This article was originally published in Tribun Sumsel on 3 December 2018.
In the ancient kingdom of Sriwijaya, effective land use for the good of the people and joy for all living beings were the creeds of kings.
The Talang Tuo inscription describes Sri Jayana’s motivation to build the Śrīksetra Park in 648 AD as such: “May all (plants) planted here, coconut tree, areca palm, sugar palm, sagoo, and all kinds of trees, the fruits are edible, as well as haur bamboo, waluh, and pattum, et cetera; and may all other plants with the dams and ponds and all of good deed that I've gave (contributed) can be enjoyed for the benefit of all creatures; the one that can moved around and ones that cannot, and may this would be the best path to achieve happiness .”
Today, the planting and utilization of trees for the good of the people and joy for all living beings are manifested through, among others, social forestry. During his visit to Palembang last week, the President and his ministers emphasized the importance of the government’s social forestry program as a way to improve welfare and social justice in tandem with environmental preservation.
Social forestry mainly serves to solve social, economic and environmental problems in state-owned forest areas. Based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are around 10.2 millions of poor people living near forests, or 36.73% of the Indonesian population living under the poverty line. This is despite the fact that a forest’s wealth of natural resources should benefit the communities living around it, much like how private concessions benefit from forest management permits. This socio-economic imbalance has often sparked tenurial conflicts pitting the people against the government and concession holders. In fact, limited access to resources is what causes poor people to often find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Anecdotes from the field have proven that forest management by communities can improve welfare and restore the ecological functions of the forest. For the past couple of years, people in the Tanggamus Regency of Lampung who have long planted coffee as a catch crop within protected forest areas, have been granted community forest management rights as part of a social forestry scheme. This area was previously marred by conflict and encroachment with most of the land severely damaged.
Now, biophysical condition of the forest has begun to improve under the care of the forest farmers. The people reported that the springs in the area have never dried up again. When a great fire spread across Sumatra in 2015, the Tanggamus community forest was unaffected.
A study by WRI Indonesia found that farmers in one of the community forests in Tanggamus mentioned that their welfare increased after the social forestry permit was granted. Demand for codot coffee, a community forest crop, has now reached 300 kilograms per month. The codot coffee business, which was initiated by a group of forest farmers with a capital of Rp3 million can now generate Rp17 million per month. This is solid evidence that the people can manage their lands in a sustainable and productive manner.
The Potentials of Social Forestry
Reflecting on the experience of its neighboring provinces, social forestry has the potential to resolve various forest-related problems in the land of Sriwijaya. Ideally, every social forest in South Sumatra can be developed much like the storied Sriksetra Park, where potential commodities such as rubber, coffee and honey are utilized for the good of the people and the environment.
The potential of social forestry in South Sumatra is quite extensive. Based on calculations by the Ministry of Forestry in 2013, there are 699 villages within and/or around the forest, with a total area of more than 2 million hectares or 53% of the total forest area in South Sumatra. A study by Hutan Kita Institute (HaKI) indicates that around 1 million hectares of land in South Sumatra is suitable for social forestry.
The government is also interested in this potential. Out of the national target for social forestry allocation of 2 million hectares in 2018, 200 thousand hectares is located in South Sumatra. The presentation of the decree on access to social forestry management covering an area of 56,276 hectares by the President to 9,710 households from 10 districts/cities in the Puntikayu Nature Park, Palembang, last Sunday demonstrated the central government’s resolve to develop social forestry in South Sumatra.
Hard work from all parties involved is necessary for South Sumatra’s social forestry program to succeed. In terms of land allocation permits, the high potential of social forestry should be matched by real efforts to accelerate facilitation proposals by either the central government or provincial authorities. At the grass root level, mentoring by Forest Management Units and NGOs is imperative. Continuous socialization and training on social forestry is also needed to ensure that the community is aware of the rights and obligations that come with management access, thereby allowing them to manage their forests in a sustainable and productive manner.
At the provincial level, South Sumatra’s Social Forestry Acceleration Working Group must step up as the coordinating node for central and regional authorities in facilitating social forestry permits. Moreover, South Sumatra can also capitalize on its Government Regulation on Social Forestry, which focuses on providing a greater role to the Governor and related agencies in granting social forestry permits.
After permits are granted, communities must be empowered through the development of effective business and marketing models. During the aforementioned event at Puntikayu, the President brought along public service agencies, several banks and state-owned enterprises that were ready to provide collateral or community business credit and to act as buyers and off-takers of social forestry crops from South Sumatra.
At the regional level, the provincial government can ensure the success of its social forestry business through effective budgeting by related agencies and through business training. It must also create a lucrative business climate. Besides capital and equipment assistance, regional governments must also find ways to link forest farmers with prospective buyers. This is in line with Governor Herman Deru’s stated mission to build an economy-based South Sumatra community backed by strong agriculture, industry as well as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises under the “South Sumatra improving for all” framework.
The extensive commitment to social forestry in South Sumatra must translate into real action. How delighted the ancient kings of Sriwijaya would be were they to witness the emergence of today’s Śrīksetra Parks, where people prosper and all living beings flourish thanks to social forestry.