Getting the governance right to achieve sustainable land use management

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, September 4 – October 20, 2013, page 86-87

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_SepOct2013

CoalAsia_SepOct2013_getting the governanceTo have a well-managed landscape in Indonesia, it is clear that any particular policy or strategy formulated by the government must take into account and engage key development sectors involved in land management. These include, among others, forestry, agriculture, mining and infrastructure development.

Prior to discussing potential realistic solutions, however, one needs to understand the institutional framework – the governance – that oversees the land use in the country.

As many reports and studies have revealed, deforestation and land degradation in Indonesia are exacerbated by a lack of law enforcement; insufficient economic incentives for communities, private sector and local governments; and a lack of capacity in institutions responsible for managing these areas.

In 2006, for instance, a report released by the National Working Group on Peatland Management pointed out that although several areas of peat lands were supposed to be protected by law, the reality is that these areas have been logged, drained and converted because there is no or poor enforcement for this particular law.

Such situation has been dubbed one of the main causes for the recurrence of forest and land fires taking place in Sumatra and Kalimantan annually.

Another report in the same year shows that insufficient economic incentives would also accelerate deforestation. This report, published by the World Bank, argues that positive incentives are required and must go hand-in-hand with forest law enforcement and governance initiatives to increase the costs of non-compliance.

Insufficient incentives, on the other hand, would not result in a long term investment in and stewardship of forests and production facilities which are important to ensure the reduction of deforestation and land degradation.

When it comes to capacity in managing the remaining forests and important terrestrial ecosystems in the country, some studies reveal that Indonesia has been struggling in adequately protecting and sustainably managing its large forest areas.

Under Law No. 41 of 1999 on Forestry, the authority to manage approximately 100 million hectares of forest estate is more or less granted to the national-level forestry ministry who defines forest land use classifications, management, and permitted activities for forest areas.

In the past, centralized administration of forests appears to have had little effective management capacity, accountability, monitoring, or enforcement of access, practices, or outcomes in the field, leading to a high annual rate of deforestation.

A 2009 study carried out by the forestry ministry states that one of the indirect causes of deforestation is the difficulty of maintaining and monitoring large boundaries of production and protection forests, leaving these areas vulnerable to illegal logging.

According to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2011, this situation has somewhat created a legal loophole for illegal loggers and illegal miners to continue their actions while avoiding legal consequences.

Dr Matthew Hansen and his team from South Dakota University in their 2009 study seem to support this argument by showing that between 1990 and 2000 Indonesia experienced 1.7 million hectares of annual deforestation rate and 0.7 million for the period of 2000-2005.

It is understandable that for a big country having large forest areas like Indonesia, a mere centralized system of forest monitoring is likely to be insufficient. Additional and strengthened decentralized forest management is required.

One of the mandates from the 1999 Forestry Law, as further defined by Government Regulation No. 6 of 2007, is that Indonesia’s forest estates shall be divided into forest management units (FMUs). These FMUs will be classified as having a specific function for protection, conservation, or production.

Local governments, under the coordination with the forestry ministry, are then given the responsibility to establish organizations to manage FMUs within their respective geographic areas of governance.

This arrangement, if done properly, not only can provide more decentralized forest management but also would bring about improvement of existing management of forest estates, especially since forest areas in Indonesia are extensive and it would be difficult to manage these in a strictly centralized way.

A number of organizations have argued that Indonesia needs to reform its current forest and land use governance, if the country hopes to successfully address the dynamic issues of forest and land use change.

In addition to issues between layers of governments, such dynamic situation mostly has resulted from to the overlapping of rights, authorities, roles and responsibilities among different developmental sectors.

In a 2010 study published by the KPK, unclear and problematic claims over forest and land areas, have led to difficulties in determining forest estates in the spatial planning and other development planning process.

In this study, the KPK found that an agreed synchronized map of forest areas which could be used by stakeholders did not as yet exist. Instead, there were at least four different versions which, utilizing various scales, were not compatible with each other.

This was perhaps one of the reasons why the Indonesian government through its REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus) task force formulated one consolidated forest and peat land map, in collaboration with the forestry ministry and other key ministries and agencies, in the beginning of its work period.

Even with one agreed map, it is of course still very challenging to resolve any conflicting issues given the variety of interests of key developmental sectors in forest and land use.

Therefore, continuous work with key actors from these sectors, including corporations, local communities and civil society, in appropriately addressing the overlapping claims and authorities should become a priority.

The outcome of this continuous work hopefully would lead to the improvement of the governance and institutional framework of land use Indonesia and smooth the development of sustainable forest management.

Improving the governance and institutions of land use in Indonesia, however, requires exploration of options and incentives, which should satisfy the interests of those different but influential sectors.

The challenging question that needs to be answered further is: “What sort of options and incentives are available to help the country to retain its remaining forests while at the same time still allow its economy to grow?”

Finding the right incentives will never be easy. The government can create additional budget for encouraging sustainable management of forest and land use, and channel this through its intergovernmental fiscal transfer system.

Yet, such approach may not be sufficient and may not reach the targeted actors, i.e. influential local/ indigenous communities and/or private corporations. Dialogues that lead to a formulation of partnerships with communities and/or corporations need to be encouraged since without concrete involvement of these actors, actions to better manage forest and land could be meaningless.

Such dialogues and partnerships usually require the creation of the level of playing field, and the improvement of the level of transparency and accountability.

This is a big task for a country that has embraced an open democratic system in just more than a decade. But if the country can create such enabling environment, strong cross-sectoral coordination in forest and land use management may not be utopia anymore.

If key actors in the developmental sectors feel that their interests are represented and accommodated equitably, any forest and land use policy is likely to be endorsed and supported widely.

Taking into account the aforementioned considerations, it is now timely for the country to continue to get its governance right to achieve better land use management. No action or lack of it could well mean future disaster for the country that values its forest and land resources highly.


The author is climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.


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