REDD+ on the ground: For one initiative in Indonesia, politics in the peatlands

Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership caught up in an Australian domestic political debate.
A child sits on a tree stump in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Achmad Ibrahim for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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BOGOR, Indonesia—It’s a cautionary tale.

The experience of a highly politicized carbon emissions reduction initiative in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province is a lesson in the importance of such projects communicating with the outside world, according to a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP)—a joint initiative of the Australian and Indonesian governments—aimed to demonstrate an effective, equitable approach to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia’s largest expanse of degraded peatlands.

“It’s a very isolated place,” said Stibniati Atmadja, who carried out research on KFCP for CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+, which has just published a new book analyzing 23 such initiatives across the tropics, including KFCP.

In the 1990s, Indonesia’s Suharto regime sought to turn this area of Central Kalimantan into a vast rice plantation. Thousands of kilometers of canals were carved into the peatlands to drain them for what was to be the “million-hectare rice project.”

When peat dries out, it emits carbon dioxide and becomes extremely prone to fires, which releases even more of the gas.

The soil turned out to be unsuitable for rice; fires destroyed much of what was planted; and after three years the project was abandoned, leaving a degraded expanse.

This is where KFCP was established in 2010, on 120,000 hectares between the Kapuas and Mentangai rivers.


KFCP was initiated by the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership, involving Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Australia’s AUSAID and Department of Climate Change. It aimed at showing how REDD+ could work in practice, and concluded in June 2014.

By 2012, KFCP had been caught up in an Australian domestic political debate. The initiative attracted criticism in the media, and was accused of failing to reduce carbon emissions, as well as lacking in transparency, community consultation and respect for indigenous rights.

Atmadja says not all of these criticisms are consistent with what the CIFOR team observed in four years of studying six settlements and speaking with hundreds of villagers. A few were highly critical of the initiative—but the majority of the local people CIFOR interviewed were indifferent or generally positive about KFCP, especially by 2013, when many were receiving benefits from it.

“Communities are heterogeneous,” Atmadja said, “and perceptions change.”

One of the areas where KFCP did fall short, Atmadja says, was in communication and transparency—in embracing its stated role as a demonstration activity.

“This is an isolated place, and few people can carry their message out about what is really going on in the field,” Atmadja said.

“Until 2012, to find the project design document, you had to go to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—of Finland! There was almost nothing on any of the websites connected to the Australian or Indonesian governments,” she said.

The village knows they have a budget and they’re expected to do A, B, and C, and local people can see the budget—this kind of transparency never existed before

Stibniati Atmadja

REDD+ initiatives must communicate with all stakeholder groups, the CIFOR paper argues, especially in early stages when uncertainty is high.

“As an initiative involving big money, indigenous peoples, and being one of the first to implement on-the-ground activities, a lot of NGOs were looking at this place, and there was tremendous pressure for KFCP to share knowledge … but it did not communicate anything about its activities for at least two years after the initiative started,” Atmadja said.

The initiative’s proponents eventually created a website and published reports on the initiative—but by then, Atmadja said, it was too late.  Negative perceptions of KFCP had taken hold.


In part because of political opposition to the initiative in Australia, KFCP ended with minimal fanfare before it had got to the stage of blocking any of the canals responsible for the fires.

Despite its problems, Atmadja says the initiative produced co-benefits for livelihoods, governance, local capacity—and it demonstrated what’s required to bring local people on board.

KFCP developed a strategy of signing “village agreements” with each community. Under the agreements, KFCP and each community agreed on work packages that reduced emissions or improved livelihoods—from planting trees and blocking old logging canals, to setting up rubber cultivation systems. KFCP provided finance and technical assistance; communities provided labor and land.

“People that we talked with … they liked the idea that there is an agreement,” Atmadja said.

“The village knows they have a budget and they’re expected to do A, B, and C, and local people can see the budget—this kind of transparency never existed before.”

Negotiating these agreements took more than a year in some cases—much longer than expected—and is among the reasons why the initiative was perceived to have “failed.”

“In each village, it was a huge long process of negotiation,” Atmadja said. “It wasn’t just KFCP telling people what to do and then they did it—it never happens like that—communities would just reject them if they did that.”

“Those things don’t get expressed in carbon reduced. But they are necessary for building the capacity of this community so that when REDD+ comes, people are used to this kind of negotiation.”

One thing local people fought for was support for rubber cultivation and agroforestry for each household—something KFCP did not plan to provide.

“KFCP wanted to improve livelihoods, but giving each household money and seedlings to plant one hectare of their own land with rubber, fruit trees or vegetables was really out of the original scope,” Atmadja said.

“But local people wanted it,” she said. “And in some villages they were saying, ‘Look, this is what you call a dowry. If you don’t pay it, we don’t get married.’ ”

In the end, KFCP adjusted their plans to accommodate them, Atmadja said.

This has cost implications. KFCP had a huge budget compared with many REDD+ initiatives, so was in a position to pay—but the price of local buy-in has implications for the long-term sustainability of such initiatives.

Providing a “dowry” requires that proponents allow enough time for negotiation, Atmadja says, and they need significant start-up funding as well as ongoing funding—something that, in the absence of a global agreement on REDD+, is hard to secure.

“KFCP’s budget was huge: $37 million for four years. … The economics may not work for other REDD+ initiatives,” she said.

For more information about this research, please contact Stibniati Atmadja at

CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry, with financial support from the CGIAR Fund.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Food security Community forestry Rights