Indonesia: Forest Policy Challenged to Support Sustainable Forest Management (IFFN No. 23)

After the Fires in East Kalimantan/Indonesia – Forest Policy Challenged to Support Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)

(IFFN No. 23 – December 2000, p. 8-12)

The background

With some 5.2 million ha fire affected area, about 25% of the area of the province of East Kalimantan has been hit in 1997/98 by a catastrophe of national if not international dimension (Hoffmann et al. 1999). Almost 2.3 million ha of natural forest concession areas (56 concessions), 0.9 million ha of forest plantations (30 concessions) and 0.7 million ha of industrial oil and rubber plantations have suffered losses. Many of the concessions may not survive as such. Forestry – the government as well as the private sector – have to react and to adjust their programs and approaches.

There had been severe forest fires already in Indonesia in 1982/83, 91/92 and 93/94; however, again in 1997/98 extended wildfires occurred in a largely unchanged social, economical and forest policy environment. Some characteristics (at the time of the fires in early 1998) may be mentioned:

  • Social

aspects: the local people get little benefit from forestry; deprivation from their traditional uses cause low interest in conservation; numerous land use conflicts between local people and natural as well as industrial forest concessions exist; illegal logging is estimated to exceed 50 % of the officially reported annual timber harvest.

  • Economical

aspects: Large timber concessions control forestry; short term exploitation/profit orientation dominates versus a more expensive long term resource management; huge over capacities of the timber processing industries and the need for export earnings cause pressure on forests and on the government; a lack of understanding of forests as a national public asset and renewable natural resource to sustain the national economy exists.

  • Forest policy

aspects: Indonesia is committed to sustainable forest management; however, many government regulations favor wasteful exploitation and conversion rather than long-term natural resource development. This results in a lack of incentives for the private sector to do Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The government with its Inhutani / state-owned concessions does not set a positive example for SFM either; law enforcement is lacking.

Under the prevailing conditions and given the economic crisis in Indonesia since 1997, it was not surprising that the government and the forest concessionaires tend to downplay the magnitude of the 97/98-fire catastrophe and, until now, have not planned a comprehensive forestry recovery program after the fires. However, a number of individual measures have been taken for East Kalimantan by the central and provincial authorities, mainly since early 1999. These may point the way to the future. The two Indonesian-German projects Promotion of Sustainable Forest Management in East Kalimantan Project (SFMP) and Integrated Forest Firee Management (IFFM) could contribute substantially with recommendations, which resulted e.g. in: the directive of the Minister to take regard of the results of the forest fire area mapping for revision of the provincial land use planning; a number of regulations issued by the Forestry Department to carry out forest rehabilitation based on concrete plans, to start with a revision of long-term forest management planning including reduction of harvesting (Annual Allowable Cut [AAC])and, to restrict salvage felling in fire affected areas to dead trees only using reduced impact logging techniques.

The present challenge is the proper implementation of these directives. First experience and observation is not very encouraging. Reality reaches from blunt violation of directives to simple non-action. This shows that the process to adopt “actions after forest fires” as a concept to react to the catastrophe in a coordinated way requires time, new and stronger policy frame conditions and, primarily, an attitude by all stakeholders that understands SFM as a concrete commitment.

The new Indonesian Forestry Act (No. 41, September 1999)

Recent policy development, the new forestry act and a number of other regulations, have created a new situation in Indonesia. The process of policy making is, nevertheless, still ongoing. Only a few points shall be highlighted here, which are relevant for “actions after forest fires”. The forestry act, in many of its articles, still leaves much open and stipulates 21 government regulations yet to be prepared on far reaching details. Many of these will be essentially important to support SFM. So, not much can be said about the final quality and eventual effectiveness of the new policy.

Important obligations for forest concessions and other rightholders, however, are in place in the act itself already for “Forest Rehabilitation and Reclamation” (Art. 40-45) and “Forest Protection and Conservation” (Art. 46-51); these include prevention, management of, and actions after forest fires. Article 41 e.g. explicitly prescribes that forest “Rehabilitation……shall be undertaken in all forests and forest areas except in nature reserves and core zone of national park”; and in Art. 42: “…be implemented based on specific biophysics conditions…” “…primarily through participatory approach, in the framework of community development and empowerment”. Each person holding a license or recognized right on “…critical or unproductive forests shall be obliged to rehabilitate the forests…”. Forest Reclamation is defined as “…an effort to improve and recover damaged land and forest vegetation to restore it to its origin to function in an optimal way.” This “…include inventory of locations, designation of location, planning and implementation.” (Art. 44). Hence, the law is clear about the obligation and objectives of forest rehabilitation, but nothing is said about how to facilitate such programs.

Regarding forest protection, Art. 46 and 47 aim to “secure” the functions of the forests in an “optimal and sustainable way” and, e.g. to “…prevent and limit the destruction of forests…as a result of…fires…”, and Art. 48 states the responsibilities of the Government as the main player to control and undertake protection and the obligation of licensees and right holders as “…to protect the forests in their working area” and stipulates local community involvement as a rule. Very little is said in the law about the organizational implications and required capacities of the forest service. The newly created forest police function and some rewards for successful action to recover illegal timber may be seen as first but insufficient steps.

Other parts of the law regulate a number of important issues to secure SFM: e.g. forest area gazettment, land use planning, establishment of forest management areas, forest management planning and the utilization of forest areas. Almost all important articles of the law stipulate the local population to participate in forestry – however, the government retains the final control also over the previously traditionally managed (adat) forests. It remains now to be seen, how these frame regulations are filled with life by the policy makers (new government regulations not yet prepared) and, whether this is sufficient to establish a new sense of belonging by the local people and an attitude to protect the forests in a more efficient way.

With the new Act in place, there is also the need to adjust or replace numerous previous government regulations. Regarding “actions after forest fires”, e.g. the disputed recent regulation on HPH Tanaman Campuran (August 99) may be mentioned. This regulation would allow up to 40 % of the “unproductive forest area” within a natural forest concession to be cleared and used as perkebunan (estate crop plantations). If this would be understood to allow oil palm estates within kawasan hutan (forest area), the regulation would boost forest conversion. This is probably not compatible with the new forest law: Not only Art. 41 and 43 stipulate rehabilitation of all “critical or unproductive forests”, but also by definition of Art. 1, paragraph 3 “Forest area means a certain area which is designated and/or stipulated by government to be retained as permanent forest” and (in paragraph 2) “Forest means a unit of ecosystem….comprising biological resources, dominated by trees in their natural forms and environment….”.

Crucial issues to be tackled to pave the way for SFM

In practice, the new Indonesian forestry act, e.g. about forest rehabilitation and protection is quite progressive and sets highly ambitious standards. It remains to be seen, how the political will comes down to the ground in form of further regulations and, how implementation in the field can be accomplished. Only this will be the final yardstick to measure success. The absence in the law of any provision of how to fund such huge rehabilitation programs and, when and in which time frame to implement these shows the risk of ineffectiveness of these stipulations.

Keeping in mind the constraints in forestry as mentioned above, there are some crucial issues, in particular:

  • What will be the role of the government and of the private sector in contributing to forest rehabilitation and protection against future forest fires? Will the government take a more active part to support the rebuilding of the forest resources after 20-35 years of exploitation?
  • Can international programs be tapped (e.g. carbon sequestration and certification / eco labeling) to support SFM after the forest fires?
  • How can other incentives be granted by the government for natural forest concessions to invest into SFM after the forest fires, e.g. into natural forest rehabilitation and protection for long-term business certainty / security?

These questions are, certainly, related to forestry in Indonesia in general, not only to the follow up after the fires. The present poor stock condition of huge forest areas after the fires can and must, however, be used to create awareness and accelerate and strengthen the process of forest policy development and implementation to support SFM.

Contributions of the Indonesian-German forestry projects based in East Kalimantan

SFMP and the IFFM-Project have proposed and assisted in implementation of a five step program “Actions after forest fires in natural forest concessions”, which served as basis for several government regulations in 1999 (Daryanto et al. 1998).

The following steps were proposed for the fire affected natural forest concessions:

  • Conduct a low intensity fire damage inventory (separately for each fire affected forest concession)
  • Develop rehabilitation maps for all heavily damaged areas
  • Improve the fire prevention and management system of each forest concession
  • Shift logging activities: stop logging in unburned areas and conduct salvage felling of dead trees in burned areas (where possible)
  • Adjust the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) of each fire affected natural forest concession to a sustainable level and revise the long term forest planning accordingly

These SFMP-recommendations were largely adopted and included in government regulations until October 1999 (at the time of writing this manuscript). Although such a program may sound rather self-explanatory and logical keeping in view Indonesia’s official SFM policy, this meant a major policy adjustment and still imply tough government action to deal with the forest concessions and industries. The required substantial reduction of timber harvesting (SFMP proposed a “soft landing” onto a newly calculated sustainable AAC for each of the fire affected concessions) was strongly opposed by the industries with their high demand for timber and important contribution to export earnings for the province and country.

Almost two years after the fire episode of 1998 the majority of the natural forest concessions has not fully reacted to the catastrophe, often not even submitted the required rehabilitation plans. Illegal harvesting goes on of living trees in the fire-damaged areas and threatens to destroy the remaining forests, particularly its potential for natural regeneration. However, the government has now taken strong action to force these companies to come up with rehabilitation plans. Considering this situation SFMP and IFFM have recently recommended:

  1. To revise East Kalimantan’s provincial spatial planning (RTRWP) with immediate effect taking regard of the 1997/98 fire damage. Stop conversion in unburned areas and concentrate plantation activities in depleted and/or heavily burned areas. Clearly define permanent forests for long term forest management as a basis for rehabilitation planning
  2. To test and step-wise implement procedures for improved land use planning at the village level (with the help of the District government) in order to reconcile land conflicts and harmonize interests between companies and local people
  3. To consequently implement and control the “Actions after Forest Fires in Natural Forest Concessions” catalogue and the related government regulations. Revise the long term management planning of the fire affected natural forest concessions and connect their logging permit with successful rehabilitation activities. Develop and implement standards and procedures for monitoring and control of salvage felling and rehabilitation activities at the operational level (this could be linked to certification/third party auditing)
  4. To stop the illegal cutting of living trees in burnt salvage felling areas to support natural regeneration and successful rehabilitation
  5. To develop financial support schemes for large scale rehabilitation activities. Rehabilitation in non-salvage felling areas (where no additional income from harvesting of dead trees can be obtained) will only take place if financial support and investment security is granted
  6. To ensure replanting of plantation areas before issuing new land clearing permits
  7. To establish a fire management, prevention and fire information system (including early warning) at the regional as well as on concession scale. Most important is fire prevention based on a participatory approach which includes all stakeholders potentially affected by fire and improvement of fire management skills at all levels of fire users. This means support for efforts towards Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) through all involved forestry and regional departments. Finally, establish a consistent land-use policy which includes considerations of fire and smoke management


The Indonesian government has issued a number of good directives to support SFM after the 1997/98 fires, however, these came rather late and are lacking a comprehensive approach, which would match with the magnitude of the catastrophe that has hit forestry in Indonesia. The process is ongoing. SFMP and IFFM did quite effectively assist in related surveys, provided practical experience and contributed substantially to policy formulation. SFMP has recently been asked by MoFEC to contribute further, specifically to formulate and test practices of natural forest management and procedures how to involve local population in an equitable way. Both the projects already assist implementation “in real life” on large scale in the model concession (100,000 ha), which aims at forest certification in the year 2000. The two projects also promote improved land use planning instruments and procedures through a separate project component in cooperation with the Government of East Kalimantan (a Public-Private-Partnership [PPP] with Daimler-Chrysler/Dosar to use latest radar technology for land use and forest planning is on the way).

Howsoever important mere policy formulation and planning may have been as a foundation for further action, the present main challenge for the government lies in the implementation of the programs, e.g. to rehabilitate huge devastated forest lands in an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable way. This includes the creation of required institutional and financing facilities. SFMP and IFFM, therefore, should further offer assistance to identify and remove such constraints which presently still stand in the way of policy implementation to become more effective.


Hoffmann, A. A., A. Hinrichs, and F. Siegert. 1999. Fire damage in East Kalimantan in 1997/98 related to land use and vegetation classes: Satellite radar inventory results and proposals for further actions. SFMP-IFFM Doc. 2/99.
Daryanto, H., J. Huljus, and A. Hinrichs. 1998. Actions after forest fires in natural concession areas. SFMP Doc. 11/98.

Contact address

Alexander Hinrichs
Promotion of Sustainable Forest Management in East Kalimantan Project (SFMP)
P.O.Box 1087
Samarinda 75001 Kalimantan Timur

Tel: ++62-541-733434
Fax: ++62-541-733437

Johannes Huljus
Promotion of Sustainable Forest Management in East Kalimantan Project (SFMP)
P.O.Box 1087
Samarinda 75001 Kalimantan Timur

Tel: ++62-541-733434
Fax: ++62-541-733437


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