Managing Indonesia’s Forests

by EM News October 25, 2010
Seasoned campaigner Patrick Anderson talks to the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club Panel about the Indonesian forests, the peoples living in them, and challenges both the activists and the government are facing.
Managing Indonesia’s Forests

Photo by timekin (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

By Patrick Anderson, Forest Peoples Programme

Earlier this year, scientists from University of Michigan, Illinois, published a 15-year study conducted in 80 forests in 10 countries across the tropics, which explored whether local communities or governments are better managers of forests. The results were clear: where communities have control of their forest resources, unlike governments, they make long term planning decisions and let forests accumulate more biomass and more carbon.  Community-controlled forests generate local livelihoods and the more wealth stays in the local economy. See:  Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons,  Ashwini Chhatrea,1 and Arun Agrawal.b  

However, around the world, governments have taken control of forests claiming they the need to protect forests from poor people. In Africa, less than two per cent of forests are under community control, and the rates of deforestation, forest degradation, illegal logging and corruption are amongst the highest in the world. See: Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities, May, 2009, Rights and Resources Initiative,

In China, until ten years ago the government often banned communities from accessing forests that then had managed for centuries. However, over the last decade, China has devolving decision-making on forests to village cooperatives, through the issuing of long term forest use licenses that can be inherited, sold and used as collateral. The village forest cooperatives decide if forest leases should go to individuals or stay with the collective, or some combination. Today, China’s forests are annually sequestering 500 million tonnes of carbon more than was taking place before the policy change. See:

There are some 50 to 80 million people in Indonesia who are members of indigenous peoples and collectively have customary rights to a large proportion of Indonesia’s forests. But you may have noticed that Ibu Nur did not mention local communities once in her talk about managing Indonesia’s forests. The proportion of forests managed by local communites with Indonesian government recognition is a few per cent (Pak Mubariq’s presentation gave detailed information on this). Indigenous Peoples rights to manage and control their customary resources are enshrined in the Consitution, and are included in the Forest law, but are not respected by the government.  In practice, the Forestry Department ignores and violoates those rights, and treats indigenous communities inside the forest area as squatters on state lands. Community members accessing their customary forests are frequently subject to arrest and prosecution. Examples of beatings and even extra judicial killings are not uncommon. Indonesia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are at the rate more than two billion tonnes, that is 85 per cent from deforestation and agriculture.  Emissions per capita are on par with Europes. See:  

Lack of government recognition creates enormous hardships for indigenous communities. An example of how the government treats indigenous communities that get in the way of forestry operations is the burning down and bulldozing of the Sakai village in Pinggiran Kecematan in Dec 2008 where APP’s Arara Abadi has its HTI concession. Over 300 houses were destroyed by police dropping fire accelerants from helicopters, and as the people fled from the destruction, the leaders were arrested. About twenty of the leaders were held in jail for a year without trial. Their crime? Not wanting their customary forests and gardens to be turning into an APP Pulpwood Plantation. Reference: Amnesty International Demands Investigation in forcible destruction of homes by the police in Riau, 23 December 2008:

I was in the Kampar Peninsular in Riau last week and asked the customary owners from Teluk Meranti village about APP’s government approved REDD scheme there, but the community leaders told me that they had not been informed about it. For background see: