To deal with rampant land disputes involving indigenous communities, the government has unveiled a plan to allocate at least 20 percent of current concession areas operated by private companies for management by local people.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Monday that the government had set a target of allocating 5.5 million hectares of forest to local people within the next four years, the majority of which will be taken from around 30 million hectares of concession forest.
'The 30 million hectares of forest consists of 10 million hectares of concessions for HTI [industrial forest permits] and another 20 million hectares for HPH [production forest concessions],' the ministry's secretary general, Bambang Hendroyono, said.
Bambang said that the move was necessary to meet the government's pledge to give 12.7 million hectares of forest for use by local and indigenous people in the country.
'From these 12.7 million hectares, almost half of them will come from partnership forests in areas with long-standing conflicts [between indigenous people and private firms],' Bambang said. 'This year, 2.5 million hectares of forests have to be given to local people. Therefore, 20 percent of them, or 500,000 hectares have to come from concession areas.'
He said the 5.5 million hectares of partnership forests, as stipulated under the so-called 'kemitraan' (partnership) scheme, provided an opportunity for local indigenous people to take part in industrial timber plantations by managing areas of around 20 percent of the total concession area.
The allocated 20 percent is intended to encourage life-support plantation development in partnership and collaboration with local communities.
According to Bambang, the 20 percent allocation quota has already been stipulated in a recently issued ministerial decree.
Prior to the current plan, Decree No. 246/1996 issued by the Forestry Ministry on spatial planning arrangements for industrial timber plantations had already allocated about 5 percent of concession areas for local people.
The rest of the 12.7 million hectares of land will come from open-access areas (production forests with no existing permits) in the forms of village forests, community forests or customary forests, according to Bambang.
Once the plan is fully implemented, private firms will only control a fraction of land that they now manage.
This will result in a situation where 'forest permits for large-scale [firms] within the next five years will cover 4 million hectares at most', he said, adding that even now the ministry rarely issues permits for production forest concessions.
Despite the decision to increase the proportion of land allocated for local communities from 5 to 20 percent, the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) said that it still fell short of restoring the rights of indigenous people to manage their customary forests, estimated to encompass 40 million hectares across the country, since the new policy only covered land in partnership forests, not customary ones.
'It doesn't follow the Constitutional Court's landmark 2012 ruling that invalidated the government's claim to the millions of hectares of customary forests that have been the habitat of indigenous and local communities,' AMAN secretary general Abdon Nababan told The Jakarta Post on Monday. 'I don't think he [Bambang] has read the court's ruling.'
The court's ruling was a response to a request for a review by indigenous people, who felt that their rights to manage their own lands have been denied by the government for decades with only the Forestry Ministry having the power to issue licenses for logging and plantations, even when the forests had been managed for generations by their inhabitants.
Forest areas have regularly been used by large corporations for industrial logging, pulp and paper and palm oil plantations.
These forest conversions have been the major cause of conflicts between government and local communities, who feel victimized by land seizures and the lack of benefits received from forest conversions.
Data from AMAN shows that 143 customary land disputes occurred throughout the country last year.
According to National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) data, last year saw the highest number of complaints, with 7,000 cases reported; 20 percent of which related to land disputes that involved police and corporations.
Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry's social forestry and partnership directorate general said that the plan to provide 12.7 million hectares of forest for local people aimed to provide livelihoods for 32 million people living around forest areas.
'The program also aims to reduce the number of land conflicts around forest areas,' the directorate general's tenurial and customary forest conflict management director, Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, said on Monday.