- From 2015 to 2017, the government’s annual budget for implementing a program to give local communities greater rights over the land they rely on has dropped by nearly half.
- The government’s annual targets for allocating land under the program have similarly been lowered, although President Joko Widodo’s administration continues to say it can meet the overall target of 12.7 million hectares — nearly the size of Greece — by 2019.
- A new Ministry of Environment and Forestry regulation is hoped to speed up the process for rezoning land under the various community forestry schemes, and the member of the relevant parliamentary commission says his side is seeking donor funding to support it.
JAKARTA — When he stood for president in 2014, Joko Widodo promised to give communities living in or near Indonesia’s vast “forest zone” greater control over 12.7 million hectares of land — an area bigger than Pennsylvania.
Halfway through his five-year term, Jokowi, as he is popularly known, is running behind schedule. And a new round of budget cuts at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has made the prospect of fulfilling the pledge increasingly remote, according to the Indonesian Budget Center (IBC), an NGO.
The cuts came via the Ministry of Finance, as the Jokowi administration prioritizes infrastructure development, another of the president’s flagship programs.
“At this rate, it’s likely that [the 12.7-million-hectare target] won’t be achieved on time,” Muhammad Ridha, a program officer at the IBC, said at a press conference in the Southeast Asian nation’s capital last month.
Despite some notable achievements, by the end of last year the Jokowi administration had rezoned just 500,000 hectares under the various community forestry schemes. These include Village Forest, in which villages apply for a 35-year permit to manage and protect nearby forestland; Community Forest, which grants farmers’ groups a similar right; Customary Forest, which applies to indigenous peoples; and more.
The initiative got off to a slow start. The 2015 Annual Government Work Plan (RKP) set that year’s target at just 200,000 hectares, and that’s how much was allocated under the community forestry program.
Last year, the administration aimed higher, establishing a goal of 2.5 million hectares for the year. By the end of last December, however, it had only managed to allocate an additional 300,000 hectares.
This year’s RKP aims for just 330,000 hectares. The reason cited: heavy budget cuts, both in terms of the forestry ministry’s total budget and the percentage of those funds earmarked for community forestry.
In 2015, the ministry had a budget of 6.6 trillion rupiah ($495 million). That fell to 5.8 trillion rupiah in 2016, and 5 trillion this year. At the same time, the ministry’s budget for community forestry dropped from 308 billion rupiah in 2015 to 165 billion rupiah in 2017.
“The program needs at least 5.7 trillion rupiah” for the entire 12.7 million hectares, said Ridha, citing a 2012 study by Kemitraan, an NGO.
The ministry’s director for social forestry, Wiratno, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said 2017’s modest target was due to inadequate funds for the program, due to the government’s focus on infrastructure spending. Money is needed to support activities related to preparing the land, such as staging meetings and mapping the area, he explained.
Wiratno still believes the administration can still reach 12.7 million hectares by the end of Jokowi’s first term, in 2019. He cited a new regulation on social forestry, which cuts down on red tape, as well as the creation of a new working group to speed along the process.
The prevalence of communities in conflict with companies, the state and each other over the rights to land, which remain ill-defined in the eyes of the government, is one obstacle facing reformers, said Didik Suharjito, a forestry professor at Bogor Agricultural University.
In some areas of Mount Leuser National Park and Tesso Nilo National Park, both on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra, for example, large groups of internal migrants have set up illegal settlements, sometimes with the help of powerful vested interests.
“Yes, to reach 12.7 million hectares is a challenge, he said. “I don’t want to be pessimistic — everything is possible as long as there’s collective action.”
Viva Yoga Mauladi, a member of House of Representatives Commission IV overseeing forestry and other sectors, said his side had requested additional funds for the program, to no avail.
“It is a bit impossible if you want to protect the forests or reach food security if you have no money,” Mauladi said, adding that legislators had been seeking funding from domestic and international donors.
But Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an NGO, said the issue of funds had been overblown.
He said AMAN, which is the world’s largest indigenous peoples organization, had already mapped out millions of hectares of land it says belongs to the nation’s indigenous groups, and that it wouldn’t take much for the forestry ministry to recognize those areas.
“The views and working styles of the ministry’s bureaucrats are similar to what they were under the New Order,” he said, referring to former strongman President Suharto’s 33-year regime. “The government is always suspicious of its own people, and that makes simple things difficult and cheap things expensive.”
Banner image: A Dani man in Indonesia’s Papua, one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. Photo by Rhett Butler