In Indonesia, communities can apply for Social Forestry permits, which allows them to manage state forest. Yet the application process is slowed down because official maps of state forest zonation are not aligned and differ from the reality in the field. Our partner organization WARSI in West-Sumatra supports communities and government officials to align the maps with the actual situation on the ground. This reality check helps to avoid conflict between communities and authorities and assures the forest is well-managed.

Header photo: Sumatra Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash


The Indonesian government aims to allocate 12,7 million hectares of state forest under its Social Forestry Scheme. This government regulation allows for local communities to manage parts of the state forest area in the vicinity of their villages. For this to happen, the communities need to formally apply for a Social Forestry permit. In the application process they must indicate the exact geographical boundaries and proposed spatial zonation of the area.

To guide the application process of the Social Forestry Scheme, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has produced Indicative Maps for Social Forestry. At the same time the decentralized Forest Management Units (FMU) also use land use maps with a prescribed spatial zonation consisting of a protection zone, a utilization zone and an empowerment zone. However, the prescribed spatial zonation of both maps is not consistent. Furthermore, the maps often conflict with the realities in the field. Therefore, communities might find themselves farming in an area that is registered by the FMU as a core area for nature conservation. At the same time, intact rainforest can be found in places that are registered as ‘production zones’.

This leads to confusion and conflicts, with people losing their farmland and with valuable pieces of primary forests being logged. Additionally, it makes it difficult for both the national government and the province of West-Sumatra to reach the targeted area of community-managed forest.  


To make the Social Forestry program work in West Sumatra, a good alignment between the central government and local parties is needed. Therefore, IUCN NL has been supporting local partner organizations like WARSI since 2016. In close consultation with the government of West-Sumatra, NGOs and communities, WARSI mapped out the current zoning of seven FMUs.

Moreover, WARSI built a bridge between the local and central government to ensure that a reality check is the first step in the assessment of proposals for community forests. This will ensure that proposals for community forests are not wrongly rejected and will benefit both the communities as well as sustainable forestry.


The Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta now checks by default if the data they have is in line with reality. In West-Sumatra, locally supported proposals for seven forest management units have been approved.

For these areas, that cover at least 6.112 hectares, the national plans are now in line with those of the West-Sumatran government. A part of the forested areas that were wrongly classified as production blocks is now recorded as protected area, and part of the areas that are not forested but were marked as protection zone can now be used by the communities for sustainable agriculture. As a result, most of the conflicts between communities and the forestry service have been solved, and less forest is lost.

The reality check that has been built in thanks to WARSI also makes it easier for communities to realize a communal forest.

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. 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.

Learn more?

Caspar Verwer
Senior Expert Nature Conservation