Reconciling differences for better forest and land use

Published in Coal Asia, May 25 – June 20, 2013, page 100-101

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_MayJune2013


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has just recently extended the country’s forest conversion moratorium for two more years. As when the initial presidential decree on the moratorium issued two years ago, this extension has also been met with polarized reactions.

Parties supporting the extension of the moratorium applauded the decision and, furthermore, stated that the additional two years period would provide sufficient time for the central government to continue reforming Indonesia’s forest governance and policies.

In its newest analysis, World Resource Institute, for instance, believes that this moratorium extension can strengthen the country’s forest governance, particularly if the government is focusing on tracking forest permits and strengthening permit review process.

The Institute argues that the aforementioned approaches can help increasing the level of transparency in forest and land use governance, by providing a more complete set of permits data. With the factual situation whereby central and local governments often do not share information with each other on permits (e.g. for logging, mining, palm oil and other development activities), the provision of a more transparent set of permits data can help the governments to overcome conflicting claims over forest and land areas.

A group of environmental NGOs, including Walhi, when interviewed by the Jakarta Post, appear to support this argument by saying that the implementation of the extended moratorium needs to contribute at least to resolving prolonged natural resources conflicts.

Such reforms on the permit process, if comprehensively carried out for all Indonesian provinces and districts, may even lead to improving the level of certainty of doing business in Indonesia, especially in forestry, agriculture and other land-related sectors.

A 2008 report on investment climate in 33 provinces in Indonesia, conducted collaboratively by the Regional Autonomy Implementation Monitoring Committee (KPPOD) and Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), has identified uncertainty, claims and conflicts over land as some of significant barriers of investment.

The provision of a transparent and comprehensive set of permits data, in fact, can likely answer some criticisms thrown by the opponents of forest conversion moratorium.

It was revealed in the 2011 Indonesian Coal Report, for example, that a lengthy approval process of permits and unclear forestry boundary issues – likely resulting from overlapping permits over forest areas – have put a huge obstacle in mine operators. The introduction of forest conversion moratorium at that time and until now has been further viewed by these operators as additional “legislative nightmare”.

The development of a transparent and comprehensive set of permits data, especially if synergized with the already developed and refined moratorium-indicative map (MIM), therefore, could lead to an increase in legal certainty over forest and land use. Such approach could also contribute to the level of playing field for all land users and the wider public.

To date, the MIM has been updated and revised for a third time with the support of at least five ministries and institutions, i.e. Forestry Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, National Land Agency (BPN), Geospatial Information Agency (BIG), and the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4). It is arguably one of the most significant progresses achieved during the first two-year period of the implementation of forest conversion moratorium.

Using the easily accessed MIM, the wider public can provide comments and feedbacks with regard to forest cover data and situation in their respective areas.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), with the help of the Participatory Mapping Network (JKPP), for example, has built a set of indigenous maps and added on to the MIM. Such product which has been submitted to the UKP4 and BIG as part of the MIM exercise may well be a good initial step to be used as the basis for implementing the recent decision made by the Constitutional Court that acknowledges indigenous and customary forests.

The importance of the MIM is clearly highlighted in the new Presidential Instruction No. 6 of 2013 that regulates the extension of forest conversion moratorium. In his instruction, not only the president emphasizes on its importance but also intends to use the MIM as the ultimate reference for the moratorium implementation and monitoring, as well as reforming the forest governance and its system in this country.

Regardless of the progress made in the MIM part, however, huge challenges still remain for forest conversion moratorium to continue and future efforts in reforming forest and land use in Indonesia to take place.

One of these is the fact that there is yet any (present or new) organisation or institution given a clear and strong mandate to officially coordinate – among ministries, agencies and different layers of governments – the implementation of forest conversion moratorium and further forest and land use governance reforms.

In the Presidential Instruction No. 6 of 2013, the President clearly instructs ministers, governors and bupatis (heads of districts) or mayors to halt issuing new development permits of primary forests and peat lands.

However, without a clear mechanism of coordination and governance structure, it is almost impossible for forest conversion moratorium to be implemented and for more serious forest management reform to commence, especially beyond 2014 – the year when Indonesians are busy with the national wide election.

The current National REDD+ Task Force has insufficient power and mandate to perform such tasks, while the Forestry Ministry and other sectoral ministries have no cross-sectoral mandate either.

Furthermore, forest and land use governance in Indonesia is even more complex due to its decentralized system. Although the central government claims to have control over forest areas in the country, the reality on the ground may be different. With significant powers now rest with the district level, and a large share of state revenue goes to district governments, provincial and district governments can have much more say about forest and forestry.

Any institution given a mandate to coordinate forest and land use reforms hence is required to not only take into account provincial and local aspirations, but also proactively involve them in a decision-making process. A positive incentive mechanism may also need to be created to encourage local key stakeholders to support the reforms.

Without a definitive institution having a definite mandate to coordinate forest and land use management, the division of authorities, roles and responsibilities among different sectoral ministries and layers of governments will likely remain unclear in many respects.

Various laws, regulations and policies which have resulted in overlapping forest and land use management, are likely to continuously operate.

With the election period approaching rapidly, the windows of opportunity to strengthen the reforms have become more limited.

This year, therefore, seems to be the most appropriate time for the government to establish such institution or give such mandate to any current institution. Otherwise, the hope for future forest and land use governance reforms may be in jeopardy.


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


Indonesia’s forest: a year in moratorium

Published in COAL ASIA MAGAZINE, OPINION, JUNE 14-JULY 14, 2012, PAGE 133-134 and OGE ASIA MAGAZINE, OPINION, JUNE 25-JULY 25, 2012, PAGE 50-51

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

To see the pdf version, please click Opini_CoalAsia_July2012 and/or opini OGE

A little over a year ago, Indonesia issued a two-year moratorium on new permits for primary forest and peat-land clearing. To date, a critical question remains whether the country has come up with better forest and land use management while allowing other sectors to develop.

This moratorium is intended to contribute to the program of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and to some extent provide a degree of legal certainty in land use governance in Indonesia.

Prior to the issuance of moratorium, for instance in December 2010, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) found in its study on forestry policies and systems that unclear definitions and boundary of forest areas in Law No. 41 of 1999 on Forestry and other relevant regulations are perceived to be a key reason of chaotic land use management in this country that eventually leads to a significant increase in deforestation.

Furthermore, according to the KPK, this situation, coupled with the lack of applied fair procedure in designating forest areas, has weakened the legitimacy of 88.2 per cent of forest areas (more than 105.8 million hectares). In fact, the KPK found that not all of these forest areas have been gazetted in law.

A study carried out by the Ministry of Forestry in 2009 concurs with this argument by stating that one of the indirect causes of deforestation is the difficulty of controlling the boundaries of production and protected forests, leaving them vulnerable to illegal logging, mining and conversion.

The above situation has also created uncertainty among different sectors intending to utilize land for their development projects.

It is, therefore, not uncommon in Indonesia to have overlapping claims for power over state forests and peat lands, between national and sub-national levels, as well as among sectors regulated by different government ministries (i.e. forestry, agriculture, energy and mineral resources and public works).

The above ministries are often known to have overlapping policies on land use, including processes for obtaining permits.

Hence, the issue of whether the forest conversion moratorium or REDD+ program in general will achieve its goal will not necessarily depend on one particular sector, but rather on multiple sectors and actors involved in land use activities.

Given such complexity, it appears that the REDD+ taskforce, which is given a mandate by Indonesia’s President to develop the national REDD+ strategy and oversee the moratorium, has achieved some initial progress in working with different agencies and sectors, particularly to arrive at an agreed moratorium indicative map (MIM), which would contribute to avoiding confusion and creating legal certainty.

The agencies engaged include the National Survey and Mapping Coordinating Agency (Bakosurtanal), the Ministry of Forestry, the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Land Agency (BPN) and the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4).

The MIM, required to outline the areas covered in the moratorium, is being updated every six months incorporating the latest sets of data from the above agencies and results from site visits. A second MIM is currently available, albeit with some discrepancies of figures between the two maps, as reported by the taskforce.

Since there are many sectors, layers of government and actors involved, it is understandable that to get an agreed MIM, some additions or reductions of relevant forest and land cover figures are required. Also, negotiations and trade-offs are likely to take place among these sectors and actors.

The future of this moratorium (including the improvement of MIM) and the overall national REDD+ strategy will depend so much on whether the initiative could increase positive involvement of the businesses, actors, and layers of government that are influential in causing land use change.

The development sectors of forestry (e.g. logging concessions, industrial timber plantations), agriculture (e.g. oil palm plantations), mining, and infrastructure are the key players in Indonesia’s development, and therefore their involvement and coordination in the moratorium and REDD+ process is crucial.

Gaining positive involvement or support from these actors and sector is truly a challenge, especially if the moratorium and REDD+ strategy do not clearly lay out the subsequent steps that allow these sectors to develop options.

For instance, there is a need to further improve data quality and transparency, showing which areas are protected (“no go areas” for development) and are not (“go areas” – that could include fallow lands and degraded lands).

According to the World Resource Institute (WRI), although releasing the current map was a landmark step toward improved transparency, the additional data provided were incomplete, did not include metadata, were difficult to download, and were not up to date.

Without accurate data on forestry and other permits, it is a herculean task for the government to enforce the moratorium and for the private sector to invest in areas that will not replace forests or peat lands.

The WRI argues that technically sound, legally accurate, and up-to-date spatial data, including license and permit data, should be made available, independently reviewed, maintained, and continuously improved.

Another fundamental factor that could lead to attracting positive support from these actors and sectors is the provision of positive incentives to get out of unsustainable practices and eventually maintain and properly manage forests and peat lands.

Currently, the private sector, communities and local governments have little direct incentive to manage and conserve these natural ecosystems.

In fact, there are cases when incentives planned to be used for better forest management (e.g. the Reforestation Fund) have been abused. As a result, the figures of forest degradation and deforestation further increase dramatically.

On the contrary, there are big investments for large-scale development in different sectors, which lead to greater exploitation of forest and peat land resources.

Market access for sustainable products and REDD+ fund for better forest and land use management can be named as potential candidates of incentives provided for land use actors who would like to pursue sustainable practices.

The question, however, still remains as to whether these incentives will be able to compete with such big investments which have thus far been responsible for changing Indonesia’s land use patterns.

World Bank in 2006 argues that adequate positive incentives are required, and must go hand-in-hand with forest law enforcement and governance initiatives, to increase the costs of non-compliance.

According to the Bank, 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 forest degradation.

A year of experience in implementing this two-year forest conversion moratorium provides a good reminder for Indonesia and its citizens that the challenges of achieving better land use and forest management while developing its economy are greater than ever.

The above mentioned issues, include, among others, increasing legal certainty as well developing options and incentives for sustainable practices, need to be further addressed, quickly and seriously.

Failure to address these issues may hinder the development and implementation of the moratorium, the overall REDD+ program and consequently disrupt Indonesia’s opportunity to develop its economy in a greener and sustainable way.

The writer is climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award. He can be reached at