JAKARTA, Indonesia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A programme to protect forests and alleviate poverty by allowing local communities to manage woodland has made poor progress because of government bureaucracy, weak coordination and a limited budget, activists say.
Community-based forest management was first developed in Indonesia in the 1990s. In 2007 the government passed regulations allowing individuals or communities living in or nearby forests to manage their resources.
Indonesia has 132 million hectares of forested land, and 2.5 million hectares – or 1.9 percent – was targeted for community-based forest management in 2009-14, through the granting of 35-year renewable permits.
However, according to the Partnership for Governance Reform, known locally as Kemitraan, only 326,000 hectares, or 13 percent of the target, had been allocated for community-based forest management by the end of 2013.
The problem was acknowledged by officials of the Ministry of Forestry, alongside experts and representatives of civil society organisations, during a discussion on “Community-Based Forest Management to Alleviate Poverty” in Jakarta in mid-February.
“This is a strategic policy where people can have access to forest areas and manage (forest) resources,” said Wiratno, who goes by one name and who since January of this year has been director of social forestry management at the forestry ministry. “But these permits are taking a long time to be processed. Some take years to be granted,” he said.
“The commitment is a good and strong commitment but ... (the target) may be only 20 percent achieved for 2014. So, it’s still very slow progress,” said Hasbi Berliani, program manager for sustainable environmental governance at Kemitraan.
According to Berliani, the community-based forest management programme is hampered by its small budget of 21 billion Indonesian rupiah ($1.8 million), less than 1 percent of the forestry ministry’s annual budget of 6 trillion rupiah ($514 million).
29 LEVELS OF BUREAUCRACY
The biggest challenge, he added, is the exhausting process to obtain permits. Applications must be filed with the local government and are handled by a total of 29 desks and four echelons of officials before reaching the national forestry minister’s desk for final approval.
“The fastest (time to obtain the permit) is 180 days and the longest 1,080 days. Meanwhile, the ministry’s own regulation stipulates that the process for community forest and village forest permits would take 60 days,” Berliani said, adding that weak coordination between central government and local government is one of the obstacles.
Wiratno agreed on the need for better coordination between the central and local governments on approving permits. He added that the scheme needs to be promoted better and said that civil society organisations can help support communities in obtaining permits and managing the areas properly.
“We can’t stop just giving permits but we (the ministry) need to be sure that (the community) know what they’re doing with the area. That’s why they would be needing assistance from civil societies or NGOs,” he said. “Their efforts also need to be developed to give more economic benefits to help raise them out of poverty.”
Berliani said social forestry has great potential to alleviate poverty by providing alternative and additional income for people living in and near forest areas. These are often low-income families.
Gutomo Bayu Aji of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said his research on the Sumber Jaya community forest in West Lampung shows that community-based forest management can make a positive contribution to people’s incomes.
“Before (people implemented) community-based forest management, their income was 600,000 rupiah (about $50) per month, but after they started community forest (management), they can earn up to 2 million rupiah ($170) per month,” said Aji.
“They plant coffee, aside from preserving trees in the forests, which turns out to have a good quality and (they) manage to sell it even abroad,” he said.
Aji points out too that some farmers have sold carbon credits for the trees planted in their areas.
Tambiyo, a farmer from Gunung Kidul regency, Yogyakarta province, one of the poorest area in the country, said that in 2005 his family joined more than 200 others in the Sedio Makmur farmer union, which in 2007 was granted a community forest permit to manage 115 hectares (284 acres). The farmers now plant medicinal plants and crops for animal feed among the teak trees.
“It provides a small income because we can sell the medicinal plants and use the crops to feed the animals instead of buying (fodder),” said Tambiyo.
An additional benefit is that most families involved in the programme can now afford to have their children continue their education up to middle school or high school level, as they no longer have to work to help support their families.
Berliani called for higher-profile promotion of community-based forest management as a way of increasing incomes. He said that if permits were granted for the full 2.5 million hectares designated for the programme, it could at lift at least 12.5 million of the country’s 28 million poor people out of poverty.
But “the Ministry of Forestry does not seem to embrace the idea because poverty is not actually their domain,” he said.
There may be ecosystem benefits to the programme as well. According to Aji, local residents involved in community forest management have reported that water sources that had dried up following encroachment on the forest have returned since they began tending the forest. They also say that there are more sightings of wildlife in the managed areas.
Meanwhile, Wiratno promised that he would speed up the permit process by reviewing regulations to cut back some of the procedures.
“We obviously have lots of homework ahead of us, so we would also need to cooperate with other stakeholders, including local governments, civil societies (groups) and NGOs,” he said.
Fidelis E. Satriastanti is a Jakarta-based writer with an interest in climate change issues.