Community forestry upheld as path to lower emissions for Indonesia

  • A new report by the Rainforest Action Network provides further evidence of the benefits of greater local land rights in conserving tropical forests.

  • A separate report published in 2014 by the World Resources Institute showed deforestation rates were 11 times lower in zones licensed to local communities.

  • According to the Partnership for Governance Reform, only 326,000 hectares, or 13 percent of the target, had been allocated for community-based forest by the end of 2013.

The Indonesian government is facing renewed calls to grant greater management rights of forests to local communities as part of a wider strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A new report published by the Rainforest Action Network this week provides further evidence of the benefits of greater local land rights in conserving tropical forests. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo faces additional pressure to make wholesale reforms to Indonesia’s land-management practices after devastating agricultural fires across the archipelago in recent months.

“With this research, we learn yet again that the indigenous peoples and local communities that live in and depend on forests are crucial rights-holders in the fight against climate change,” said Hannah Mowat, forest and climate campaigner with Fern, a forestry NGO that has been tracking the European Union’s involvement in forests since 1995.

The research follows a separate report published in 2014 by the World Resources Institute, an international environmental NGO. That study showed deforestation rates were 11 times lower in zones licensed to local communities than in other lands.

It also comes as the Muara Tae community from East Kalimantan province receives the prestigious Equator Prize for conservation as part of the UN climate talks in Paris.

“There is a growing evidence base that says if you want to protect forests, you strengthen community land rights,” the UNDP’s Joseph Corcoran, who administers the prize, told Mongabay.

“This is a group that struggled bravely to protect their forests from logging, mining and palm oil companies,” he added. “We hope that recognizing and honoring them will take their advocacy to the next level.”

Petrus Asuy accepted the Equator Prize at a gala event in Paris on Monday on behalf of the Muara Tae community. Photo by Philip Jacobson
Petrus Asuy accepted the Equator Prize at a gala event in Paris on Monday on behalf of the Muara Tae community. Photo by Philip Jacobson

Indonesia has 132 million hectares of forested land, 2.5 million hectares of which was targeted for community-based forest management in 2009-14, through the granting of 35-year renewable permits.

However, according to the Partnership for Governance Reform, known in Indonesia as Kemitraan, only 326,000 hectares, or 13 percent of the target, had been allocated for community-based forest management by the end of 2013.

“Governments must, as a matter of urgency, recognize their customary tenure rights so they can continue their work to protect and restore forests to help limit warming in a safe way,” said Mowat.

Community forestry is not without its critics in Indonesia, with some emphasizing a lack of oversight makes many licenses vulnerable to abuse.

“Call me a cynic, but to me this sounds like an excellent plan to convert remaining forest lands into agricultural land,” said Borneo Futures initiative scientist Erik Meijaard in a comment piece in March.

Even if some hold onto their land, Meijaard worried that in “the many more loosely organized communities … [people] will immediately sell their land to whoever is the highest bidder: likely industrial-scale companies investing in oil palm, pulp and paper, rubber, and mining.”

Lawing Uning, the chief of Long Hubung Ulu village in Borneo's Mahakam River basin, surveys land that has been planted with oil palm against his community's wishes. A dispute over the area between neighboring villages erupted when an oil palm company was granted a concession there by the regional government. Photo by Philip Jacobson
Lawing Uning, the chief of Long Hubung Ulu village in Borneo’s Mahakam River basin, surveys land that has been planted with oil palm against his community’s wishes. A dispute over the area between neighboring villages erupted when an oil palm company was granted a concession there by the regional government. Photo by Philip Jacobson

Indonesia’s community forest scheme took root in the 1990s and was consolidated in a 2007 government regulation. The system of granting licenses to local communities has demonstrated positive conservation impacts in countries such as Brazil and South Korea. Globally, community-managed forests counts for more than 500 million hectares, around an eighth of the world’s forests.

Local governments in Indonesia have handed out management licenses to several communities since, from Dayaks in Central Kalimantan to Javanese in Muara Betiri. Mongabay has reported extensively on community forestry in Indonesia.

Calls for the system to be expanded have been given greater impetus after more than 2 million hectares of land were burned by wildfires across Kalimantan, Papua and Sumatra this year.

“The most effective step in reducing emissions is by giving out recognition and protection of rights of indigenous peoples over their traditional territory,” said Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

In 2013, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court took customary forests out of state forests, providing an opening for indigenous communities to lay claim to 40 million hectares where AMAN says they live. That’s roughly a fifth of the country’s land mass.

But the government has been slow to follow up on the ruling, with the legislature sitting on a law that would guarantee indigenous peoples’ basic rights for the first time. Advocates are wondering whether Jokowi has the political muscle to make good on his promise to establish a dedicated task force to pursue their cause.

AMAN secretary general Abdon Nababan (red bandanna) sits beside the forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya (center) and ministry official Hadi Daryanto at the Nusantara Festival in Bali on Sunday in August, where a hoped-for announcement on a new task force for indigenous peoples did not materialize. Photo by Cory Rogers
AMAN secretary general Abdon Nababan (red bandanna) sits beside the forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya (center) and ministry official Hadi Daryanto at the Nusantara Festival in Bali on Sunday in August, where a hoped-for announcement on a new task force for indigenous peoples did not materialize. Photo by Cory Rogers

NGOs in Indonesia continue to draw attention to the need for greater protection of special areas of the archipelago with unique biodiversity value. Environmental groups emphasize the importance of the Leuser Ecosystem in the semi-autonomous westernmost province of Aceh while momentum for wholesale change of Indonesia’s land-management practices remains strong.

“One of the most important tropical forests that remain in the world is the Leuser Ecosystem,” said Panut Hadisiswoyo, founder and director of the Orangutan Information Centre based in Indonesia.

“It is also the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, tigers and elephants live together in the wild,” Panut said. “Industrial palm oil expansion is the biggest threat to the survival of these species, but also the millions of people in Sumatra who depends on the ecosystem services, such as clean water, food and livelihoods.”

A Sumatran rhinoceros in Gunung Leuser National Park. Photo courtesy of Leuser International Foundation and national park administration
A Sumatran rhinoceros in Gunung Leuser National Park. Photo courtesy of Leuser International Foundation and national park administration

The largest agribusinesses operating in Indonesia continue to roll out glossy new sustainability pledges following the government’s claim that it would restore at least 2 million hectares of peat by 2019. Asia Pacific Resources International Limited said last week it would invest $100 million on doubling its management area on peat.

Asia Pulp & Paper, the largest acacia concession holder in Sumatra, announced a new project to work with 500 villages near its concessions to combat deforestation.

The government has yet to establish the details on how it will fund its own commitments to address the underlying causes of the haze pollution. The director of Indonesia’s Climate Change Fund said last week that only around 1% of the funding formula had been accounted for.

The government is also preparing a reform to grant greater fiscal transfers to village governments, which could give villages, the smallest unit of government in Indonesia, greater control of land. Jokowi, a forestry graduate, is understood to favor a system by which local conservation initiatives that demonstrate success can be scaled up and rolled out to other parts of the archipelago. As Mongabay has reported, many of Indonesia’s community forest pilots demonstrate local communities tend to adopt proper land management practices when given management rights.

Nasirah, a resident of Massewae in the South Sulawesi backcountry, tends to her crops in the village. Photo by Wahyu Chandra
Nasirah, a resident of Massewae in the South Sulawesi backcountry, tends to her crops in the village. Photo by Wahyu Chandra

As negotiations in Paris reached the final stages on Monday, Indonesia launched a new emissions monitoring system.

“We’re committed reduce emission to 29 percent [emission reduction] target, and this system will be very helpful,” said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s climate change emissary.

“Thankfully, analysis suggests the 2C goal can be met without any need for negative emissions, and the 1.5C goal possibly just through natural ecosystems regeneration and a judicious level of reforestation,” Kartha said.

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