Land in Indonesia is divided into two main categories: state forest area and non-forest area (APL). A state forest zone consists of both protected and production areas, while APL land is mostly designated for agriculture and human settlement.
These land designations, however, do not necessarily match with the actual land-cover on the ground.
Some APL land is forested, while many of the forest estates have been highly degraded with little or no forest cover remaining. Out of 67 million hectares of APL, about 7 million ha (11.4 percent) is forested, either primary (1.3 million ha) or secondary forest (5.7 million ha).
A lot of the country’s unique biodiversity is found outside protected areas.
It is estimated, for example, that around 75 percent of the orangutan population lives outside of the areas that are designated for conservation purposes.
Recognizing this mismatch, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has introduced a new category of conservation areas called Essential Ecosystem Areas (KEE).
It aims to conserve forests that are located outside of national parks, wildlife reserves and game ranching parks. KEEs may cover areas classified as production forests, watershed protection forests and non-state APL.
Provincial and district administrations have the right to identify and designate KEEs on APL land, while the ministry regulates the conservation of protected species in the landscape and provides norms and standards for KEE management.
A multi-stakeholder platform assigned by a governor or regent will be responsible for managing the KEE.
KEE designation can help large-scale oil-palm companies with a “no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation” pledge to protect their high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) areas.
Up until 2014, 33 members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) had managed 153,721.58 ha of HCV areas in their production areas.
Designated for conservation on a voluntary basis, these areas have no legal conservation status. As a result, with reference to Government Regulation No. 11/2011 on control and utilization of neglected land, a local government may consider such areas idle land and reallocate the areas to other companies.
There is thus a discrepancy between voluntary conservation efforts by the private sector and the government regulation.
The designation as a KEE can help to overcome the discrepancy by giving legal conservation status to HCV and/or HCS areas that are located on APL land.
Some district administrations — especially those that already have large parts of their territory designated as protected areas — may not be eager to set aside APL areas as KEEs, because their APL land is a key source of profit and tax revenue.
Other district administrations, however, may have an interest in a KEE designation, as it gives them a legal option to regain authority in forestry affairs (which had shifted to the province in 2014), giving them access to financial funds from the central government. Unfortunately, information dissemination and development of the initiative have been rather slow.
The genuine KEE designation on private land should ideally be bottom-up.
So far, there is no legal definition on what KEE is exactly about; whether KEE should be managed exclusively for conservation purposes (land sparing) or combine conservation with development activities (land sharing), since a KEE decree has not been issued by the Environment and Forestry Ministry. This has led to widespread misunderstanding among stakeholders that the initiative is a new rule to curtail production activities.
In West Kalimantan province, after the issuance of Gubernatorial Decree No. 718/2017 on the KEE designation in Ketapang and Kayong Utara districts, conflicts occurred.
In Ketapang, for instance, conflict took place between a mining concession holder and large-scale oil palm management units.
The KEE areas, which were mostly developed in the HCV areas of oil-palm management units, overlapped with the mining concession.
Meanwhile, the regent of Kayong Utara has asked the West Kalimantan governor to review the KEE designation in the district.
The KEE decree is currently under preparation as a voluntary best management practice to maintain and enhance conservation values in production landscapes, while to avoid conflict among land users, stakeholders’ consultation, engagement and awareness should be thoroughly conducted not only for all private companies, but also for village administrations and local communities.
The genuine KEE designation on private land should ideally be bottom-up rather than top-down and may not be established overnight. Each actor needs to conduct thorough risk assessment before making a decision. This may need long facilitation, awareness, motivation and a stimulation process before a commitment can be made.
The process may need Civil Society Organizations facilitation; this could be initiated by door-to-door (personal) communication before organizing a multi- stakeholders meeting.
Considering KEEs are mostly located on private land, a provincial administration and other KEE champions at the provincial level, besides playing a role to identify potential KEEs should also assess its potential best-management practices to reach a win-win solution between production and conservation.
After that, it would need to seek collaboration with village administrations andlocal land managers, actively promote stakeholders’ engagement, establish a multi-stakeholder platform, provide technical assistance and monitor implementation.
This article has already been published in The Jakarta Post.