Forests and (‘middle players’) people

Forests and (‘middle players’) people

Indonesia - 21 September, 2015

The fourteenth World Forestry Congress (WFC), which was held in Durban, Republic of South Africa, from 7-11 September, had as key theme ‘Forest and People: Investing Sustainable Future’. Interestingly, the theme resembled the eighth WFC held in Jakarta (16-28 October 1978) which had the key theme: Forests for People.

The revisiting of the theme after 37 years raises the question: Has the wish to make forest resources optimally utilized for the maximum benefit of people not materialized yet?

In the case of Indonesia, from 1978 to reformation era (1999 – to date), the heated debates about the best model of forest management arose and the state forest management have been strongly criticized for, among others, its contribution to exploitation and destruction of forests, its inability to enhance livelihoods of forest communities and the lack of respect for their social traditions and rights, and its failure to cope with conflicts and violence in forest areas.

At present, under the forester President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, the idea of 'Forests for People’ is well accepted by the government. However up to now, the largest part of state forest areas are still in the hand of big companies, characterized by big investments and large concession areas. About 95 % of the production forest (natural forest and pulp plantation) is still operated by big companies, while only about 5 % by small actors, indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs), characterized by small investments and smallholders.

Considering this fact, the dream of the key theme of the eight WFC in 1978 is still far from reality in Indonesia. Therefore it is highly relevant that the theme of Forest for People is revisited, as has been done during the XIV WCF in South Africa.

Now, there are about 40 million hectares of state production forests that have no forest cover and are not included under any concessions/management units. It is de facto an open access resource, which is a potential object for land grabbing by many big actors with strong financial interests. Without quick and sistematic government actions (law enforcement) the management of these large forest areas will fall in the hands of the big players and not for the people.

How to solve the long inequality control over state forestland and at the same time improving the management and restoring the state production forest ecosystems by optimizing the role of the people, individually and collectively? The answer is that we certainly need to intensify the role of middle players.

Who are the middle players? These are the educated, skilled and empowered people, who have great and honest concerns about the forest for a sustainable future.

The role of middle players could be as direct-or supporting actors. Direct actors are middle investors who manage state forest until around hundred hectares; while supporting players are young educated foresters acting as community facilitators/organizers/technical assistants of IPLCs to develop forest based sustainable livelihoods.

It is really amazing that Indonesia, as the third largest tropical forest country which officially manage 128 million hectares of forest estates, each year educates thousands of young forestry scholars in 55 faculties of forestry (state and private universities) and most of these qualified forest managers don’t have jobs in the forestry sector due to its limited absorption capacity. There are also many middle investors who are keen to invest on state forest land but there are limited possibilities for doing so.

On the other hand, there are millions of IPLCs, who struggle to manage their forest resources in a sustainable way with a limited access to adequate technologies. They need facilitation and technical assitance from skilled and educated foresters. Unfortunately, thousands of young foresters are reluctant to work in the field; they follow their seniors as salon foresters living in towns surrounded by ’concrete forest’.

In relation to the key theme of the XIV WFC, investing in sustainable future for our forest should be done by intensifying the roles of middle players in supporting forestry practices on the ground. As such, the government should provide good and reasonable incentives to young educated foresters to work at the grassroot level to empower IPLCs.

The government should also be able to transfer the existing 40 million hectares of unmanaged production forests into legally clean and clear state forest land to attract honest middle players to boost the economic growth in the frontier areas. They can develop high quality and fast growing tree species intercropped with cash crops in the form of agroforestry to gain short, medium and long term economic benefits and demonstrate the sustainable uses of forest resources.

At the same time the government should take responsibility for a long term and unsecure investments, such as protecting and cultivating endangered trees species, non-timber forest products, wildlife breeding and forest based ecotourism etc. for enhancing the quality of the forest ecosystem as a life supporting system for forest communities and biodiversity conservation.

In the future, forests could only be conserved by ensuring their sustainable use. Forests cannot be protected through fences and fines like the old days. The new scenario places an even greater responsibility on the government to manage every hectare of forest to the best advantage and best interest of all people, - this can be partly achieved by intensifying the role of middle players !