in which it operates. All districts are now considered "gun-free".

SPORC raid on forest village in Kerinci Seblat National Park on the island of Sumatra in November 2010
Perhutani hopes these new efforts will help mend relations with local communities, which have long been deprived access to forest resources. Today's conflict actually stems back to the Dutch colonial system which established state control over forest rescues and set up the plantations that would eventually be owned by Perhutani, which is currently the world's largest teak producer. That system's failure to recognize customary land rights is the root of many present-day conflicts over forests in Indonesia.

"'Gun-free teak' is a step forward," said a forestry analyst who asked not to be named. "Hopefully donors pushing for carbon trading and forest protection will also require 'gun-free carbon' and 'gun-free national parks' as well.

"It is important to note that Perum Perhutani is only one of the violent forestry security forces," the analyst continued. "The Ministry of Forestry's SPORC [Satuan Polisi Kehutanan Reaksi Cepat or Forest Police Rapid Response Force] and Polisi Hutan are heavily armed and are also alleged to engage in violent activities. Indigenous groups in Kalimantan have called for dissolving SPORC. International donors who are providing support for SPORC would do well to carefully assess SPORC's track record."

"Furthermore the primary cause of violent conflict — lack of secure land tenure for communities, and efforts by armed forces to displace local communities from their lands — still needs to be addressed."

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(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia's land policy. Can the tide be turned? There are signs it can. Indonesia is beginning to see a shift back toward traditional models of forest management in some areas. Where it is happening, forests are recovering. Telapak understands the issue well. It is pushing community logging as the 'new' forest management regime in Indonesia. Telapak sees community forest management as a way to combat illegal logging while creating sustainable livelihoods.

mongabay.com (November 23, 2011).

Peace accord reached in violent conflict between locals and Indonesian state plantation company.