Community Forestry in Indonesia

Community Forestry in Indonesia

New opportunities are emerging for local people, who have long struggled for access to the nation's rich forest resources.

Throughout the country, various groups have practiced their own forms of community-based resource management for centuries. In the province of West Kalimantan, Dayak communities have been growing trees in home gardens, enriching forests by planting new trees, and strategically logging healthy forests. In Southern Sumatra, the Krui people have traditionally managed thousands of hectares of productive forest gardens for nutmeg, mace, pepper, and cinnamon.

In 1966, the dictator Suharto rose to power and saw the economic gains forests could provide his regime. The industrial forestry initiated under Dutch colonialism quickly expanded under his rule. He claimed nearly all the country's forestland for state ownership with the Basic Forestry Law of 1967. From there, he granted extensive economic concessions to timber logging and plantation companies. Suharto also worked to systematically limit the ownership and use rights of local people who had managed the land for generations, arguing that they were the primary source of deforestation.


The Reemergence of Community Forestry

Suharto's tactics increased the wealth of his government, but industrial forestry and unchecked logging led to rampant deforestation and widespread forest conflict. The government could not ignore the loss of more than 50 million hectares of forest between 1966 and 1982 — a decrease in forest coverage of over 35%.  

In response, the state took the first steps toward more social forms of forestry, but maintained ownership of forestland. Supported by decrees from the Ministry of Forestry in 1991 and 1995, the Community Development Program required plantation owners and other concessionaires to support the socioeconomic development of communities in and around their concessions, such as by helping to build schools or mosques. International aid also supported experimentation with community forestry in pilot sites during this time.

In 1995, still grappling with violent forest conflicts and excessive deforestation, the government approved the first official state-sponsored community forestry, which allowed communities to apply for a 25-year rental lease on forestland. Though it was primarily a tool to have communities restore degraded lands, it nonetheless was a first step in restoring local access to forest resources, for instance — granting local people access to non-timber forest products.


Recent Gains

In 1998, Suharto was driven from office. The following year, the new government revised the Basic Forestry Law, granting forest villages equal access to use and manage state-owned forests. Although the state retained official ownership of forestland, this revision provided a legal basis for many of the forms of community forest management that have since taken root.

Like the country's history in diverse practices of community forestry, several forms of social and community forestry now exist in Indonesia. Eight of these are sponsored by the government and backed by policies. Of these, the two most recent and popular forms are Community-Based Forests and Village Forests:

  • Community-Based Forests (Hutan Kemasyarakatan or HKm) give farmer groups a 35-year license to manage select production or protection forests, with the ability to harvest forest products.
  • Village Forests (Hutan Desa) enable village-based institutions to obtain a 35-year license to manage and protect state forestlands that have not been assigned to other entities. In January 2009, the RECOFTC-supported Bantaeng Forest Village in South Sulawesi became country's first officially recognized Village Forest, opening the door to the wider expansion of community forestry across Indonesia.

Indonesian communities practice two additional forms of communal forestry: Customary Forests and Community-Based Forest Systems. These have no policy framework, but nongovernment organizations (NGOs) support them in the belief that community-initiated systems will be more closely linked to the users' needs than those developed by the government.