In Kalibiru, a national park in the Menoreh mountains to the west of Yogyakarta, tourists scale precarious-looking ladders up timber trees to take Instragrammable photos of themselves on treetop wooden platforms overlooking lakes and lush forest.
This place wasn’t always quite so photogenic. Two decades ago, the state-owned production forest was severely degraded due to forest encroachment and illegal logging. Then, in 2001, a group of locals set up a community forestry co-operative, and set about applying for management rights under the national community forestry scheme (Hutan Kemasyarakatan, or HKm in Bahasa) to boost livelihoods and improve the health of the ecosystem. It took time, but in 2008, the government finally granted them the mandate to manage the forest for 35 years under its landmark social forestry program.
Initially, the co-operative planned to manage the production forest to cultivate trees for commercial purposes based on selective timber harvest. But after they’d begun planting, the forest’s status was changed by the ministry from production to protection forest, and timber harvest was no longer allowed under the associated community forestry scheme .
So, the group turned to eco-tourism. And the decision ‘paid off,’ said Mr Sadali, the co-operative’s deputy head, when he shared the group’s story at a panel discussion at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) headquarters in Bogor in February this year. The Kalibiru HKm now runs a range of popular ecotourism activities (including the famed photo opportunities), as well as cultivating non-timber forest products (NTFP) in the forest’s understory.
The story of the Kalibiru HKm forms part of a much broader, longer narrative about the Indonesian government’s ongoing efforts in recent decades to democratize forest ownership and management. The country’s current social forestry program aims to alleviate poverty, halt deforestation and end forestland conflicts by giving local communities the opportunity to manage forests themselves – and to develop sustainable livelihoods based in and around them, too. More recently, social forestry has also been promoted as an inclusive way to mitigate climate change through the UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program.
But despite these efforts, communities are still only minor players in the country’s forestry sphere. They currently manage under 5 percent of the total area of forest concessions in the country, while the private sector takes the remaining 95 percent or more. Meanwhile, poverty levels in these communities remain some of the highest in Indonesia.
That’s why in 2016, the national government pledged to massively boost the area of land managed by communities – from 1.7 million hectares to 12.7 million hectares – in the following five years. However, progress towards the target has so far been slower than expected: so far, around 2.5 million hectares have been placed under community management, involving about 600,000 households under 5,454 permits. So what’s getting in the way?