Jakarta Rethinks Forest Policy

Source : Asia Times
July 14, 2011
By Amantha Perera

Indonesia has assumed a target to cut greenhouse gas emission rates by half and achieve an economic growth rate of 7% by changing the way it manages its vast forest land, and giving greater control over land to local communities.

The policy change towards community control of land is a major shift for a government that is still the largest owner of land. Of the 190 million hectares of land in the country, the Indonesian government controls 133 million hectares, or 70%.

“We may at this juncture start hearing the term Community Managed Forest which is a more comprehensive concept,” Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s special delivery unit, told a high-level international conference on forestry held in Lombok, 1,060 kilometers south of Jakarta.

At the conference the Indonesian government announced the new allocation of 89,000 hectares for community-managed forest areas. “Some say that we need more land allocated for this purpose, I see that as a step in the right direction,” Mangkusubroto said.

Experts say that the government control of land is a colonial legacy, when the center began to exert control over indigenous populations. “This is our chance to untangle our convoluted past and make a lasting difference,” Mangkusubroto said.

“The state remains the predominant actor in the region’s forests, but the trend toward local control now emerging is incredibly important,” said Andy White, coordinator for Rights and Resources Initiative, a US-based land tenure advocacy body.

The prevalent trend in Indonesia, the world’s fifth-largest forested area, has been government control of land which has been on the increase. By 2008, the 0.60 million hectares that were reserved for communities six years back had been reduced by 70%, to 0.23 million hectares.

The increasing government control has stood in the way of communities from gaining full benefit of the forested area – and, more dangerously, failed to curb the loss of forest cover.

Indonesia was one of the 11 countries with tropical or sub-tropical forest cover that recorded a loss between 2000 and 2010, according to data released at the conference.

The statistics also revealed that degradation of forest area was also high, with land being allocated to private companies for short-term exploitation.

“The presence of a large amount of degraded land – estimated at 30 million hectares or more – is a sign that the forest frontier is undervalued, meaning that economically it makes more sense to continue to plunder the frontier rather than develop existing open land,” said Dominic Elson, an independent consultant.

On the contrary, Elson said that 40 million Indonesians who are living in treeless areas officially designated as publicly owned forests don’t have land rights to even such degraded land.

“This limits their livelihood options, as the land cannot be used for agriculture, yet in most cases they also cannot get a permit for reforestation, and do not have political power to get a permit for estate crops such as oil palm or cocoa,” he said.

Officials say the lofty goals to cut emissions while achieving high economic growth can be met. Plantation and forestry related sectors only account for 0.1% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product, while contributing a large proportion of emissions

“The issue of land rights and reform will also affect food and energy security. This is not only a forestry issue, but is a cross-sector one,” said Mangkusubroto, adding that the plan was to face challenges brought on by climate change in a transparent and holistic manner.

“The commitments to 26% emissions reduction and seven% growth should not be juxtaposed in contradiction with one another; it is not about choice between one or the other,” he said. “We are dedicated to more sustainable economic development and management of our natural resources.”

Experts feel that a loosening of the government’s control over land would help contribute to sustainable management of the country’s forests. Similar trends are appearing in countries like China, India and Vietnam.

Elson said that until Indonesia addresses the land control issue, “it will be hard to make more than token progress on the pressing issues facing the land use sector, such as deforestation, conflict and misguided investments that undermine development.

“This will not only have poor outcomes for the forests, biodiversity and climate change; it will also have profound implications for the economy and long-term social development.”

Norway has come forward to support Indonesia’s efforts to cut emissions by providing US$1 billion to protect the forest cover.

Following Norway’soffer, Indonesia has suspended issuing new land-use permits.

An important step towards managing forests, Mangkusubroto said, was to have one map accepted and made operational by all agencies. Local communities will have a chance to give their input towards creating what he termed the “One Map”.

“Stakeholders, including indigenous communities, will be encouraged to provide input through a transparent and participative process,” the official said.

Mangkusubroto said there were at least 4 million hectares with over-lapping land-use certificates.

If the ambitious plan succeeds, it would achieved the delicate balancing act of ensuring environmental conversation and community rights, while reducing poverty and creating more jobs.

“I am pro-growth, I am not against development. At the utmost, land and forest tenure reform is about increasing people’s welfare and living standards,” Mangkusubroto said. (Inter Press Service)

Link : http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MG14Ae01.html

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