In Indonesia’s West Kalimantan Province, the people of Padang Tikar village manage 76,000 hectares of mangrove forests. Their agroforestry-based businesses and honey bees earn monthly profits for them of about IDR 325 million (US$ 22,000) – an example of how legal access to forest use provides significant benefits to rural people. This story, recounted in Tosca Santoso’s 2019 book Five Forests, One Story, describes one of many way communities can thrive when given legal access to manage forests sustainably.
Agriculture and forestry contribute significantly to Indonesia’s economic growth. However, many people who depend on forests and rural lands for agricultural livelihoods, including many indigenous communities, are poorer than the national average. Among village households in or at the forest fringe, 1.7 million of 9.2 million are classified as low income, according to Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) data from 2017. Historically, forest land provided by the government in the past was unequally distributed between the private sector and communities, resulting in limited access for village households, land tenure conflict, social injustice and poverty.
Indonesia sought to address that in 2015. In an effort to ensure the availability of land and forest areas to local and indigenous communities and to achieve social justice in the use of forest areas and resources, the government launched a social forestry program, one of the economic equality policies enacted by President Joko Widodo.
“The regulations have mandated the social forestry program to be an integrated forest management system, implemented mainly by the forest farmers group and indigenous communities, with the goals to reduce poverty, improve community welfare and protect forests from degradation and land conversion,” said Bambang Supriyanto, Director General for Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership, Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF). “One key aspect to remember is that, we can’t stop at distributing access to forest use. Once the permits and the access are provided, we need to empower and strengthen the capacity of these communities to manage forests sustainably. By doing so, we can achieve social forestry’s honorable purpose, to ensure these accesses lead to ecological, economic and social benefits.”