Taking stock of Indonesia’s social forestry program

Program helps resolve tenure conflict, but needs more support
Engkos Kosasih, a head of HKm Bina Wana Sejahtera in Tri Budi Syukur village, West Lampung regency, Lampung province, Indonesia. CIFOR/Ulet Ifansasti

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(Forests News) – Indonesia has an ambitious goal of giving forest-dependent communities access to 12.7 million hectares of forests through social forestry permits. The massive project, launched in 2014, is slated for completion by 2019 under President Joko Widodo’s current administration, bringing more justice into forest resources utilization.

However, the project – which covers five different forest types, including community, community plantation, village, partnership and customary forests – has progressed more slowly than planned. As of July 20, 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) has only distributed permits for 1.75 million hectares with participation from approximately 395,000 households – approximately 15 percent of the overall target – according to Bambang Supriyanto, director general of Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships (PSKL).

The program is also the government’s way of addressing tenurial conflicts. “The social forestry program is the answer to inequality in forests, as stated in Nawacita,” Supriyanto said, referring to the government’s nine-priority development agenda to increase the quality of life of Indonesian people.

In addition to lagging permit distribution numbers, another issue has come to the attention of researchers focused on the program’s progress: Households and communities that have received permits are not yet reaping the expected benefits. Many permit-holding farmers have not reported significant livelihood improvements and economic gains – the bait that drew them into the program in the first place.

To address challenges and constraints currently hindering forest tenure reform implementation post-license attainment, and to devise recommendations going forward, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently organized the National Workshop on Forest Tenure Reform on July 24 in Jakarta as part of its Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure). The project examines forest tenure reform implementation and outcomes for tenure security in Indonesia, Peru and Uganda, and in the Kalimantan, Maluku and Lampung provinces of Indonesia specifically.


The southeastern province of Lampung on the island of Sumatra has so far been the program’s biggest poster child of success with regard to improved forest management and livelihood benefits to local communities, since it has been involved in the national social forestry movement from the outset.

The head of the Lampung forestry office, Syaiful Bachri – now a staunch believer that social forestry is the solution to tenurial conflicts – recalled at the workshop how rapid population growth in the province caused an increase in land demand for residence and cultivation.

“It leads to illegal occupation of state forest area, so we have to search for win-win solutions,” he said. “So in 1995, we tried issuing temporary social forestry permits.”

As positive results became visible, social forestry in the province expanded. In 1998, the national forestry minister issued a first-of-its-kind decree, granting a Lampung community the right to manage up to 29,000 hectares of provincial forest to manage damar agroforests (Kawasan Dengan Tujuan Istimewa [KDTI]), providing significant income generation opportunity to the community. Now, the total area of the province designated for the diverse social forestry arrangements measures 198,000 hectares, and more than 83,000 households participate (there are no hutan adat/traditional forests in Lampung). “We pioneered conservation partnership,” Bachri said.

Lampung has since seen numerous positive effects of the program, including increases in forest cover, food security and income alike. Thanks to the support provided by stakeholders such as the provincial government of Lampung, Working Group Social Forestry, Public Service Agency MoEF and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The province remains focused on ensuring that farmers who have received permits can succeed, and debunks criticisms that social forestry is merely a way to distribute land. “The reality is that many farmers stopped working after they obtained permits, when in fact that is only the beginning,” Bachri said.

Lessons learned are now being taken into account elsewhere. Dede Purwansyah, director of Sampan Kalimantan, an NGO, which currently assists 50 villages in the province of West Kalimantan, agreed that communicating objectives of social forestry to local communities is important.

“Preparing the community to come on board with the program is crucial,” he said. “When we promote beekeeping, we say that bees need flowers to feed, and flowers will make the village beautiful. And the people accept that.”

Work in the villages he oversees has shown success. After one year the average annual income of each village leapt from IDR 2.5 million ($170) to more than IDR 40 million ($2,730), from the development and production of crabs, honey, and coconut shell charcoal.


For local communities, full ownership rights and, in some areas, recognition of their customary institutions are key.

“When we started explaining social forestry in Maluku, in the beginning many [Malukans] rejected it because they thought the government was out to take their land,” said CIFOR researcher Nining Liswanti, organizer of the workshop.

A different challenge exists in Kalimantan where oil palm plantations are increasingly dominating the landscape. “From our studies, in 2015, a number of farmers that had received permits did not know what to do afterward, so they sold their land to palm oil plantations after few years.”

A constellation of support mechanisms surrounds the social forestry program to address challenges and help ensure the program is achieving its desired effects.

“In some cases, part of [the challenge] is caused by a lack of facilitation for the community for implementing social forestry after permit issuance,” said Liswanti. “Many of the problems in implementing social forestry can be solved by raising budget and increasing community assistance.”

MoEF provides permit-holding farmers access to financial facilities, funded by the state budget. “Most of the clients that we serve are non-bankable,” said head of the Funding Analysis Forestry Division, Djoko Purnomo. “We do not do background checks for outstanding debts,” he said. “What we care about is whether they have a permit and that they want to plant.”

Amad Erfan from the Wadah Rembug Petani Hutan farmer group, who helped Lampung farmers obtain permits during the program’s pioneering days, said that complicated requirements in the permit process are often stumbling blocks.

“If you tell farmers to come up with organization statutes and bylaws,” he said, “then they will give up before they start planting. Then nothing gets done.”

MoEF has developed agencies to assist social forestry enterprises with human resources and business development of social forestry enterprises. However, the support system itself faces internal challenges. “In the past two years, between 2016 and 2018, the number of counselors dropped,” said Mariana Lubis from the Human Resources Counseling and Development Agency at MoEF. “There is currently only 15 percent of the total number of counselors that we need. This is caused by recruitment regulation.”

To monitor assistants to the nationwide program, MoEF developed an Android-based navigation and monitoring system SIMPING, which will soon be available to 33,000 forest farmers groups. Part of SiNav, a broader social forestry information and navigation system, SIMPING allows users to see where registered assistants are located and overlays this data with where permit-holders are, thus showing the distribution of assistants.

The workshop ultimately identified three keys to the social forestry program’s success: more harmonized institutional arrangement and organization between state, communities and companies; improved participation of local communities through provision of better incentives.

“After receiving the social forestry permit, the focus should be on business development that will contribute to the success of social forestry,” said Herudoyo, director of Social Forestry and Customary Forestry Business Development, specifying that this requires efforts to increase the capacity of businesses and entrepreneurship of Social Forestry Business Groups (KUPS).

First and foremost, this includes involving locals – especially women, as they are integral to linking social forestry objectives back to household needs – in decision-making processes. Erfan said he has witnessed reforestation efforts fail time and again because locals were not involved in planning and tree selection processes that affected their crops.

“Farmers understand the best way to plant coffee beans,” he said. “When the coffee is not harmed, then the trees are also safe.”

This research forms part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure) supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, European Union, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Global Environment Facility.

For more information on this topic, please contact Nining Liswanti at
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