In search for agreed land use solutions


by Fitrian Ardiansyah

To see the pdf version, please click: Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_Sep2012

Searching for agreed sustainable land-use management in a developing country like Indonesia is a balancing act. The two recent government regulations issued this year, namely number 60 and 61, provide ample proof on this issue.

As a tropical forest developing nation, rapid development of forests – for forestry, agriculture, infrastructure or mining activities – in Indonesia has led not only to economic growth but also to environmental degradation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

If no immediate actions taken, the unsustainable economic growth may push the already fragile ecosystems in this country close to its ‘tipping point’ – a threshold in which damages to ecosystems are irreversible and causing unacceptable environmental changes.

This country is home to peatlands, savannas and the third largest of the world’s tropical forests, which are considered among the most valuable ecosystems in the world.

Indonesia is hence considered as one of the mega-biodiversity countries. In the 2010 State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific, however, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. This is due to, among other things, high rates of fragmentation and net loss of forests that have continued between 2000 and 2009.

In 2009, data from the Forestry Ministry show that Indonesia had 132.4 million hectares of forest estates (kawasan hutan) and out of these only 90.1 million hectares were covered by forest vegetation – of this roughly one-third was covered by primary forests, one-third by logged over areas and one-third by vegetation other than forest.

To address the ever declining state of the country’s forests, the Indonesian government has issued the moratorium of forest conversion in 2011 and introduced the overall REDD+ framework – that include efforts to reduce deforestation, forest degradation, conservation, sustainable management of forest and enhancement of forest carbon stock.

Implementing the moratorium, REDD+ and sustainable forest management is of course very challenging given the pressures coming from variety of sectors that have interests in forest and land use – sectors which, furthermore, are often regulated under different ministries and layers of government. These institutions are known to have issued overlapping policies on land use and land use changes, and influenced the issuance of different documents and maps of forest and land use.

These respected sectors are, nevertheless, crucial in the development of the economy of Indonesia. They are the main engine of this so-called emerging economy.

Commercial exploitation of natural forests began in 1967 and was one of the main drivers of the Indonesian economy since then. Billions of US dollars contributed from the export of forest products on a yearly basis consisting of plywood, sawn timber, and processed timber as well as pulp and paper, furniture and other processed timber products.

With regard to agriculture production, especially the palm oil sector, Indonesia in 2009 surpassed Malaysia to become the biggest producer of palm oil in the world, with production accelerating dramatically in recent years. Indonesia’s CPO (crude palm oil) exports and resultant revenues have increased significantly, from 3.8 million tons (valued at US$1 billion) in 1999 to 17.85 million tons in 2010 (US$10.03 billion).

The mining sector also contributes significantly to the country’s revenue. For instance, it is reported that the mining industry accounted for 10.8 percent of Indonesia’s GDP in 2009, with minerals and related products contributing one-fifth of the country’s total exports. This sector looks set to post strong average annual double-digit growth of 11.2 percent in real terms over the forecast period to reach US$149.8 billion in 2015.

To date, many scholars agree when it comes to land use change – including forest cover change – in Indonesia, forestry, palm oil, mining and infrastructure sectors are the most important and influential causes.

Given close association of these development sectors with land use and forest cover change, agreed and appropriate solutions need to be identified and reached so that economic development can still flourish while forest protection is ensured.

The issuance of the two government regulations – the Government Regulation (GR) No. 60 of 2012 on the amendment of No. 10 of 2010 on Procedures for Conversion of Allocation and Functions of Forest Areas and GR No. 61 of 2012 on the amendment of No. 24 of 2010 on Forest Area Utilization – has been perceived as an attempt by the Indonesian government to find such solutions.

As analyzed by one law firm (LGS) in its website, these two regulations have been issued to address a number of outstanding issues with the regulatory framework. This law firm argues that GR No. 60 of 2012 simplifies land replacement for permanent or limited production forests by removing the “adjacent to a forest” requirement, and GR No. 61 of 2012 is intended to provide certainty for borrow to use license holders, allow strategic industries to operate in forest areas, and reconcile conflicts with the Law No. 26 of 2007 on Spatial Planning Law.

There are always two sides of the coin. In the context of GR No. 60, the supporters of this regulation argue that this regulation improves legal certainty for the development activities, especially agriculture plantations, to take place.

This also ensures that plantation activities using particular forest estates need to replace these areas with the same size or bigger. The regulation, furthermore, puts the threshold of forests that cannot be converted in that particular estate (30 percent of the total area) and explicitly mentions about the importance of ensuring the environmental carrying capacity of the estate.

With regard to GR No. 61, this regulation offers improvement of legal certainty for particular mining activities which have been operated or obtain licenses in forest areas.

Many critics, however, claim that this regulation will only jeopardize the future sustainable forest management and forest protection in this country. Some environmental organizations refer to the fact that rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, for instance, has caused the conversion of a significant area of forests and peat lands.

These organizations are backed up by some scholarly studies including the one conducted in 2008 that estimated that palm oil development was responsible for a significant percentage of deforestation in Indonesia.

A similar accusation is labeled against the mining industry. A study conducted in 2000 argues that the development of mining will result in negative impacts including extensive land disturbance, loss of forest cover and habitat, contamination of rivers used for drinking water and food supplies, and increasing social conflict over access to mineral resources.

It is clear that regardless of the issuance these two regulations, conflicting claims and arguments will remain.

The role of the government is critical to ensure that land use processes and outputs resulting from these two regulations are synchronized with the efforts carried out by the process put in place under the moratorium of forest conversion that has resulted in one land use and forest cover map as well as the overall REDD+ process.

Without synergizing these two regulatory and substantive processes, Indonesia will miss the opportunity to provide legal certainty for both economic development and environmental protection.

As a country that has committed to sustainable development agenda, it is important that the country is not just focusing on economic performance but also on the environmental and social aspects of development. This means that the government needs to provide guidance and push for sustainable and responsible practices in the plantation and mining industry’s operations.

Many has argued that plantations and mining operations which overlap with Indonesia’s forests, especially overlaps with areas of high ecological values, have already caused significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems.

It is, therefore, important for the players in these sectors, particularly the private sector, to show that they are as much as responsible and willing to improve their practices for the better.

Indonesia is at the cross road in showing whether the country can develop its economy without further harming its environment.

These two recently issued regulations show once again the challenge in achieving that balancing act.


Fitrian Ardiansyah

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


Best Practice: major Indonesian NGOs join forces to contribute to an international standard of sustainability for palm oil plantations

By Fitrian Adiansyah and Abetnego Tarigan, in Forest partnerships: enhancing local livelihoods and protecting the environment in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, 2007, edited by Maria Osbeck and Marisha Wojciechowska-Shibuya, IUCN, Bangkok, p. 23. For the pdf version of the full please click here: 2007_CaseStudy_WildHoneyBees

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established by businesses involved in the production, processing and retail of palm oil — key members include Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil companies and European processing and retailing companies. The RSPO was established to counter the concerns of environmental organizations that palm oil plantations were a major cause of deforestation and were being imposed on local communities without concern for their rights, livelihoods or welfare and managed with insufficient concern for the rights and welfare of plantation workers and smallholders.

The influential Indonesia NGO consortium Sawit Watch and WWF-Indonesia — both RSPO Board Members — saw the opportunity to promote and call for high social standards and environmental criteria for stakeholders in the oil palm industry. Mutually supporting each others’ experience and expertise, they developed “Sustainability Criteria”, which elaborate voluntary standards to be adopted by the industry to ensure that palm oil production is socially and environmentally acceptable.

In November 2005, the principles and criteria (P&C) for “sustainable palm oil” were adopted by the RSPO General Assembly. The standard is being tested through a two-year trial implementation phase wherein 17 large companies have voluntarily committed to participate. Combined advocacy ensured that the P&C eventually included provisions on customary rights to land; free, prior and informed consent; respect for ratified international law; workers’ rights; non-discrimination; minimized and safe use of pesticides; fair pricing for smallholder products; recognition of high conservation value areas; and other important environmental aspects.

This partnership presents a concrete example of effective synergy between social and environmental groups and represents an effort to bring the government, NGOs and the private sector to the table. The RSPO’s sustainability criteria have established a good basis for developing best practices in the industry, halting conversion of high conservation value forests, promoting zero burning, and phasing out the use of agrochemicals. Communities impacted are in agreement with this standard and preliminary field studies suggest that the draft standard will offer significant protection. Looking to the future, these measures — along with commitment from actors on the global supply chains — should prove instrumental for the advance of environmentally acceptable practices in the palm oil industry.

[Abet Nego Tarigan, Sawit Watch: “Partnership between NGOs increases our access to information and enriches our work.” 

Joanna de Rozario, NTFP-EP: “A community that increases quality, increases its profit margin for the same volume of honey.” 

Community Member “A key to ensure economic benefit and overall well-being for rain-forest communities lies in the ability to organize.”]

ANNOUNCEMENT 12 January 2007:

RSPO Code of Conduct

RSPO is pleased to announce its Code of Conduct†. This is a major document that articulates the aspirations and expectations we as RSPO Members wish to aspire to and meet. The Code of Conduct is the culmination of the collective effort of RSPO Members, expressed through the Executive Board over the past year. It not only reflects the major concerns but also defines key objectives in meeting RSPO’s goals. After deliberation, negotiation and consultation, the Code of Conduct is now ready for adoption. It would be a cornerstone for gauging members’ contributions towards RSPO, and ultimately towards the goal of promoting the production, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil. It would also form the basis for our communication to stakeholders as we report against the Code of Conduct.

For the complete Code, see Annex 3. Source:

Original link:

Iniciativa de la Mesa Redonda sobre Aceite de Palma Sostenible: principios y criterios

By Fitrian Adiansyah, Andrew Ng, Si-Siew Lim, published in Palmas Journal, Vol. 28 No Especial, Tomo 2, 2007, pp. 297-318. For a full article (in Spanish) please click here: RSPO_Spanish_Palmas_Vol28_2007_FitrianArdiansyah


La Mesa Redonda sobre el Aceite de Palma Sostenible fue establecida el 8 de abril de 2004 bajo el Artículo 60 del Código Suizo con una estructura organizacional que garantiza una representación justa de sus protagonistas a través de toda la cadena de suministro. Su Secretariado tiene domicilio en Kuala Lampur, cuenta con 103 miembros ordinarios y 38 miembros afiliados (un total de 141 miembros a mayo 22 de 2006), lo que representa aproximadamente de 25 a 30% de la oferta global de aceite de palma. La Mesa Redonda sobre el Aceite de Palma Sostenible (RSPO, por su sigla en inglés), es reconocida como la principal fuente para las organizaciones ampliamente aceptadas y creíbles de aceite de palma. La Mesa Redonda o RSPO fue creada como una plataforma de múltiples protagonistas, participativa, incluyente, voluntaria y orientada hacia la acción que se convertiría en el vehículo de una discusión constructiva hacia un propósito común que es aquel de “promover el crecimiento y uso sostenible del aceite de palma a través de la cooperación dentro de la cadena de suministro y de un diálogo abierto con sus partes interesadas”. Con este propósito en mente, la RSPO ha logrado grandes pasos, tal como se puede ver por el interés en la misma, en los principios y criterios de la RSPO para el aceite de palma sostenible (P/C) y en otras iniciativas. Sin embargo, esto no quiere decir que la RSPO no ha estado libre de desafíos y problemas. Esta ponencia resalta los logros clave, su importancia para el comercio del aceite de palma y cómo la RSPO se ha convertido cada vez más en un símbolo de sostenibilidad con reconocimiento global para tener una industria sostenible del aceite de palma. Al rastrear los eventos clave y la cronología del desarrollo y la evolución, este documento tiene como objetivo presentar el contexto esencial sobre el argumento central para el curso actual de la RSPO, articulado a través de programas de acción y de la participación activa de los protagonistas. Aún se cuestiona la eficacia y la función de la RSPO entre los diferentes grupos de partes interesadas que participan en la misma como plataforma para tener un diálogo constructivo para la solución de los  problemas más difíciles que enfrenta la industria del aceite de palma. Sin embargo, por el solo hecho que la RSPO ofrece lo anterior, eso ha facilitado la comprensión de la industria del aceite de palma por parte de sus actores y críticos y ha sacado a relucir problemas enfrentados por aquellos que están impactados por el desarrollo del aceite de palma y la arista cortante en las acciones y el pensamiento sobre el aceite de palma sostenible en los años venideros.


The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established on 8 April 2004 under Article 60 of the Swiss Civil Code with a governance structure that ensures fair representation of all stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain. With a Secretariat based in Kuala Lumpur, 103 Ordinary and 38 Affiliate Members (totalling 141 total members as of 22 May 2006), that translates to approximately 25%-30% of the global palm oil supply, RSPO is recognised as the primary source for the most widely accepted and credible organisation for sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or RSPO was formed on the basis a multi-stakeholder, participatory, inclusive, voluntary and action oriented platform that would be the vehicle for the constructive discussion towards a common goal of “promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue with its stakeholders”. To this end, RSPO has made big strides, as demonstrated by the level of interest in RSPO, the RSPO Principles & Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production (P&C) and other initiatives. However, RSPO has not been without its fair share of challenges and setbacks. This paper would highlight the key achievements, their significance to the palm oil trade and how RSPO is steadily becoming a globally recognised symbol for sustainability in the palm oil industry. Tracing key events and the chronology of RSPO’s development and evolution, this paper lays down the essential context for the central argument for the present course of RSPO, articulated through programmes of action and active engagement of stakeholders. While the jury is still out as to the effectiveness and role of RSPO amongst all the different stakeholder groups present in RSPO, the unique platform for constructive dialogue towards addressing some of the most difficult problems posed to the palm oil industry. The very fact RSPO provides this has facilitated better understanding of the palm oil industry by stakeholders and critiques, brought to light issues faced by those impacted by palm oil development and will bring about the cutting edge in thinking and action on sustainable palm oil for some time to come.

Impact assessment on oil palm development

By Dr Asril Darussamin (Indonesian Palm Oil Commission), Fitrian Ardiansyah and Suhandri (WWF-Indonesia)

This paper is presented at the 2nd Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil, 6 October 2004, Jakarta.

Original link:

Please read the full paper here: Impact Assessment on Oil Palm Development (IPOC & WWF)


As one of the leading representatives of the palm oil industry in Indonesia and a non-structural organisation under the Ministry of Agriculture, Komisi Minyak Sawit Indonesia (The Indonesian Palm Oil Commission or IPOC) saw the needs to deal with sustainable palm oil issues directly and was willing to find appropriate solutions for the problems. The aim of the organisation was to provide clear information, steps and guidelines, to its members (mostly industry players) and decision makers from the government, on the way to move forwards in implementing better management practices based on appropriate consideration of environmental and social aspects. The first step taken was to conduct a study that identifies the interaction and impacts of oil palm plantations on the environment. This study or assessment intended to obtain clear and sufficient knowledge on environmental issues relating to oil palm plantations including the conversion of HCVF and the loss of wildlife habitat. The next step was to find and formulate ‘best solutions’ that combine both interests of business and the environment. This kind of solutions hopefully will positively change the practices and image of the Indonesian palm oil industry. In taking these two steps, IPOC reaches out WWF-Indonesia for collaboration and assistance. In April 2004, an MoU basing the collaboration between these two organisations was signed by Dr. Delima Azahari (Chief of IPOC) and Dr. Mubariq Ahmad (Executive Director of WWF-Indonesia).

The overall objectives of this impact assessment were to acquire clear and sufficient data on the positive and negative impacts of oil palm plantations on forests and biodiversity in Indonesia and to find appropriate
solutions of the problems. These solutions would act as a starting point in showing the responsibilities of Indonesian palm oil industry and changing the practices and image of the industry. The specific objectives of this assessment were to identify and learn the impacts and interaction of oil palm plantations in Riau and West Kalimantan provinces on High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) – inside and in the surrounding plantations – and to understand actions that have been or need to be taken to maintain or improve the quality of the HCVF. The findings would also be used to recommend any adjustments on existing sustainable palm oil criteria (including the one that is being developed by Proforest for RSPO/Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

Green and wealthy: An Indonesian oxymoron?

The Jakarta Post, Fitrian A. and Israr Ardiansyah, Forest Program, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, Jakarta, Opinion and Editorial – June 07, 2003

Fitrian A. and Israr Ardiansyah, Forest Program, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, Jakarta

Indonesian forests constitute one of the world’s megacenters of biological diversity. However, these forests — 10 percent of the world’s remaining tropical forests, second largest to Brazil — are being increasingly degraded, leaving ever fewer natural resources and causing significant ecological damage.

Protected areas are diminishing in conservation value as poorly planned and unsustainable development leads to poaching, encroachment, habitat fragmentation and forest fires.

These problems have been building for years with the rapid and largely unregulated exploitation of forests and other natural resources under the New Order regime. Since the early days of the regime at the end of the 1960s until today, Indonesian forests have been a prominent powerhouse of the country’s economy, after oil and textiles.

Unfortunately, to fill the need for economic growth and alleviating poverty, the government seemingly still sets its development agenda based on forest exploitation, including conversion of forests into plantations.

Forest conversion, which was defined as a continuous process of declining forest functions, has led to man-made monocultures characterized by the almost complete loss of forest ecological functions and socioeconomic benefits for local people.

In general, 60 percent of the conversion of tropical forests in Indonesia is due to the development of oil palm plantations (WWF, 2002). However, only 30 percent to 40 percent of forest areas that have been logged were later developed into oil palm plantations in the last decades in Indonesia.

This phenomenon has contributed to an alarming rate of deforestation (2.1 million hectares per year according to the Ministry of Forestry, 2003). Recent assessments estimate that by 2005 lowland forests will disappear in Sumatra and by 2010 in Kalimantan. If the incidents of forest fires are included, this prediction may well be true. The usual practice of plantations to log and then burn to clear the land for planting has worsened the impact.

The question now is whether forest conversion has increased the level of wealth of the country, if not the welfare of the people. One study shows that as a result of deforestation through 2002, Indonesia has lost about US$25 billion from timber and may continuously lose about US$0.55 billion per annum.

Other findings also show that conversion comes with severe environmental and social costs. These include the loss of high-conservation-value forests, human-wildlife conflicts (in Riau, the cost of human-elephant conflicts have reached Rp 1.3 billion per year, or 86 percent of Riau’s 2002 provincial budget), massive forest fires, the loss of ecosystem functions and services and disregard for the rights and interests of indigenous communities or forest-dependent people.

Although the country’s earnings from palm oil exports have increased, unfortunately, profits from forest conversion only go to a few people within and outside the country. On the other hand, forest-dependent people and the majority of Indonesians are yet to benefit from conversion.

Another issue to be raised is whether we have to stop developing the oil palm sector. Although concerns about massive impacts resulting from oil palm development have increased, many environmental organizations (ENGOs), including the WWF, recognize the need of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to develop and provide for their people.

Therefore, while seeking to ensure that important high-conservation-value forests (HCVFs) do not disappear, some ENGOs have been trying to open a dialog with the palm oil industry to search for sustainable solutions. For instance, the WWF network has been opening a dialog with Migros (Swiss retailers), Unilever, ABN-Amro Bank, the Malaysian Palm Oil Association and the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (GAPKI).

One area that is being carefully looked at is good land use planning that incorporates the need for oil palm development as well as HCVF conservation. If we analyze the figures of the areas that have already been opened, 60 percent to 70 percent have not been utilized as oil palm plantations.

This means that a huge figure (3 million to 4 million hectares) of abandoned land, wastelands or land with absentee ownerships is available to be used at this particular point of time and in the future. Integrated and coordinated land use planning at different levels (district to national), in this case, is extremely necessary.

Another important solution being discussed between ENGOs and companies is the implementation of several better practices for sustainable palm oil production. These practices cover guidelines on protecting, maintaining and restoring HCVFs within plantation areas; mitigating human-wildlife conflict; resolving social and tenurial conflicts; adopting a zero burning policy; implementing integrated pest management; and managing waste.

The coming Roundtable Discussion on Sustainable Palm Oil in August 2003 in Kuala Lumpur, incorporating key actors in the entire chain of the oil palm sector and other interested parties, will be used as a starting point to have sustainable produced palm oil that balances economic and environmental aspects.

Some key Malaysian companies such as Golden Hope Plantation Bhd has seen this as a good opportunity to enter markets in the developed world. If the Indonesian industry does not recognize this potential, it may lose a significant market share in Europe to competitors. And for the rest of us, we may end up experiencing more disasters as a result of ongoing deforestation.

Fitrian A. holds a master’s degree in environmental management and development from the Australian National University. Israr Ardiansyah graduated from Gadjah Mada University’s School of Forestry. Both work for WWF Indonesia-Forest Program.

Original link: