For Indonesians, forests have always been essential for food, drinking water, fuelwood, medicine, watershed protection or even cultural and spiritual services. In the early 1990s, the concept of social forestry, i.e. giving access to the local community for using forest products legally, was just emerging. Social forestry aims to alleviate rural poverty, recover environmental damage, preserve forests, and reduce potential forestland conflicts by recognizing the roles of local communities in managing forests. However, major political changes, and Indonesia’s monetary crisis in the late 1990s have delayed this effort.
But lesson learned from forest management between the 1997-1998 monetary crisis can support future efforts in social forestry. Between 1996 to 2000 Indonesia recorded one of its highest deforestation rates, losing about 3.5 million hectares of forest every year. Long before the crisis hit, forests supported people, particularly economically marginalized groups who relied on forest products and services as their primary livelihoods and other groups who used forests as safety nets. The latter included people who had been laid-off because of the crisis and who had moved back from cities to rural areas and were more prone to exploit forests unsustainably. As the well-being of forest communities decreased, forest clearing and illegal logging spiked, though the economic crisis was not fully responsible for that. Now, deforestation lingers, yet other drivers are behind it.
Last year, the global COVID-19 pandemic has massively hit our way of life. This health crisis has disrupted the global economy, affecting both supply and demand like never before. In addition to health and economic damages, the pandemic has disrupted global supply chains while raising food security issues. The climate crisis has also resurfaced. Preserving forests has never been more critical. As the UN-REDD Programme has previously stated, forests play a key role in alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, providing subsistence goods, preserving freshwater, storing carbon, and reducing the likelihood of extreme weather events, as well as future zoonosis outbreaks.
Indonesia’s social forestry program is critical to supporting sustainable recovery and to building a more climate-resilient economy. The Government of Indonesia has set an ambitious target of 12.7 million hectares or around 10 per cent of the country’s forests to be managed by local communities through five different schemes by 2024. Until June 2020, the social forestry program for all schemes has reached only around 4.19 million hectares and includes over 850,000 households. Permits still need to be issued for the remaining 67 per cent of the target (around 8 million hectares) in less than four years.
Entrepreneurial assistance for local communities is also crucial. Local peoples that have gained access and rights to manage the forest can set up a social forestry business unit (Kelompok Usaha Perhutanan Sosial/KUPS). So far, 68 per cent of KUPS have been legally established, but only 7 per cent have succeeded to manage their businesses, secure funding and markets. Building local capacity becomes essential to ensure that businesses operate sustainably.
Identifying the structure of supply chains before running a business is also key to secure markets and vendors. This also includes the role of intermediaries, i.e. cooperatives, farmers’ associations (gapoktan) or other types of institutions that can assist local communities in managing forests. Another challenge is ensuring that the social forestry program is a priority on the local government’s development planning agenda. Aligning social forestry programs across national, provincial, and district levels will help integrate and strengthen sustainable forest management.
Despite the remaining challenges in implementing social forestry, this program plays a critical role in supporting the post-COVID recovery. Sustainably managed forests will provide sustainable livelihoods, and help mitigate climate change, while supporting a more resilient and inclusive economy for the future.