In 2014, the Indonesian government started an ambitious social forestry program, aiming to provide communities with legal permits to manage and use forests located on state lands. As of March 2019, around 2.5 million hectares of land were titled under the program.
Edi Purwanto has been following this from up close. He is the director of Tropenbos Indonesia, which has been supporting communities with the implementation of their newly acquired social forestry permits, while also facilitating a national debate among civil society organizations (CSOs) to discuss the progress of the whole program.
There are several types of social forestry schemes, Purwanto explains. One of the main ones is the Village Forest permit, which provides a community with the right to use and manage a particular forest area for a period of 35 years. By providing such permits, the government hopes to reduce conflicts over forest tenure, while providing incentives for community-based forest management. Ultimately, the government hopes that social forestry permits will prevent farmers from further encroaching on state forest lands, says Purwanto.
If the objective of the government is to prevent encroachment on the forest, what is the objective of the communities? Why would they want to apply for such permits?
“Communities want to have their rights legalized. Without legal rights, they run the risk of losing access to the forests they depend on, because the government may decide to provide concession permits to plantation or logging companies on those lands. With a permit, the community has the exclusive right to use the forest for a certain period of time, and they cannot be evicted. This is an important reason to apply for permits in the more populated areas of Indonesia, such as Java and Sumatra.
The situation is somewhat different in areas with low population densities, such as Kalimantan. There, land is more abundant. Communities may apply for a social forestry permit with the intention of obtaining control over more land, in addition to what they are currently managing.”
The community benefits of the social forestry program vary from place to place. In certain areas of Sumatra with adequate economic infrastructure, social forestry has been successful, providing both environmental and economic benefits, says Purwanto. The outcomes have so far been less clear in areas like Kalimantan.
How are communities in Sumatra benefiting from the permits?
“They are conserving their forests for the provision of environmental services, such as water for the irrigation of their paddy fields, and to run micro-hydropower stations. They also use their forests for ecotourism and to plant crops like coffee and fast-growing tree species. People are very satisfied with this.”
How is this different in areas like Kalimantan?
“Communities in Kalimantan are experiencing more constraints because their social forestry permits are usually for remote forest areas, with limited economic infrastructure. For them, working in the oil palm sector is often more interesting. However, I also know of some success stories in West Kalimantan. The Padang Tikar community, for example, is using its permit to raise crabs in their mangrove forests. And in the village of Laman Satong, people are using their village forest to produce mineral water and to sell carbon credits.”
What does success depend on?
“Ideally, a community would be able to derive a sustainable income from the forest. In remote areas, this is more difficult to achieve. Even most of the forest management units of the Provincial Forestry Offices (Kesatuan Pengelolaan Hutan, or KPH) are failing to derive a sustainable income from remote forest areas, even though they have considerable resources. So, what can you expect from communities? In remote areas, a lot more support is needed from the government and CSOs. If we fail to help communities to develop sustainable livelihoods from these forests, the risk is that they will ultimately convert them to other uses.”
THE ROLE OF CSOs
The government of Indonesia has limited resources to implement the social forestry program at the village level. It therefore relies heavily on the involvement of CSOs. Many local and national CSOs, often funded by international donors, have been engaged since the beginning of the program.
Most CSOs focus on helping communities apply for permits. The first step is to build awareness and knowledge about the program, according to Purwanto. Next, CSOs need to assist communities with participatory mapping to determine the boundaries of the forest area, the establishment of a community-level forest management committee, and other administrative procedures that are necessary for the application.
“This is all very important,” says Purwanto. “But the problem is that many CSOs end their support after a community has received its social forestry permit. They stop when the actual works start.”
What are the type of things CSOs should be doing after the permit has been received?
“There is work to be done in terms of lobbying and advocacy. For example, the central government contributes around USD 70,000 annually to the Village Fund (Dana Desa) of every village. CSOs should push for a national policy that enables community-based forest management committees to access parts of these funds, which is currently not allowed. Also, we currently see that the government’s forest management units are sometimes overlapping with areas allocated for social forestry. This is undesirable. So we should push the Provincial Forestry Offices to use its forest management units to facilitate the social forestry program rather than competing with it.
“And, of course, there is a lot of practical work to be done as well. CSOs should provide technical assistance to develop and execute management plans; they should help with linking the communities to markets and finding financial credit.”
How can we prevent communities from becoming dependent on CSO support?
“I think that the government should start playing a greater role in the implementation of this program. So far, only several Directorate Generals within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry are involved. I believe other ministries should be involved as well.”
So the government should take on some of the roles that CSOs are currently playing?
“Exactly! For instance, social forestry facilitation could be handled by village facilitators or forest extension workers from the government. If the government becomes more involved, there will be more continuity, and communities will be less dependent on the project cycles of CSOs.”
This story also appeared on Tropenbos International, as part of its series on forest tenure. This series will be continue to be co-published on Landscape News in the lead-up to the 2019 Global Landscapes Forum Bonn, 22-23 June, highlighting the forum’s theme of rights.