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From conflict to partnership, a Kalimantan community and logging company manage the forest together

  • A year after the 1998 fall of Suharto, a logging company began felling trees in a concession where five villages already stood. One of Indonesia’s ubiquitous land conflicts began to set in.
  • In 2000, a mediation agreement produced an agreed framework for compensation. Villagers later formed a collective action network, BP Segah, to oversee the deal.
  • Today, BP Segah monitors the company’s activities to ensure transparency, serves as a public forum for complaints, manages compensation payments and more.

Langkah Jones Lokan and his partners have come a long way as they trudge farther into the East Kalimantan forest. Sixteen years ago the company Jones now works with showed up with heavy machinery and began felling valuable trees.

“They destroyed cemeteries,” says Jones, a middle-aged Dayak man. “There was no compensation.”

In 1999 Indonesia was emerging from economic crisis and found itself just a matter of months into a precarious democratic transition. The 31-year rule of General Suharto had come to an abrupt end the previous year, but much of the damage here in Borneo had been done. The strongman’s three-decade focus on food security and ambivalence to the value of the Kalimantan tree line led to one of the fastest periods of deforestation in history. PT Sumalindo Lestari Jaya was just one of many timber companies given carte blanche to lay waste to Kalimantan’s lowlands – in 1999 the company arrived to haul down trees in this part of Berau regency, where five villages already stood.

Communities received nothing when Sumalindo’s heavy machines moved through the concession, rolling through sacred sites and cutting down fruit trees that contributed to subsistence livelihoods. One of Indonesia’s ubiquitous land conflicts began to set in. But in 2000 the villages and the company successfully mediated a solution together with the local government and The Nature Conservancy, an international NGO.

TNC originally came to Berau to work on protecting orangutan habitats farther up the Kelay River.

“Then we saw there were other priorities in Berau, including in Segah [subdistrict],” Indah Astuti, a community development specialist at TNC, tells Mongabay. “TNC began communicating with Sumalindo and the five villages in Segah so we could know the expectations of both parties.

“People said they needed Sumalindo – they needed them for the roads, economic activity, social programs – they could help with all of that. But the people wanted proper forest management. They didn’t want their cemeteries or fruit trees destroyed.”

Long Laai is one of the villages in Segah that found itself in Sumalindo’s logging concession in 1999. Photo by Indra Nugraha

The mediation produced an agreed framework for compensation for the five affected villages. A memorandum of understanding required the company to avoid sacred sites and it marked as untouchable areas of high conservation value.

Then, in 2003, collective action organization BP Segah was formed, led by Jones, to oversee the deal.

More than a decade on and Jones is out monitoring the forest concession together with Sumalindo staffers. BP Segah now represents the interests of four of the five originally affected villages, after one withdrew from the organization in 2009. Long Ayap, Long Laai, Long Okeng and Long Paai today jointly manage a concession spanning 63,500 hectares.

BP Segah’s role is to monitor Sumalindo’s activities to ensure maximum transparency. Annual working plans are made public and BP Segah facilitates consultation with the four villages. It serves as a public forum for complaints and is charged with the distribution of compensation payments to the villages.

“We also help organize what activities will be carried out by the community and the company,” Jones says. “Sumalindo also provides scholarships, and stipends for village officials as well as helping develop roads, electricity and suchlike.”

Last year the residents were given compensation payments of 200,000 rupiah per person, around $14.

“Newborn babies receive it as well – it’s calculated per head,” Jones says. “Today it is transparent.”

Jones (center) marks up trees with a Sumalindo official. Photo by Indra Nugraha

The payout is hardly a king’s ransom. However it is significantly higher than that mandated by the Berau government. The regency issued a decree stating residents are entitled to just 3,000 rupiah per cubic meter of harvested timber. An agreement struck between the company and residents, however, raised that to 33,000 rupiah. Today around 1,000 people receive the payment.

“If you add up the 33,000 rupiah payment and don’t take into account scholarships and other social payments to the people it comes out to around 1 billion rupiah,” Andi Amiruddin, site manager for Sumalindo, tells Mongabay.

Local politicians are also heaping praising on the partnership and calling for other companies to follow suit.

“This is a good example – there’s mutual respect between the people and the company,” Hamzah, head of the West Berau Forest Management Unit, tells Mongabay. “The compensation is the largest of any company in Berau. In another concession the company pays just 3,000 rupiah, only fulfilling their obligations under the regency decree.”

Sumalindo officials scrutinize a map of trees ready to be felled. Photo by Indra Nugraha

More needs to be done, however, to give people a deeper stake in the concession. Observers say local residents need greater training in environmental science, social management and planning as well as direct access to monitor the availability of seedlings for replanting programs.

“The methods should be kept straightforward so the public can become involved more directly,” Hamzah says, adding that he wants to see greater marking and mapping of trees carried out by the public. “They need to be taught how to use GPS.”

An added benefit of the closer ties between local communities and the concession holder is greater security and additional checks against illegal activity.

“The role of BP Segah goes beyond monitoring, it stretches to security of the area,” Indah says. “There is no more illegal logging here now.”

Back in the field Jones is moving through the concession marking up trees with the company.

“This is a monthly routine,” he says. “We don’t have cars so Sumalindo runs us up here.”

Jones inspects a nursery for rubber tree seedlings. Photo by Indra Nugraha

The routine forms just one small part of a complex brief spread across a vast archipelago where deforestation has marched unfettered for decades. Major pulp-and-paper firms and palm oil giants are lining up to announce new pledges aimed at zero deforestation in the years to come. Compliance with those pledges remains far from certain, while a long list of seemingly intractable problems spanning fires started by smallholders to illegally awarded new licenses threatens Indonesia’s rainforests further.

But here in Berau a land conflict turned into a partnership over 16 years illustrates the multiple benefits offered by properly engaging local communities in concession management – whether it is boosting livelihoods or security against illegal logging.

“Because of the power of BP Segah, forget about illegal logging,” says Sumalindo’s Amiruddin. “Not even the bird collectors dare enter.”

CITATION: Indra Nugraha. “Masyarakat-Perusahaan Bersama Kelola HPH, Seperti Apa?” Mongabay-Indonesia. 5 May 2015.