Our most recent newsletter features articles from projects on conservation and conflict, and below we feature the article from “Marrying community land rights with stakeholder aspirations in Indonesian Borneo” by project leader Dr. Matthew Struebig. Read the full newsletter here!
In the coming years Indonesia is hoping to answer a question that is in the minds of many people: can local communities effectively protect forests and wildlife? Surprisingly, we don’t really know. But Indonesia is embarking on a nation-wide experiment to find out.
Under Indonesia’s social forestry policy 127,000 km² of land will be allocated to community land use. To put this in perspective, that’s similar to the size of the island of Java, or a little smaller than England. This includes forests for different types of use, including Village Forest (Hutan Desa, in Bahasa Indonesian), Community Forest (Hutan Kemasyarakatan) and Customary Forest (Hutan Adat). The forests will be under State control, but will be managed by communities.
In terms of democratic progress, this is a giant leap towards more equitable distribution of forest rights, especially for local and indigenous communities. For decades, people’s rights have been ignored, with forest management being dominated by government and corporations. However, while it seems a good way to reduce conflict and improve human rights, the potential impact of social forestry on forest loss and wildlife conservation is unknown. What will happen to the country’s forests and wildlife once they are in the hands of Indonesia’s forest communities? Or in more direct terms, are forest communities any better at protecting forest and wildlife than the previous managers, government and corporations?
There are quite a few examples of community-based forest management successfully supporting biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. In Wehea, East Kalimantan, for example, the indigenous Dayak community uses their traditional laws to manage 380 km² of logged forest for conservation by deterring illegal logging and poaching. Another example is in Laman Satong, West Kalimantan, in which the local community protects a remnant patch of forest from encroaching oil palm development.
But successes are only part of the story. Indeed our new Darwin Initiative Project, a collaboration between the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Fauna and Flora International, Borneo Futures and the Universities of Kent and Queensland, is showing that the performance of community-based forest management in avoiding deforestation varies widely. With additional support from the Woodspring Trust, our preliminary data suggest that the performance of community-based forest management in Indonesian Borneo is influenced by factors such as access from forest to markets, the occurrence of peat, and distance to agricultural lands. If we wish to get the highest benefit for conservation, social forestry programs could be directed toward the areas and communities which are likely to avoid deforestation.
Another indicator that could be used to inform the selection of land for social forestry is conflict involving local communities in relation to deforestation. A recent Kalimantan-wide study suggests that communities with high dependency on forest resources are likely to strongly oppose deforestation by large-scale industries such as oil palm. These communities rely on the nearby forests for socio-cultural reasons such as to collect non-timber forest products for subsistence uses and traditional ceremonies. Therefore, the community’s opposition to deforestation could be a useful consideration when prioritizing areas for social forestry.
While we have preliminary clues on the factors that could be considered in developing social forestry programmes, there are still unresolved questions. For example, do all communities that have proposed social forestry have the capacity and resources, including support from non-governmental organizations, to sustainably manage the proposed forest? How can the government, both at central and local levels, facilitate the governance of social forestry programs including in planning, approval, supervision, and monitoring? Our project is helping to address these questions in Kalimantan by providing the scientific evidence base to help allocation decisions and monitoring of community forest programmes.
Indonesia’s social forestry policy is a contemporary test of democracy and human rights, and if successful, could go on to become a showcase of community-based conservation in the world.