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close this bookBalancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific (WRI, 1995, 204 pages)
close this folderIV. Community-Based Forest Management. Emerging Responses
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View the documentIndia
View the documentNepal
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentThailand
View the documentSri Lanka
View the documentIndonesia
View the documentLessons from Papua New Guinea


Since the onset of Indonesia's commercial logging boom, millions of forest-dwelling and forest-dependent peoples on the Outer Islands have lost their traditional adat rights of access, ownership, and control. In a steady and sometimes complete process of erosion, the rights and livelihoods of local people have been subordinated to those of a relatively small number of commercial firms and state enterprises.

When government-backed development or conservation activities begin in areas governed under adat law and traditional resource management systems, local communities have few options under national law to defend their rights. One study of central Sumatra's lowland forests found that some traditional landowners did attempt to acquire land-title certificates to legitimize their adat claims under national law. But,

for the large majority of local people, securing their rights through obtaining certificates is not a realistic option. They have but one possibility left: to force the traditional land tenure system to its bitter end, hoping that at least some kind of recognition will be given to them when the land is expropriated. Thus, their strategy is to clear as much land as possible within previously uncleared forest before somebody else does so. "We know we are destroying our forests, but it is a race and whoever does not join it will lose" is the fear expressed by villagers as they move to new forest areas.121

The crux of the problem is forest communities' inability to assert their adat rights in the face of government-sponsored concessions or programs. Consider the case of the P. T. You Lim Sari timber concession in northern Irian Jaya. In 1989, this concessionaire acknowledged a community's customary ownership rights and agreed to local leaders' demands for cash and in-kind compensation. But then the concessionaire began cutting in the village forests without paying the agreed-upon compensation. The villagers also complained that the logging operations were damaging rattan resources and destroying hunting areas that provide an important local source of subsistence.

Although some timber firms negotiate informal settlements with adat forest landowners, many establish their claim by fiat. In Central Sulawesi, for example, a logging firm claimed local farmlands as part of its concession area, destroyed crops to plant timber, and posted signs prohibiting tree felling and crop cultivation and threatening violators with 10-year prison sentences or fines of up to 100 million rupiah (US$ 50,000).122

Some of the disputes between adat landowners and development projects have turned violent. In Pulau Panggung in the Lampung province of Sumatra, local communities were informed in early 1988 that their crops (mostly coffee) and homes were illegally located on state forest lands slated for reforestation. They were given the choice of joining a resettlement program in another province or buying private land on their own outside of the designated forest area. Some residents volunteered for the resettlement program, but various restrictions on participation and allegations of extortion by local officials soon brought the registration process to a halt.

In 1986, Perum Perhutani, or the State Forest Corporation (SFC), which manages two million hectares, or approximately two-thirds of the government's classified forest land on the crowded island of Java, launched 13 pilot social forestry projects with support from the Ford Foundation. The projects required participating farmers to plant timber tree species (such as teak or pine) and allowed them to plant fruit trees and horticultural products in open spaces between the growing trees. Once the open spaces are shaded by tree canopies (which usually happened within one to four years, depending on the species planted) the participants were obliged to move to another site. This requirement and other problems has meant that overall, despite some improvements in forest cover and the lives of the beneficiaries, the project results have been disappointing.123 In addition, despite the presence of tens of millions of forest-dependent people, there is still no official program or policy for establishing a community forestry program in the Outer Islands, although efforts are being made.124

In 1993, a Ministry of Forest decree authorized the harvest of forest produce, including timber, by traditional communities living within concession areas if they obtain permission from the industrial timber rights holder and authorization from the Minister of Forests (Ministry of Forest Decree No. 251/Kpts -II/1993). This development is a potentially significant, albeit limited, step toward negotiating partnerships with forest communities and ensuring that they have incentives to promote sustainable forest management. As of 1995, however, even these limited rights had yet to be authorized anywhere.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's current legal forest-tenure system continues to work against the health of the nation's forests and the livelihoods of many local forest communities. Overriding constitutionally recognized traditional rights with nationally sanctioned rights and access rules undermines local incentives for long-term forest management and engenders social conflict. Compounding the problem, the sheer scale and, in some cases, remoteness of areas under timber concessions can overwhelm government's ability to collect reliable data, set boundaries, and police concession-holders.

A growing debate over forest tenure issues in Indonesia has revealed shortcomings in the system that non-governmental organizations, academics, and some international donors increasingly discuss and decry. Some Indonesian officials have also cautiously called for a re-evaluation of laws and policies and for experimentation with alternatives that would allow for more community participation and benefit-sharing. Still needed, however, are a strategy and a detailed set of substantive new directions for transforming laws and policies.