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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?

   Panellists discuss social forestry at CIFOR, Indonesia. Photo by Perdana Putra/CIFOR


Handing management rights over to communities might sound straight-forward, but it begs a few crucial questions: which communities? And, within each community, who decides how rights are exercised?

According to Sri Suharti, a scientist at the Forestry and Environmental Research Development and Innovation Agency of the Government of Indonesia (FOERDIA), there is a lot of conflict at local levels about forest boundaries, and many cases where the same areas are claimed by several communities. What’s more, she said during the discussion, elite community actors often manage to capture the benefits of social forestry projects, and marginalized groups – the intended targets of the initiatives – are frequently left behind.

As such, Suharti calls for more accurate baseline data on land ownership, stronger institutions and more effective local courts to resolve competing claims, as well as participatory approaches to break down hierarchies and ensure benefits go to those who need them most.

“We hope that this social forestry program will be continued under the same national policy framework – whoever becomes president”

Ani Nawir


While the Kalibiru HKm has made impressive gains with its social forestry initiative, its financial sustainability remains somewhat uncertain. Visitor rates peaked in 2016, and numbers have since started to decline. As Sadali explained, once neighbouring communities saw the success of Kalibiru’s photo-opp platforms they began to mimic them; and the competition has been bad for business

The turn of events highlights the importance of long-term business planning for social forestry schemes, says CIFOR scientist Ani Adiwinata Nawir. “It’s not just about getting the management rights,” she says. “The important question is: what next? After the rights have been granted, how can they support livelihoods and make sure the forestry management is sustainable for the next 35 years?”

Answering this question will require support from external agencies such as private companies, and government bodies at all levels, as well as resources  to diversify and develop alternative revenue streams, says Ani.

   Social forestry at Karangmojo, Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR


An additional challenge is getting social forestry to the forefront of local government agendas – and keeping it there. “This is something that’s still lacking in most of the provinces in Indonesia,” says Ani. “Social forestry has been seen as a national-level program, and the provincial governments – because they don’t have any budget for it – don’t really give it as much priority as the other development programs.”

During the discussion, Ani described how she and her colleagues have worked to give social forestry a stronger footing in government strategies as part of the Kanoppi Project. A collaborative project with CIFOR, FOERDIA, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), WWF and other partners, it aims to boost smallholder forestry and integrated landscape management in East and West Nusa Tenggara, at the far eastern point of Indonesia.

Her team have developed landscape-level strategy documents for integrated forestry management, inclusive of social forestry, taking care to align these with national, provincial and district government strategies. Their hope is that the documents will be used “as a reference for strategic direction to join the dots between stakeholders along supply and value chains, primarily among relevant government agencies,” she said.

At the national level, while support for social forestry is currently strong, it’s important not to take this for granted, notes Ani. She quickly adds that this is especially important with Indonesia stepping into the ballot boxes today to vote in the national elections. “We hope that this social forestry program will be continued under the same national policy framework – whoever becomes president,” she says. “Otherwise, that would be extremely disruptive, and the costs would be at ground level: particularly for the communities who currently hold the rights.”




CIFOR would like to thank the following panellists for their involvement in the panel discussion:

Dr. Bambang Supriyanto (Director General of Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships, Ministry of Environment and Forestry)

Dr Zahrul Muttaqien (Moderator, Forest Policy Expert, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry)

Dr. Lukas Rumboko (FOERDIA)

Dr. Sri Suharti (FOERDIA)

Ani Adiwinata Nawir, PhD (CIFOR)

Mr. Sadali (HKm Kalibiru, Kulonprogo District, DI Yogyakarta)





This research was supported by Kanoppi is a research project funded by ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) that has been coordinated by ICRAF (The World Agroforestry Centre) and CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) since 2013.
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Topic(s) :   REDD+