- None of the three candidates running in Indonesia’s Feb. 14 presidential election have presented meaningful policy changes for the country’s coastal communities and marine resources, observers say.
- Indonesians are voting in the biggest single-day election in the world, but the failure by candidates to prioritize maritime issues is a major omission for the world’s biggest archipelagic country.
- Observers say the interests of fishing communities continue to be subordinated to those of industry and developers when it comes to competition for space and resources, and that none of this looks set to change under any of the three candidates.
- They also note that issues such as poverty in coastal areas, threats to marine ecosystems, and the marginalization of coastal communities persist despite the significant role these communities play in Indonesia’s fisheries sector.
JAKARTA — Indonesians are set to vote in presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 14 in a landmark moment for the world’s largest archipelagic country. But maritime observers say none of the candidates have given any priority to fishers, coastal communities and the fate of Indonesia’s marine ecosystems.
Billed as the world’s biggest single-day election, 205 million people are eligible to vote, with the presidential race largely seen as a referendum on the legacy of President Joko Widodo, who leaves office in October. Yet none of the three candidates seeking to succeed him has offered any breakthrough programs to empower coastal communities and protect the waters on which fishers depend for their livelihoods.
“Indonesia urgently needs a paradigm shift in the protection and management of marine ecosystems toward the adoption of a strong sustainability paradigm,” Mas Achmad Santosa, chief executive officer of the think tank Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), said at a discussion on Feb. 2.
He was referring to a policy concept in which ocean and coastal ecosystems are established as critical natural capital with important ecological, socioeconomical and cultural benefits.
Indonesia is home to the second longest coastline in the world and some of the richest marine biodiversity on the planet. Its thousands of islands straddle the Pacific and Indian oceans, and host large parts of the Coral Triangle, a region with the highest coral and reef fish diversity in the world. The fisheries sector has long been important to the country’s food security, with most of Indonesia’s more than 270 million inhabitants living in coastal areas.
Santosa noted in IOJI’s review that none of the presidential candidates had reflected a marine-centric policy in their published platforms. The review analyzed proposed plans by the candidates to address the challenges to marine and coastal ecosystems, namely climate change impacts, illegal fishing, coastal erosion and development, and empowerment of fishing and coastal households, which are some of the lowest-income groups in the country.
Data from the national statistics agency showed in 2021 the rate of extreme poverty in coastal areas was 4.19%, higher than the national average of 4%. One in eight of the 10.86 million Indonesians living in poverty are in coastal areas, according to the data.
“Future generations should not inherit an environment whose functions have been degraded, and the wealth of natural resources should remain available for them,” Santosa said.
The front-runner in the presidential race is Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister. He’s trailed by two former provincial governors: Ganjar Pranowo of Central Java, and Anies Baswedan of Jakarta. The official campaign period ran from Nov. 28 to Feb. 10, and included a series of heated debates. One of these was meant to focus on environmental and maritime issues, but fell short of addressing these issues in any meaningful way, according to Susan Herawati, secretary-general of the People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA).
Susan said the candidates failed to offer substantial plans guaranteeing zoning rights for small-scale and traditional fishers and coastal communities facing competition from industrial-scale fishing outfits and coastal mining and infrastructure developments. She specifically pointed out the lack of commitment for women in fisheries, even though the country has 3.6 million women working in the sector, according to government data from 2023.
Susan also said that coastal and small-island ecosystems were still positioned as objects to be exploited by the extractive industries, especially through plans for downstream industrialization of the marine capture fisheries, reclamation projects, nickel mining, and mass tourism.
Scores of land reclamation projects are underway or planned across the archipelago, and involve the creation of new land from sand dredged from the seabed, according to KIARA. These projects threaten more than 740,000 fishing households, the group says. Tourism developments in coastal areas have also proved to have minimal benefits for fishing communities, the group says.
“Coastal communities, especially fishermen, fisherwomen, fish farmers, salt farmers, and Indigenous peoples, have not been positioned as pillars and main actors, as rights holders in ensuring the protection, management and utilization of coastal and small island spaces,” Susan said. “The main actors prioritized are still industry and economic growth via corporate investment.”
Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest marine capture producer, after China, harvesting 84.4 million metric tons of seafood in 2018, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its wild capture fisheries employ around 2.7 million workers; the majority of Indonesian fishers are small-scale operators, with vessels smaller than 10 gross tonnage.
Under the business-as-usual scenario, the country’s capture fisheries is projected to expand at an annual rate of 2.1% from 2012 to 2030. The country’s waters support some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world, and the general fisheries industry employs about 12 million Indonesians.
Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on 𝕏 @bgokkon.
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