Webinar series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#24 NGOs and Natural Resources Management

Webinar series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#24 NGOs and Natural Resources Management

Indonesia - 05 November, 2021

Managing natural resources needs to involve the participation of various stakeholders, including NGOs. As a non-governmental organization, NGOs have been participating in the management of natural resources in Indonesia so far. However, the extent to which NGOs play a role in the development of good governance in the field of natural resource management, the extent to which they have succeeded in mainstreaming the agenda of civil society and improving people's welfare and conserving their vulnerable resources or protecting endangered biodiversity, reducing the negative impacts of extractive industries and the expansion of monoculture plantations, or play a role in the global geopolitical constellation, those are the discussion materials for the 24th Tropenbos Indonesia webinar series entitled “NGOs and Natural Resources Management” which took place on October 9, 2021 and was attended by around 400 participants.

While sharing the history of Tropenbos Indonesia's journey in its 35 years of existence, Director of Tropenbos Indonesia Edi Purwanto explained that TI has done many things in participating in managing natural resources in Indonesia. Starting its activities in East Kalimantan and mostly related to silviculture, TI's track record still exists today, i.e. Herbarium Wanariset Samboja. In the next era, the role of TI is important in mainstreaming HCV, starting from the preparation of a national interpretation toolkit, supporting HCVRN in the preparation of HCV guidelines with a landscape/jurisdictional approach, and what is currently ongoing is encouraging the implementation of KEE, facilitating improvements in natural resource governance, and encourage the improvement of community livelihoods, especially those living surrounding forest areas. Regarding this KEE, according to Edi, the role of NGOs is very important both in identifying areas that are KEEs and forming a multi-stakeholder forum that can cooperate and involve all parties in the landscape to jointly plan, monitor, and manage KEE.

According to Dicky Simorangkir, a conservation expert who has long experience with NGOs, in the past, NGO cooperation with the private sector and the government has not been established as it is now. "There was suspicion for each other," he said. Companies were often accused of being actors or masterminds of natural destruction through their exploitation activities. The government was often seen as unclean, passive, and full of political interests, while many NGOs were seen as provocateurs and trouble makers. But in the last 20 years, according to him, the relationship of these three parties has undergone a significant transformation. There has been quite intensive communication and has resulted in closer cooperation. For example, more and more companies are now asking NGOs to assist them in the process of certifying their products, or TN requests NGOs to help monitor wildlife poaching and even help with law enforcement activities.

This is different from in the past for example when the concept of HCV was initially introduced, not all parties could immediately accept it, including the government and the private sector. But now, HCV has become part of government and company policies despite going through a long process. It seems that all parties are aware that different roles and functions can actually synergize into a common strength. "The awareness of the parties is getting higher that natural resource management activities cannot be carried out individually but must be comprehensive and holistic," Dicky said. He saw that nowadays many NGOs take the role as mediator between the community and the government, not like in the past, where NGOs were only considered to represent the voice of the community.

According to Aida Greenbury, Director of Mitra Putri Hijau Pty Ltd Sustainability Advisory, even though the company is profit-oriented, sustainability must be a concern for the company because the pillars of the company are not only economic but also environmental and social. For this reason, cooperation with environmental NGOs and social NGOs is needed. It is important for companies to adhere to sustainable practices because they are related to market acceptance of the products they produce. Sometimes, even though companies have complied with government policies, their products are still rejected by foreign markets because they are considered to cause deforestation. This also stems from foreign distrust of Indonesian products which seems to be exacerbated by the corruption perception index in Indonesia which is ranked 102 out of 180 countries (2020). According to the global corruption barometer, 92% of respondents believe that government corruption in Indonesia is a major problem. This situation has made companies feel more need to cooperate with NGOs, to better understand the different perceptions of other parties.

In cooperating with credible NGOs, according to Aida, 3 things can be considered: common ideas as the initial basis for negotiations, clear rules of the game, and clear and mutually agreed definitions, for example the definition of deforestation which, according to her, continues to evolve from time to time. The company's commitment to NDPE (no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation), for example, includes those that require supervision from NGOs to ensure that companies do what they are committed to, such as no longer clearing natural forests, protecting peat areas, and carrying out conservation and identification and management of HCV and HCS, which is also one of the keys to stopping deforestation. "The company should not just claim to have done what they have committed, but there are other parties who monitor it," she said.

Aida reminded that cooperation with NGOs requires trust and transparency. "As much as possible cooperation with NGOs should not be commercial, because if there is money involved, NGOs can be biased," she said. If the company makes a mistake, for example, it is possible that the NGO will cover it up. Both parties must also be completely independent of each other and neither party controls the other. Companies also need to have good leaders who realize that the cost of sustainability is an investment for the survival of the company. For this reason, long-term sustainability strategies need to be implemented transparently by accepting input from various parties including NGOs. "It may cost around US$100-350 million per year to save the planet, but without a concerted effort, there will be nothing left to save," he said.

Haryanto R. Putro, Lecturer at the Department of Conservation and Ecotourism, Faculty of Forestry and Environment, IPB, said that NGOs are democratic institutions whose functions are based on democratic rules. As institutions that are independent from the government, NGOs carry the mandate of their constituents and play a role in voicing the interests of the community. Although relying on volunteer work and the involvement of activist roles, sometimes NGOs also employ professionals to support their activities. "There are various ideologies, various forms of organization, and various sources of funding (government, public, and private sector)," he said. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs data (2019), the number of Mass Organizations in Indonesia reached 431,465 with various forms and the largest number of international NGOs in Indonesia operate in the environmental sector.

From various studies, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer Indonesia, the level of public trust in NGOs had decreased in 2016-2017 from 64% to 57% although it rose again in 2019 to 67%. However, in the Indonesian context, NGOs are currently no more trusted than the government, the private sector, and the mass media. In addition, in many NGOs there is also ideological distortion due to dependence on funding from the government, the private sector and the public. "If it is not careful, the NGO's performance might be the donor's performance," said Haryanto. It is not surprising that transparency, accountability, legitimacy and representation are often problems. "NGOs often encourage transparency, but when asked to be transparent they often run away, this is my experience on various multi-stakeholder issues," he added.

Haryanto quoted Hariyadi Kartohardiprojo's article published on forestdigetst.com (2020), since 2016, NGOs in Indonesia and their activists were brought into the government's political carriage so that the implication was the weakening of control over the government. Although there are those who say it is not a problem, there are also those who say that it can cause bias because the public interest can be defeated even though it carries a mission of justice, equitable distribution of benefits, and so on. Haryanto advised that in the future, NGOs will change their way of thinking from assertive to integrative, from rational to intuitive, from analysis to synthesis, from reductionist to holistic, and from linear to non-linear. In addition, it is also necessary to change values from self-existence to integrative, from expansion to conservation, from competition to cooperation, from quantitative to qualitative, and from domination to partnership.