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Jakarta Post

Expand, not just extend, forestry moratorium

  • Sugeng Budiharta

    The Jakarta Post

Brisbane   /   Mon, May 25, 2015   /  06:31 am

President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has assured he will extend the country'€™s forestry moratorium as proof of his commitment to protect nature. This implies that there will be no new permits to convert primary forests and peatlands within the moratorium areas for the next two years. However, does it mean anything?

Learning from a similar policy during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, skepticism arises on whether such an extension for the next two years would be effective in halting deforestation and forest degradation in Indonesia. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) noted that forest loss still continued at an alarming rate during the previous moratorium periods with a tendency to increase in 2014 despite national and global scrutiny.

The forestry moratorium followed Indonesia'€™s commitment to curb carbon emissions up to 41 percent by 2020 under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism. Considering the continuing forest loss despite the moratorium, it seems that stopping deforestation using a carbon perspective alone is ineffective.

Carbon is considered a component of ecosystem services. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative defines ecosystem services as '€œthe direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being'€. They include material provisions (e.g. food and timber), sociocultural benefits (e.g. natural aesthetics), earth system regulations (e.g. hydrological cycle and carbon storage) and supporting services (e.g. habitat of biodiversity).

Beyond carbon, there are enormous elements of forest ecosystem services which deliver more direct benefits to human well-being, especially at the local and regional level.

Take hydrological services. A UN Environment Program study across Kalimantan showed that flooding events have significant relationships with the proportion of forested areas along watersheds, the extent of severely degraded forest and oil palm plantations. The study published in 2013 also reported an increasing trend of flooding events over 30 years, and indicated more severe impacts in the future. On a smaller scale, our study revealed that water springs, an important water resource in many rural areas, coincide with the presence of vegetation, mainly fig tree species and bamboos.

One then could calculate the loss in human life and economics caused by floods, landslides or droughts which might be attributed mainly to deforestation and forest degradation.

Another example is the forest provisioning services in rural livelihoods. In many regions, forests are the major resource for forest-dependent communities who gather rattan, fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants, either to fulfill their subsistence needs or as a cash income source. When forests are converted, for example for oil palm plantations and mining, these people no longer have livelihood options. And the consequence is clear: social conflicts.

Biodiversity is frequently argued as an important component of ecosystem services and is a global concern. As a major habitat for biodiversity, forests, when converted, have direct impacts on wildlife, such as orangutans. As a consequence, there is a bad reputational image of Indonesia'€™s exported commodities, such as palm oil, reducing the competitiveness of such products in global markets.

As forests are not only about carbon, forest protection should then be expanded into a more holistic approach to capture all benefits of ecosystem services. While previous policies on the forest moratorium had focused on carbon-rich ecosystems, such as primary forest and peatlands, the next moratorium should also account for other services including hydrology, sociocultural elements and biodiversity.

There should be no issuance of permits to convert forest along rivers and on steep slopes. As well, forested areas surrounding ecosystems important for water regulation, such as freshwater swamps and lakes, could be included in the moratorium. These policies are accompanied with reforestation on such areas identified as being in degraded condition.

Forest conversion should also be banned on socially and culturally important areas for indigenous communities with high dependency on forests. Further formal recognition of local people'€™s aspirations in managing forests might be necessary, for example through hutan kemasyarakatan (community forests) and hutan adat (customary forests).

Similarly, the forestry moratorium should also account for areas retaining high biodiversity value, to include forests outside protected areas identified as important habitats for wildlife.

Incorporating multiple elements of ecosystem services to consider in the forestry moratorium policies would be daunting work. Science and technology could act as valuable tools to articulate such policies in a more meaningful way, such as in the form of a moratorium map. There are various freely available tools for assessment and mapping of ecosystem services, such as Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) and Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES). The challenges are likely on capacity building and information availability.

The changing paradigm in viewing forests'€™ ecosystem services could be a starting point to better protect and manage Indonesia'€™s forests. Comprehensive understanding on the benefits of forests when they exist and the consequences associated with them disappearing is therefore beneficial.

The next two years of implementation of the forestry moratorium is an opportunity to reconsolidate forestry policies and management to account for a more holistic framework in valuing forests, not merely on carbon (and timber), but on multiple services fairly distributed across stakeholders.

In many regions, forests are the major resource for forest-dependent communities.

The writer is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia.

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