Indonesia's Forestry Congress IV: hope and reality

Down to Earth No. 71, November 2006

The following account is by a member of DTE staff who attended the recent national forestry congress in Jakarta.

The fourth Indonesian Forestry Congress was held in the Forestry Department Building, Manggala Wanabakti, in Jakarta on 13-15 September 2006. The theme was 'From Crisis to Resurgence: Repositioning Indonesian Forestry', and the congress was opened by vice-president Yusuf Kalla. It was attended by hundreds of delegates, from government, civil society (including indigenous representatives from AMAN), companies, academia and NGOs.

In his opening address, the vice-president focused on the issue of illegal logging: "If there was nobody wanting to buy wooden furniture, there wouldn't be the problem of illegal logging, or even legal logging. Illegal logging exists because of its consumers." Forestry minister MS Kaban outlined how in the 1970s, economic dependence on the forests had led to 2.6 million hectares of forests being destroyed each year. "People still hold the view that forest development means exploiting timber and, above all, producing logs."1 The head of the Indonesian Forestry Congress Committee, Dr Agus Setyarso, highlighted the loss of the services provided by the forests - the result of losing tens of millions of hectares of forests, and the harm done to tens of millions of Indonesian people, especially those depending on forests for their livelihoods.

Main points of discussion at the congress were:

  • the complexity of forestry problems and the critical state of forestry;
  • the declaration made at the previous forestry congress (no. III), especially point 9 on the need to form a multi-stakeholder council or forum;
  • Forestry Law No. 41/1999, clause 70 on establishing a forestry council.

This year's congress had four main aims:

  • identify the main problems and the economic policy on which to base the repositioning of Indonesian forestry;
  • discuss and agree on an accord for forest management;
  • draft recommendations and resolutions on problems in Indonesian forestry;
  • draft plans to reposition Indonesian forestry.

The congress also aimed to produce an Indonesia Forest Accord, a declaration establishing the National Forestry Council, and the congress proceedings.2

The establishment of the National Forestry Council (Dewan Kehutanan Nasional - DKN) made this congress different from previous congresses in that there was a concrete result rather than merely a declaration. The Council will be given the task of organising future forestry congresses and will act as an advisory body to the forestry minister.

Voting within four 'chambers' - government, communities, companies, academics and NGOs - filled DKN seats as follows: 3 representatives from the government, 3 from the community, 3 from the industry, 2 academics and 2 NGO representatives. In addition to these chamber representatives, it was decided to dedicate 5 seats to members of DKN, based on their competency, bringing the total number of DKN members to 18.


Between hope and reality

As highlighted in the congress guidebook, the state of forests and forestry in Indonesia is critical. The deforestation rate is increasing, while the forestry sector's contribution to the national income is dwindling. At the same time, there is an enormous backlog of rehabilitation work. According to forestry department data, in 2005 the extent of 'critical land' in and around forests had reached 41.5 million hectares, while in 2002, the area of forest in need of rehabilitation covered 59.7 million ha.

The drastic reduction in forest cover, especially over the last decade, has contributed to landslides and flash floods afflicting many parts of the country. Environment ministry data says that in 2003 alone there were floods in 136 districts (in 26 provinces), 111 landslides in 48 districts (13 provinces), and 78 incidences of drought in 36 districts (11 provinces). On top of this, forest fires and the smoke 'haze', which affects Indonesia's neighbours as well as Indonesia itself, are an annual occurrence.

The diminished support capacity of the environment and the resulting poverty in Indonesia which stem from forest destruction can be traced to management practices and forestry policies. These have prioritised short term interests, the promotion of national-level economic growth and big investors. Such practices and policies have led to conflict - including over tenure - and human rights violations caused by the repressive enforcement of laws aimed at maintaining 'investor security'.

The congress theme - From Crisis to Resurgence: repositioning Indonesian Forestry - acts as a reminder that over the decades during which the previous three congresses have been held (in 1955, 1990 and 2001), there have been no significant improvements in the management and policies governing Indonesian forestry. Instead, as is clear from forestry data and from the reality on the ground, forest destruction, disasters, conflicts and human rights violations have increased sharply. The question now is whether the congress and its products will be able to bring any positive changes for Indonesia's forests and forestry.

Can there really be a 'resurgence' in Indonesian forestry, given the current state of the country's forests and forestry, and under the current political, economic and legal conditions, which are in a process of transition? There has been some shift away from large-scale corporate forest management towards community-based management, but is it enough? Is the National Forestry Council capable of pushing policies and management practices towards being more people-centred, as set down in clause 33 of Indonesia's constitution? This is the real question for those who want to improve the forestry sector, and which sets them against the 'status quo' elements in the forestry establishment. As a newly-formed organisation, the DKN is not in a strong political position and this means that achieving the changes and improvement people expect will be a long process. Unfortunately, forest destruction is continuing right now, and getting worse. So, the congress theme of 'resurgence' is hopelessly at odds with reality. Similarly, the Indonesian Forest Accord, as an agreement that is not legally-binding, but only morally-binding, will, for all its positive wording, remain just a hope, until there is any clear evidence of positive change on the ground.

  1. The draft National Forest Accord is on KKI's website at
  2. Source of quotes:,20060913-83946,id.html

Note: DTE translated the declaration of the third national forestry congress, in 2001, which included some progressive recommendations on indigenous rights. Several representatives of forest NGOs and AMAN (Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago) presented papers and talked about recognition and restoration of indigenous peoples' rights, the need for a change in the forest management paradigm, and the need for a logging moratorium in natural forests while a new forest policy is devised. Although the declaration was signed and presented at the end of the congress, its status was subsequently said to be a 'draft' by the organisers. Click here to view the translated declaration.