A long journey to get rights to manage a village forest in Indonesia

Forests in Indonesia host unique biodiversity and are crucial for the livelihoods and well-being of indigenous peoples and local communities (IP&LCs). Despite their value, Indonesia’s forests are under threat from agriculture and other industrial developments. To ensure that IP&LCs obtain the rights to manage their territories and secure their livelihoods and the unique biodiversity in the forests, the Indonesian government launched a Social Forestry programme. IUCN NL’s partner organization WARSI helps IP&LCs to participate in the programme and secure their rights.

Header photo: Simanau Landscape in West Sumatra province © Nanda Rahman

Indonesia’s state forest land is currently at around 125.9 million hectares, which is about 64 percent of Indonesia’s land area. Despite their unique value for biodiversity and climate, Indonesia’s forests are under threat from industrial agriculture (oil palm and timber/pulp plantations), extractive industries and infrastructure development.

Such developments result in the destruction of forests, including their biodiversity, and in many cases lead to the confiscation of lands used by indigenous peoples and local communities (IP&LCs). Having no territorial rights, many IP&LCs risk being deprived of their livelihoods and their capacity to effectively and sustainably manage their forests and other natural resources.

Social Forestry

In 2008, the Indonesian government launched a Social Forestry programme for IP&LC management and in 2015 12.7 million hectares (about ten percent of Indonesian state forest) were designated to this programme. It aims to alleviate poverty, halt deforestation, and end forest conflicts by giving local communities the opportunity to manage forests themselves, and to develop sustainable livelihoods. The Social Forestry programme allows communities to acquire rights for a period of 35 years to manage the forest sustainably.

Complex process

Since the process of acquiring the rights to manage the forest is extremely complex, IP&LCs need help to apply for the programme. WARSI, an Indonesian partner organisation of IUCN NL’s programme Forests for a Just Future, is helping local communities acquire management permits and use their land in such a way that the forest is preserved and the community receives an income from it. WARSI is also urging the Indonesian government to simplify the procedures and issue more licences to local communities.

Frontrunner in community forest management

WARSI is one of the frontrunners in Indonesia in securing community-based forest management. Its work matches IUCN NL’s strategic priority to ‘strengthen natural resource governance by local and indigenous communities’. For many years IUCN NL has been supporting WARSI to secure IP&LC management rights, to advocate with government and to share its experiences with other CSOs in the Strategic Partnerships.

The process of getting a Social Forestry permit in Indonesia is often a matter of persistence. It can be a very complex and lengthy process, which is evident from the case of Sungai Lansek Village.

Collaboration and perseverance

The case of Sungai Lansek Village shows that a strong desire of the community to secure the self-management of their forest areas is essential to persevere the process that may be quite long. Second, a collaborative approach reaching out to the district Forest Management Unit (FMU), the provincial Forestry Agency, and the national Minister of Environment and Forestry through lobby supported by factual data can influence development plans in the forestry sector, especially at the district FMU level. Below, we explain how this complex process played out and what lobby & advocacy steps WARSI took to support the community in obtaining a permit to sustainably manage its forests.

The case of Sungai Lansek Village

With support from WARSI, the community established a Forest Management Group and developed a Forest Management Plan. After this, at the end of 2016, the Sungai Lansek Village Government, Sijunjung District, West Sumatra province, proposed to the Minister of Environment and Forestry to recognize 254 hectares of forest area within their territory as Village Forest under the Social Forestry programme. In mid-2017, the community received information that the request could not be accepted because the concerned forest was already under the management of the district FMU based on its Long-Term Forest Management Plan. Responding to this situation, WARSI lobbied the district FMU in Sijunjung to accommodate the application for Sungai Lansek Village Forest by changing the Forest Management Plan.

Almost a year later, the district FMU agreed to collaborate with WARSI in a work team and to tackle the problem that there are no regulations stipulating the procedure for changing the Forest Management Plan.

Changes made to long-term forest management plan

After consultation with the West Sumatra Forestry Agency, the work team concluded that the area requested was factually managed by the community. After a few more months of advocacy work and the presentation of plans, the Minister of Environment and Forestry agreed to issue a decision letter to change the Forest Management Plan of the Sijunjung FMU. Also, the Minister promulgated a regulation on the procedure for changing a Forest Management Plan. WARSI and the provincial Forestry Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate to make changes to the district Forest management Plans. This spurred 7 other district FMUs in West Sumatra to make changes to their Forest Management Plan.

After the Sijunjung Forest Management Plan was adapted to accommodate for community management areas, the Sungai Lansek village government again applied with the Minister for a Village Forest permit. In March 2021, more than 4 years after the first submission, the Minister finally granted Village Forest Management Rights to Sungai Lansek village covering an area of ​​253 hectares, providing the community with a permit to manage its forest areas and use the forest resources in their territory in a sustainable manner.

The importance of Indonesia’s rainforests

Indonesia occupies less than one percent of the earth’s landmass but has the third largest expanse of tropical rainforest after the Amazon and the Congo basin. These forests are home to an estimated 10 – 15 percent of all animal and plant species, placing it in the top three countries in terms of biodiversity. They represent a massive carbon sink, absorbing more CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. Indonesia’s forests also provide the basis for the livelihoods and well-being of some 40 million indigenous peoples and local communities (IP&LCs).

Forests for a Just Future

As part of our project Forests for a Just Future, we are supporting WARSI and other civil society organisations in Indonesia to protect the country’s forests and secure the rights of IP&LCs. Forests for a Just Future works in 11 countries in South America, Africa and Asia. We contribute to more sustainable and inclusive governance of tropical rainforests, in a way that promotes climate mitigation, human rights and preserves the livelihoods of local communities.

Want to know more? Contact our expert:

Evelien van den Broek
Senior Expert Environmental Justice