Social Forestry in Indonesia Tackles Poverty


SEATTLE, Washington — Indonesia’s rainforests are among the most biologically diverse and resource-rich landscapes on the planet. These forests generate more than one-third of the national income. Unfortunately, poverty levels for the people residing in and around Indonesian forests are still above the national average. However, initiatives such as social forestry in Indonesia are working to address such disparities.

Issues from Deforestation

Indonesia’s forests have experienced a dangerous level of deforestation. Nearly 15.8 million hectares of forest were lost between 2000 and 2012. Oftentimes, these deforestation projects are carried out by large corporations in industries for palm oil, logging and mining. In addition to contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, these large-scale projects often disrupt and destroy the livelihoods of local farmers and communities. In fact, 95% of forest enterprises are privately managed while only 5% are managed by communities.

Establishing Social Forestry in Indonesia

In 2014, Indonesia’s President Joko Wikodo announced a project allowing forest-dependent communities access to 12.7 million hectares of forest through social forestry permits. This was in response to the inequities in Indonesia’s forestry industry. These permits essentially turn over control of some parts of the forest to local communities. Communities are then able to use this land to establish forest enterprises like ecotourism ventures or sustainable production of goods such as bamboo or rattan. This helps poor communities develop sustainable and independent income sources.

This program not only empowers communities to lift themselves out of poverty but also promotes the environmentally sustainable use of the land. Since local communities have a stake in the land, they are motivated to cut carbon emissions, curb deforestation and cultivate biodiversity.

Finally, this program can resolve land disputes by clarifying the borders of forest land for different communities. It is not uncommon for several communities to lay claim to one area of land. These arguments are often detrimental since more elite members of the community often manage to reap the benefits of the land while poorer members are left behind. Social forestry in Indonesia has the potential to alleviate this issue by ensuring that the land gets distributed to the communities that need it the most first.

Progress So Far

Originally, the program was supposed to be completed in 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some governmental red-tape, the program has experienced some delays. Despite this, social forestry in Indonesia has still made progress. As of June 2020, Indonesia has distributed around 4.2 million hectares of land. While this is only around one-third of the goal, it is a victory in addressing land disputes in Indonesia.

Moreover, there are some success stories. The province of Lampung, a southeastern province on the island of Sumatra, has been a prime example of social forestry in Indonesia. The province has been involved in social forestry since its early days, even before the institution of the 2014 initiative. Social forestry was first introduced in Lampung in 1995 in response to the illegal occupation of communities experiencing rapid population growth in state forest areas.

In Lampung, 83,000 households participate in the management of around 198,000 hectares of land. In some villages, the annual income of each household has increased from $170 per year to $2,730 per year. Families in these villages have diversified their income streams to include the production of crabs, honey and coconut shell charcoal.

Hopefully, regions like Lampung will be able to impart their wisdom and help to ensure the success of social forestry in Indonesia. Moreover, with continued government support, the aim is that Indonesia will continue to distribute the land and eventually reach the original goal of 12.7 million hectares.

Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr


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