Indonesian CSOs call to save Indonesia’s remaining forests

DTE 95, March 2013

As the end of the two-year moratorium on clearing primary forests and peatlands draws near, the fate of Indonesia’s forests and forest-dwelling peoples is once again in the spotlight.

Thirty seven Indonesian civil society organisations, including indigenous peoples’ organisations, national and regional NGOs called on their government to take urgent action to save the country’s remaining forests in January. The CSO Coalition for Saving Indonesian Forests and Global Climate offered a stinging critique of the current moratorium on the issuing of new permits to exploit primary forests and peatlands. They now want it to be strengthened and extended. They also want Indonesia’s REDD+ National Strategy, published in June last year, to be fully implemented to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. (The full statement is available here).

The call for action comes as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government finds itself under intense but conflicting pressure to protect the forests on the one hand, and to open them up for more large-scale commercial exploitation – including mining, energy, food and infrastructure projects - on the other. The palm oil developers and other business groups in favour of pushing ahead with the MP3EI (Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia Economic Development, announced in 2011), [1] are lining up with allies in powerful government ministries to make more land available to develop their projects. At the same time, Indonesia’s international climate change mitigation commitments[2] oblige it to protect forests in order reduce emissions from deforestation and peatland degradation.  REDD+ schemes like the $1 billion deal with Norway signed in 2010, required Indonesia to make measurable cuts in carbon emissions from forests against projected ‘business as usual’ levels.

The current moratorium, which has only weeks left to run, is a key part of Indonesia’s agreement with Norway.  When it was launched in May 2011, the moratorium received a luke-warm welcome from CSOs who pointed to numerous loopholes allowing companies to continue clearing forests for plantations and other projects.[3]

In 2012, a year after the Moratorium was declared, a group of twelve CSOs called for a “performance-based Moratorium” with a set of pre-defined conditions against which any significant change could be measured. They stated that the Moratorium should not be limited by time, but should be determined by the attainment of its forest management sustainability targets, including the fulfilment of environmental and social safeguards.[4] This demand for a performance-based moratorium has been repeated in the latest call from an expanded Coalition of CSOs.

Moratorium: the verdict so far

The Coalition statement draws attention to the huge problems that face forest governance reformers in Indonesia. Deforestation is continuing despite the moratorium, while its effectiveness has been diminished by its limited two-year duration, the lack of proper legal status in the state forest zone, and the fact that less than half of Indonesia’s provinces have finalised spatial plans for their regions.[5] Local governments are undermining the moratorium by reclassifying areas of forest as non-forest so they can be excluded from the moratorium and opened up for development.

Last year, local politicians seeking to reduce the central government’s control of forest lands, succeeded in their appeal to the Constitutional Court to restrict the application of the Foresty Law. The court decided to redefine ‘forests’ as areas that have been both ‘denoted and gazetted’ as such (instead of ‘denoted or gazetted’), thereby placing in doubt the status of some 110,000,000 ha of Indonesia that had previously been administered as State Forest Areas but never gazetted. The decision results from an appeal by provincial and district level authorities who are seeking greater power over land allocation decisions (the main way they fund their election campaigns and enrich themselves). If such areas are defined as outside ‘forests’, then there is a big risk – if not immediately then in the medium term - that these areas could be handed out to agribusiness investors, leading to a massive acceleration of forest loss and takeover of forest peoples’ lands.[6]

Meanwhile, the moratorium has been seriously weakened by intensive lobbying from industry and other ministries: there are exemptions for the exploitation of energy resources like coal.

In some instances, the area covered by the moratorium has been adjusted to accommodate damaging large-scale projects which will do nothing to reduce emissions from deforestation. In Papua, for example, the area allocated for agribusiness under the giant Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) scheme, was excluded from the Moratorium.[7] Elsewhere, businesses have carried on clearing forests regardless of whether they fall under the moratorium or not, most notoriously in the case of palm oil plantation developer PT Kallista Alam in Aceh.[8]

Kuntoro Mangkusbroto, head of the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4), is nevertheless upbeat about the moratorium results. UKP4 is overseeing the all-important process of monitoring and refining the moratorium map. According to Kuntoro, the moratorium has achieved a lot, though it is “still not perfect”.[9]

Both Kuntoro and the forestry ministry agree that the Moratorium should be extended. This idea is opposed by the agriculture minister who says the ban is unnecessary and should be replaced by stricter criteria for issuing licences for palm oil plantations.[10]

‘Degraded land’

Indonesia’s secretary general at the forestry ministry, Hadi Daryanto, has also suggested that oil palm should continue expanding in areas of degraded forest land extending to almost 24 million hectares, rather than using more primary forests. This well-worn ‘degraded land’ argument is now widely seen as invalid because it suggests that the land is of little value or use, whereas in fact it is very likely to be claimed and used by indigenous peoples and/or local communities. As highlighted in the 2011 Bali Declaration on Human Rights and Agribusiness in SE Asia:

While many land development programmes and policies focus on areas considered to be “empty”, “marginal” or “degraded”, States should recognize that there are few areas truly unoccupied or unclaimed, and that frequently land classified as such is in fact subject to long-standing rights of use, access and management based on custom. Failure to recognize such rights will deprive local communities and indigenous peoples of key resources on which their wealth and livelihoods depend. [11]

In fact Hadi Daryanto acknowledges the difficulty by recognising that oil palm companies “don’t want degraded land because normally people are there, and to remove them is expensive.”[12]  Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, on other hand, says more palm oil can be produced without extending the amount of land under cultivation. “You can increase productivity”, he told Reuters in January.[13] This approach is also reflected in the REDD+ National Strategy published by Kuntoro’s REDD+ Task Force in June 2012.

Accessible maps

One positive aspect of the moratorium is the fact that the maps showing the moratorium areas are being made available to the public online, as part of the government’s ‘One Map’ policy. This policy has, in turn, provided Indonesia’s indigenous peoples alliance, AMAN, a platform to publicise its own initiative to map of indigenous territory and publicly request that these are included in the official maps.[14]

The portal giving access to a variety of maps, including the moratorium maps is at, with a list of available maps available under ‘galeri’. However, when DTE tried to access some of the maps mid-February many of the map layers were not accessible and there was not an obvious means of accessing information about, say, mining and oil & gas concessions. This information is also not accessible via the most obvious place – the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry website. In contrast, there is a whole wealth of maps publicly available via the Forestry Ministry’s website at, including archives at as well as the moratorium maps in all four versions.


[2] As reiterated in Indonesia’s REDD+ National Strategy, Indonesia is committed to reducing emissions by 26 percent from the ‘Business as Usual’ development scenario by 2020 through utilization of its own funds and without sacrificing development in other sectors, or by 41 percent with international assistance. See For more background, see DTE 84, March 2010.

[3] See ‘REDD in Indonesia – an update’, DTE 89-90, May 2011.

[5] Information about progress with passing regional regulations on spatial plans at provincial and district level is at

[6] Marcus Colchester (pers. comm. February 2013).

[7] See ‘MIFEE-affected communities want their land back’, DTE update, January 2013 and 'CSOs call for REDD+ Strategy to be implemented', DTE 95, March 2013.

[8] This company cleared forests in Aceh’s Tripa peat swamp and, following a legal challenge by WALHI, had its licence revoked in September last year (see According to UKP4’s Heru Prasetyo, the company never had sufficient legal basis to operate in the disputed area (see PT Kallista Alam’s three concession areas can be viewed at The ‘new’ concession area marked on that map is the one which was at first included as off-limits in the first moratorium map, then excluded from the revised map (revision 1) released in December 2011 (see It is included again in the 2nd and 3rd revision maps (compare map 0519 in revision 1 with revisions 2 and 3 from the links on the moratorium map access page at 

[9] See ‘Top Indonesia Official Throws Weight Behind Keeping Forest Clearing Ban’, Reuters 18/Jan/2013,

[10] ‘Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry Seeks Moratorium Extension’ , Reuters, 14/Jan/2013,

[12] ‘Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry…’ Reuters 14/Jan/13 as above.

[13] See ‘Top Indonesia Official..’, Reuters, 18/Jan/2013 as above.

[14] See ‘recent moves’ section in ‘policies and practice: favouring big business over communities, DTE 93-94, December 2012.


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