“I’m no longer anxious since it’s now legal. The important thing is that the income from forest farming can be used for food and put my children through school.”

Those were the words of Mr. Yadi, member of one of the Forest Farmer Groups or Kelompok Tani Hutan (KTH) from Ogan Komering Ilir Regency, South Sumatra, who has received the Community Forest Utilization Permit (IUPHKm) from the Minister of Environment and Forestry (MOEF). President Joko Widodo presented the permits in person as part of a Social Forestry scheme to a Forest Farmer Group (KTH) on November 25, 2018 at the Punti Kayu Nature Park in Palembang.

As a manifestation of community-based forest management, Social Forestry (SF) is one of the four policies of economic equality put forth by President Joko Widodo within the framework of Agrarian Reform and is of the national strategic projects. In the context of SF, Regulation of the MOEF Number 83 of 2016 expressly positions the community as the main subject of forest management.

Members of various KTHs from 10 districts/cities in South Sumatra, including Mr. Yadi, received an SF decree for an area of 56,276 hectares covering 9,710 households. Those who have received the decree can work the land for up to 35 years. Across Indonesia, the government has allocated 12.7 million hectares of forest areas for the SF program in the 2015-2019 period. Throughout 2018, SF decrees were issued for an area of 2.173 million hectares.

To accelerate the process, Social Forestry Acceleration Working Groups (Pokja PPS) were formed in various provinces. These groups are made up of elements from local governments, academics, civil society organizations, Forest Management Units and companies. In South Sumatra, the Pokja PPS is chaired by Prof. Rujito Agus Suwignyo from Sriwijaya University. WRI Indonesia is one of the civil society organizations incorporated in the South Sumatra PPS Working Group. To date, the Pokja PPS of South Sumatra has facilitated forest areas proposal for SFs, facilitated SF permits, provided input on business plan and the appropriate plants, supported capacity building of SF farmers and business groups, verified technical aspects of SF proposals and supported conflict resolution through forestry partnerships.

When it comes to the submission of proposals and verification of forest areas for SF use, the One Map Policy geoportal, which was recently launched by President Joko Widodo, can assist the MOEF as well as the Pokja PPS in establishing the appropriate forest area for SF. With an integrated map, designation of social forests can be done more accurately and indicative maps of social forestry areas can also be updated.

Balancing Economic Opportunities and Forest Conservation

In a Q&A session with President Joko Widodo at Punti Kayu Nature Park, one of the decree recipients, Mr. Bambang Wahyudi from Veteran Jaya Village, Martapura Sub-district, OKU Timur Regency, could barely contain his excitement as he told his story: “I’m poor and I’ve been living on state lands. Now I legally have access.”

President Joko Widodo has, on various occasions, stated that SFs were intended to improve the economic conditions of people living around the forests. The economic and welfare benefits from SFs are indeed very important, given the prevalence of social-economic inequality and how the poor are frequently marginalized in land conflicts. However, the implementation of social forestry must also consider the other main objectives, which is the protection of forest ecosystems.

In 2017, the rate of tree cover loss in primary forests in Indonesia went down by 60 percent compared to 2016. However, forest cover loss in Indonesia stood at a high level from 2002 to 2015. Indonesia still has to maintain its forests, which store a large amounts of carbon. As such, SFs present an opportunity that must be utilized. Many of the proposed SF areas are degraded land. However, many communities are interested in working those lands to turn them productive and green.

Based on the test result using the Evaluation Guidelines for Social Forestry developed by WRI Indonesia, one of the SF schemes, namely Community Forests or Hutan Kemasyarakatan (HKm) in Beringin Jaya, Lampung, has proven to reduce the rate of land cover loss, improve welfare and reduce inter-community inequality, considering the community’s high dependence on the forest. In other words, with proper mentoring, SFs can accomplish both conservation and improvement of social welfare.

Things to Do After the Issuance of the Decree

<p> President Joko Widodo presented the Decree on Social Forestry (SF) at Punti Kayu Nature Park, Palembang. Photo Credit: WRI Indonesia.</p>

President Joko Widodo presented the Decree on Social Forestry (SF) at Punti Kayu Nature Park, Palembang. Photo Credit: WRI Indonesia.

During the presentation of the SF decrees in Palembang, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya mentioned three important elements that need to be considered following the publication of the decree.

First of all, the KTHs were asked to focus on groups and group needs, given that the forest management permits are given to groups. Second, Business Work Plans (RKU) must be prepared properly in order to present a clear forest management plan, which would include the types of plants to be cultivated and production targets. To ensure social welfare for the community as well as forest preservation, the RKU must also note areas that need to be protected (protection blocks) and areas that can be cultivated (cultivation blocks). Capital is also an integral part of the preparation of an RKU. For South Sumatra, at least four state-owned enterprises took part in supporting the SF program by providing capital loans with low interest at around Rp5,800 per month. Third, counseling and mentoring are needed to ensure that forest management moves in the right direction to achieve its two main targets. Meanwhile, Pokja PPS is required to assist with counseling and mentoring.

The publication of the SF decree, which acknowledges access for community forest management, is an early step in the long journey of SFs. The legality of forest management provides a sense of security for communities in their efforts to make a living from forest utilization. Of course, forest utilization through SFs must be carried out in a sustainable matter, both in terms of business and conservation. The development of the right business model, marketing support and counseling on environmental matters are the main tasks shared by SF activists.

Products by SF Business Group in South Sumatra have now entered traditional markets and convenience stores. These products include processed ginger, young areca nuts, honey, coffee, oils for aromatherapy and fragrant lemongrass. Development of these products is fully supported by the Forest Management Unit and can increase the income of the people. Through the unwavering commitment and hard work of SF activists, more and more independent and prosperous farmers who manage the forest according to the rules of conservation such as Pak Yadi will undoubtedly emerge.