By: Talia Liney

Forests are complex places that attract an intertwining network of positive and negative forces. Indonesia is a place that knows this all too well with its incredible expanse of rainforests being both a place of immense life and horrifying destruction.

In a bid to tackle the ongoing war over forest territories in Indonesia, Kesatuan Pengelolaan Hutan (KPH, or Forest Management Units in English) were established. These units set out to achieve more effective, equitable and sustainable forest management, a task that has proven to be highly challenging. Set up as bridging organizations, the role of KPHs is to assist in the collaboration of government, the private sector and local communities. However, since their establishment they have largely struggled to gain effective control over forest management due to highly complex and ever-changing policies and regulations.

On a recent trip to Pagar Alam in South Sumatra, the complexity that exists in Indonesia’s forests was evident even before disembarking the plane. Flying over a patchwork of dense forest, plantations and rural communities, gave clues to the possible struggles and conflicts that could exist below.

You can see a dense forest, plantations and rural communities from above. Photo credit: Talia Liney

With a history of power struggles between the government and the private sector, a complex junction of conflicting policies and on-ground realities has surfaced in Indonesia. A space where KPHs exist, where they are a vital entity in the future of forestry but also where they face powerlessness and immense challenges to deal with the conflicts they are confronted with.

A focus of the trip to Pagar Alam, South Sumatera was to observe the level of participation of different stakeholders in forestry. Within the broader context of forestry in Indonesia, there exists a complex network of stakeholders; from multi-level government, local and international NGOs, private companies, multi-national corporations to indigenous groups and local communities. With each having their own, and often conflicting, framing, perspective and intentions of environmental use and management. Such diversity in views can pose as a significant challenge to stakeholder participation; a lack of incentive for cross-sectoral collaboration can result in zero-sum outcomes from each actor pursuing their own individual goals. This lack of participation among stakeholders has made it difficult for KPHs to effectively integrate into forest and resource management, hence undermining their credibility and authority.

The forests around Pagar Alam are made up of both community forests (Hutan Kemasyarakatan) and customary forests (Hutan Adat). Meetings with farmers from each of these forest areas along with representatives from WRI Indonesia, Hutan Kita Institute (HaKI), the local KPH and the local government highlighted the complexities of forest governance in the area. Interviews conducted with these stakeholders revealed an absence of coordination between KPHs and government institutions, with a significant lack of resources being a key issue. In order for KPHs to fulfill their role at the frontline of forest management in Indonesia, credible participation of stakeholders with KPHs is urgently needed.

Representatives from WRI Indonesia, HaKI, the local KPH and the local government met to highlight the complexities of forest governance in Pagar Alam. Photo credit: Talia Liney

To achieve this, cross-sectoral collaboration along with vertical and horizontal communication is required among all stakeholders. If policy actors can recognize and include a diversity of stakeholders in their process they will be in a better position to design and implement policies that achieve a balance between conservation, economic and sustainable development, and poverty alleviation. An important factor in this process is the inclusion of diverse systems of knowledge; combining local, indigenous knowledge with scientific and technical knowledge is a vital action for achieving equitable outcomes. Applying an intersectional lens is an important part of this process to acknowledge the different streams of knowledge required to synergize all aspects of environmental management.

Over the past few months, WRI Indonesia and HaKI have been working to facilitate the collaboration of relevant stakeholders to support the development of social forestry in Pagar Alam. With the introduction of social forestry permits, stakeholder participation is playing an integral role in developing license proposals, agricultural development and effective models for forest management. While different streams of knowledge are at play within the community and customary forests in Pagar Alam, it was difficult to determine the level, if any, of collaboration between them. Despite this, it was evident that with the introduction of social forestry, technical knowledge is being integrated with indigenous and local knowledge to develop mid-term and annual work plans for managing the forests. Projects such as new methods of coffee tree transplanting to increase yields by up to three times, as well as the local government introducing the “1 million transplants” program this year. A program that is targeted at smallholder coffee plantations, many of which are in social forestry areas.

An overarching issue within Indonesian forestry is the nexus between economic development and environmental sustainability, where government actors and policymakers are often required to choose between protecting the environment or looking after the livelihoods and security of the Indonesian population. With a collaboration of stakeholders, forest policies in Indonesia may be able to gain foresight into the long term benefits that environmental protection will have on food and livelihood security. If this can be achieved, then KPHs will be in a much better position to focus on long term goals and effectively combat conflict and facilitate equitable forest governance.