Protect adat rights to reduce deforestation

Down to Earth No.79, November 2008

Data accuracy, availability and transparency, plus protection of indigenous peoples' rights are needed to tackle Indonesia's high rate of deforestation and forest degradation.

This was the message from a two-day meeting held in Jakarta in late October by four civil society organisations - Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), the Association of Tanimbar Intellectuals (ICTI) and the Global Forest Coalition network.

A FWI press statement said the high global demand for Indonesia's natural resource-based commodities, such as timber, palm oil, pulp, paper and minerals, was behind the government's reactive and opportunistic attitude. This has resulted in a lack of joined-up policy-making aimed solely at raising revenues, and which is exploitative and unsustainable.1

A new study by FWI highlights the conversion of forests for oil palm and pulpwood plantations as the main cause of deforestation.2

At the same time, said FWI, state planning and supervision of forest management and use of forest resources had shown no sign of improvement, with only around 12% of the forest zone officially gazetted.3

The high rates of deforestation have caused biodiversity loss, natural disasters and loss of livelihood for communities living near forests. They have also meant huge CO2 emissions, placing Indonesia as 3rd biggest contributor in the world.

The meeting included a series of plenary discussions and presentations on the causes of deforestation. Yuyun Indradi from DTE gave a presentation on indigenous peoples' perspectives, based on experience of working with AMAN and of compiling information on indigenous communities' sustainable alternatives to the large-scale industrial forestry model.

Conclusions from the discussions included:

  • that weaknesses in regional land use planning and weak synchronisation both between sectors and between different layers of government (national, provincial, district-level), have led to inconsistencies in forest resources management policies
  • that the state's accommodation and protection of indigenous peoples' rights was weak;
  • that there is weak accuracy, availability and transparency of data on the part of those in charge of forest resources management.

Estimates of Indonesia’s deforestation rates include:

FWI:                                                                       1989-2003:   1.9 million hectares/year

Forestry Department (planning agency):                   1985-1997:      1.87 million ha/year

                                                                              1997-2000:      2.83 million ha/year

                                                                              1997-2000:      2.83 million ha/year

                                                                              2000-2005:      1.08 million ha/year

Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN)                     2000-2005:       1.87 million ha/year      


The meeting, on October 27-28 was attended by representatives of the state forestry department, environmental NGOs, indigenous peoples organisations, academics and the Indonesian Timber Concessionaires Association (APHI). The aims were to increase awareness among the public and forest stakeholders of the underlying causes of deforestation in Indonesia; discuss the results of a joint study by FWI and GFC; discuss best practice for forest stakeholders and indigenous peoples in tackling deforestation rates, invite additional inputs from workshop participants and come up with recommendations for changes in forest management policy and practices to tackle deforestation and forest degradation.

Forest fortunes

Palm oil, pulp and paper, timber and mining companies have made the fortunes of many of the richest Indonesians. According to a list of 150 wealthiest Indonesians issued by Globe Asia in June this year, four of the top ten are engaged in palm oil, pulp and paper, logging, mining or a combination of these. The list also reveals that entrepreneurs who benefited from the business advantages of the Suharto regime, remain among the super-rich today.

They include the following tycoons:

  • At third richest: Eka Tjipta Widjaja, Sinar Mas group, aged 85, net worth $3.8 billion, involved in palm oil, pulp and paper, finance and property;
  • At fourth richest: Sudono Salim (aka Liem Sioe Liong), 93, Salim Group, $3.04 billion, food palm oil, telecommunication, property;
  • At seventh richest: Sukanto Tanoto, 58, Raja Garuda Mas, $1.43 billion, pulp and paper, plantations, investments;
  • At 9th richest: Prajogo Pangestu, 75, Barito Pacific, $1.2 billion, timber, petrochemicals, mining.

Indonesia's richest man is Aburizal Bakrie, worth $9.2 billion, of the Bakrie group, the Indonesian cabinet minister associated with the ongoing mudflow disaster in Sidoardjo, East Java.

(Source: Globe Asia 13/Jun/08 at

1 FWI press release 28/Oct/08,,
2 Jakarta Post 30/Oct/08
3 For more background on this issue see, for example, DTE 70, and DTE 56,