Holding Up The Sky

Sep 25, 2011

Indonesia has set ambitious targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions that will require major changes in how forests and agricultural lands are managed.

The pulp and paper industry is also causing massive greenhouse gas emissions as it clears peat forests and drains peat soils, especially in the provinces of Riau (see article by Silvia Irawan in this edition) and Jambi in Sumatra. As with the oil palm industry, peat forests are the only areas available where pulp and paper companies can get big, contiguous blocks covering tens of thousands of hectares. Asian Pulp and Paper, which is owned by the same conglomerate as GAR, has so far refused to give up on its plans to clear peat forests and drain peat soils. It is also taking over community lands without the consent of communities. The other major pulp and paper company in Indonesia, APRIL, is also clearing deep peat to plant Acacia pulpwood plantations. Both companies are attempting to develop REDD projects to avoid emissions from deforestation, but these efforts appear to be little more than attempts to green the companies’ images, given the massive ongoing emissions both firms create by clearing forests and draining peatlands.

Forest peoples are the best forest managers

Indonesia’s forests are home to more than 50 million people, most of whom are members of indigenous peoples who continue to practice systems of forest management that maintain forest health and diversity. Recent studies by the University of Illinois in a dozen tropical countries consistently demonstrate that where communities have management control, their forests hold more carbon and biodiversity and generate greater revenue into the local economy than when forests are managed by governments. Indonesia’s efforts in recent decades to develop forestry industries and convert forests for oil palm plantations have come at enormous cost to its indigenous communities, who are still treated by the forestry department as illegal squatters on state land. The government’s commitment to reduce emissions from deforestation may be the best chance in decades to get it to respect community rights.

The government’s commitment to reduce emissions from deforestation may be the best chance in decades to get it to respect community rights.

Some of the most complicated issues that will need to be addressed for REDD+ to be effective involve forest tenure. The forest zone designated by the Ministry of Forestry covers 70 per cent of the land area of Indonesia. Forestry law in Indonesia recognises private forests and state forests, and requires the Forestry Department to establish which forest areas are burdened with rights before determining the boundaries of the State Forests. In practice, such delineation has almost never happened, and the Forestry Department has assumed that all forests are State Forests, and that local communities living in these areas or using the forests are illegal. Permits for industrial logging and plantation development have been handed out over the last three decades covering tens of millions of hectares of forests. The impacts on local communities dependent on forests have often been severe, with loss of livelihoods, and criminal prosecution for accessing their customary resources.

The international framework for REDD+, which the Indonesian government has agreed to follow, requires REDD+ developments to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to give or withhold their consent to planned developments that may affect them, called Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). So, although forestry developments to date have ignored or violated the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, there is a commitment from the government for REDD+ to be developed in a different way.

Whether or not this commitment in principle can be put into practice remains to be seen. Since 1979, the Indonesian government has imposed a system of local government on indigenous peoples and local communities regardless of their own systems of decision-making and local rules and regulations. In many communities, due to decade of impositions by the State, the traditional systems of Adat, or custom, are weak. The principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent includes the right of communities to chose which institutions they will use to discuss and negotiate with outsiders. Indications from other sectors where the right is respected are that communities may choose a hybrid of traditional institutions, government systems and representatives, which these days are elected by the community rather than being appointed.

In early 2011, the Ministry of Forestry completed research showing that there are more than 25,000 villages within Indonesia’s forest zone. The overall population of these villages is probably in the range of fifty million people. Small as it may seem, admitting that communities live in the forest zone is a major step forward by the government. Human rights and community support groups hope to turn this acknowledgement into positive steps to recognise the rights of those communities to manage their customary forests. With international donors requiring respect for human rights, Indonesia’s commitment to reduce emissions from deforestation may lead to greater livelihood security and poverty reduction for tens of millions of Indonesia’s rural poor.

Patrick Anderson (patrickanderson1960@gmail.com) is Policy Advisor with the Forest Peoples Programme. He has lived in Indonesia for ten years, and works closely with Indonesian organisations concerned with forests and community rights.

Reproduced with permissions from Inside Indonesia.