Community rights to resources in Indonesia: A conversation

12.7 million ha of forestland for communities: It’s a big number but not a political number, panelist says.
Mapping is an integral part of Indonesia’s policy to transfer land to local communities. Mokhammad Edliadi/CIFOR

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When Indonesian President Joko Widodo took office in 2014, he made a commitment to strengthen the rights of local communities over land and forest resources. Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has since announced that 12.7 million hectares of forestland will be transferred to local communities by 2019.

This is an ambitious target that requires a coordinated approach to map lands managed and used by indigenous communities across the archipelago. So what needs to happen to make this vision a reality?

Three experts at the heart of this process – Wiratno of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Myrna Safitry of the Epistema Institute, and Abdon Nababan of indigenous civil society group AMAN – shared their thoughts in a wide-ranging panel discussion at the Colloquium on Land and Forest Tenure Reform in Indonesia, convened by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Following is an edited transcript of their discussion. A video recording of the full discussion is below.

Steven Lawry, Director, Forests and Governance Research, CIFOR

Questions have been in the mix for some time about the possible benefits of devolving rights to use, manage, and own forest by communities.

Wiratno, can you reflect on how the process is going – the successes you’re having and the challenges you’re facing?

Wiratno, Director of Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships, Ministry of Environment and Forestry

12.7 million hectares is a huge allocation but it is a political decision. We’re preparing the proposed map, including areas under production forest, protection forest and adat (customary community) areas.


Myrna and Abdon, what’s your observation on how the implementation of the program is going with respect to the Ministry itself and to community participation?

Myrna Safitry, Executive Director, Epistema Institute

Firstly, I’d like to give my respect to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry for passing a policy that gives around 10 percent of the forest area to the people. Even though it is below our expectation because in the process of consultation during the Mid-term National Development Plan preparation, we actually proposed for the transfer of around 40 million hectares to local communities. Why? Because the imbalance of land control in and outside the forest area is very, very sharp. We can see for example, that in the production forest zones, less than 3 percent is allocated for the people. This means that more than 90 percent of the forest land is allocated for companies. So we are still dealing with poverty, human rights violations and many other issues in those areas. We need to stop this problem.

The existence of the map is very important. To produce the map we need to negotiate, not only between the government and the people, but also amongst the people themselves.

Mapping is the agenda we need to support.

Myrna Safitry

Abdon Nababan, Secretary General, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN)

First, we (should) understand that indigenous rights is a constitutional human right in Indonesia. The challenge for us now is that for the past 50 years, we haven’t had the administration or the operational procedures to register that right. We have to start from zero in terms of the administration system and also the institutional arrangements.

The indigenous peoples movement is committed to help the government achieve the transfer of 12.7 million ha of land.

Abdon Nababan

For us in AMAN, it is not difficult to produce a map clearly from the field. We have already mapped almost 10 million hectares of indigenous territory. We started mapping 15 years ago. We just need a place to put this map, and (authorities) who will verify the data. That’s all. And if there is a conflict over claims, let’s work together to find out the way.

If the government asks help from the indigenous peoples, mapping 12.7 million hectares is not too heavy to achieve. We are optimistic we will get there by 2019.

What we need now is not only political will from the President but Presidential leadership to reform the bureaucracy.


It sounds like we’re building a whole new forest governance structure, involving community rights and local governance. It’s needed but is it being conceived in that way?


We are revising the social forestry regulation, involving a series of dialogues with civil society organizations, and also across Echelon One (Directorates General) in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. This is a new culture and it’s very important that from the beginning, we are having open dialogues.


My observation is that this is a giant project, if we’re talking about a change in the bureaucratic culture. It means we have to find champions in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, such as Pak Wiratno. The first challenge is how to protect this minority group (of ‘champions’) and help them to articulate the changes adequately.

The other issue is that we don’t only deal with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to achieve the policy of transferring land to communities. There are other Ministries (involved), for example, the Ministry of Agrarian and Spatial Planning, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs. As Abdon said, we can’t wait and we can’t work one by one with them to change. What we need now is the leadership of the President because he’s the one who set the target. He should be responsible for leading this process, by asking other Ministries to do their work properly, and also to ask local governments to conform with the policy.


Bureaucratic reforms take time but it is not impossible.

We will put in place a Presidential Decree that establishes proposed areas for social forestry. The decree will include several ministries, as well as governors and district heads, who will all be mandated to support the national agenda.

It’s important to ensure that 12.7 million ha is not just a political number.


One challenge is working with local governments to implement social forestry schemes and facilitate the transfer of land. But many provinces, such as West Sumatra, South Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara are already showing their interest. They’re eager to work with the new policy and to implement this policy for their people.


What is the role of civil society in this process?


AMAN’s new strategy is moving away from confrontation to engagement – to share power and to share a vision. We have that now with Nawa Cita and commitments from the President.

But to make it work, we need to work together. That’s why we’re proposing to set up a Presidential Task Force as an instrument for the President to lead the process.

Our strategy will be to work with the Presidential Office to put this rights issue into the core of the political process.


We must have frequent open-minded dialogues to exchange ideas. We know that sometimes we come from different perspectives but it doesn’t matter. We can learn from each other. Civil society needs to understand how the bureaucracy works, because we can’t propose ideas and ask government to implement them if it won’t work within the organizational and authority structures.

For civil society, the challenge is how to transform our ideology into practical steps that can be easily adopted by the government.

For more information on this topic, please contact Mani Ram Banjade at
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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Rights