Indonesia:Time to get realistic about forest crisis 

(published byThe Jakarta Post, 17 January 2003)

Longgena Ginting, Executive Director, The Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), Jakarta

Indonesia’s forests are in dire straits. This fact is not debatable anymore, and is in such a state that there is no longer any news value in the tragic state of affairs. Only the consequences of Indonesia’s forest crisis is noteworthy in the midst of the people suffering price increases, while corrupt politicians and their cronies responsible for the misery walk free.

Immediate examples that come to mind include: The 26 people confirmed killed and 17 missing in East Java in the December landslides resulting from rampant deforestation by state company Perhutani; the floods, fires and other natural disasters that have caused serious ecological damages and human suffering; and social unrest and upheavals wherein depriving indigenous communities of natural resources have led to fatal conflicts.

The current rate of forest loss is about 2.5 million hectares a year, and within a couple of years, give or take a few, all lowland rainforests in Indonesia will be destroyed unless radical changes are implemented in the forestry sector.

The vandalization of Indonesia’s forests causes rapid degradation of our natural heritage, and an unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, it destroys the free environment and other subsistence needs provided by nature to local communities, as well as the entire population, of our country. This, in turn, destroys the social fabric of our nation. The long-term economic and social costs of letting the current madness continue unchecked, which only serves the corrupt few besides, will continue to accumulate ever faster unless thorough changes are made now.

 The blatantly criminal activities in the forestry sector, whether categorized as “legal” or “illegal” at the Ministry of Forestry, violates Indonesians’ social and cultural rights throughout the country, and compromises our future. Conflicts between logging companies operating on adat (traditional) lands and the affected local communities often escalate and lead to direct violations of civil rights, including torture and murder.

The companies often hire Police or Indonesian Military (TNI) units to defend their destructive interests and to intimidate local communities. The recruited Police and TNI units, in addition to remuneration by the logging companies for their “security” services, often have their own vested interests in the timber business, often involving mutually beneficial financial schemes with leading political parties or figures. For this, they sign up to defend the destruction of forests and human rights violations against local communities.

Walhi, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, has been campaigning for a national moratorium on industrial logging to open space for the implementation of much-needed reforms. We have also worked to support such moratoriums at provincial levels over the last two years. Logging moratoriums have now been agreed to by the governors of Aceh and West Java, but the state logging company Perhutani still refuses to follow suit in West Java.

In January 2003, Minister of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno and State Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim, recognizing the role logging has played in causing severe landslides, floods and droughts regularly throughout Java, called for a logging moratorium on the whole of Java.

It is easy to argue in favor of the same measure for other areas of Indonesia. Severe flooding, landslides and fires have struck parts of all major islands in our country. In many cases, such “natural” disasters are directly linked to forest degradation and loss. With more than 70 percent of industrial wood cut each year in Indonesia via illegal operations, it is high time to take major steps to address the forest crisis, and to tackle its causes.

In her address at the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) meeting in Denpasar in May 2002, President Megawati Soekarnoputri herself considered a logging moratorium as a necessary step in order to stop forest destruction and loss.

However, strong forces in the Ministry of Forestry are resistant to such ideas, and this ministry has even attempted to stop the implementation of logging moratoriums at the provincial and local levels.

The Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) should recall the demands of CGI 9, and decisively support efforts to implement industrial logging moratoriums at various levels of government, so as to enable solid reforms and the long overdue restructuring of Indonesia’s forestry sector.

The annual allowable wood volume for 2002, as officially set by the Ministry of Forestry for all of Indonesia, was 12 million cubic meters, whereas the demand for natural wood from pulp mills, plywood mills and sawmills in Indonesia was about 63 million cubic meters. The majority of the shortcomings in capacity comes from illegal logging operations. Without addressing the enormous overcapacity in the wood processing sector, it will impossible to stop the almost universal crime of illegal logging in Indonesia.

The CGI should provide new and additional grants to assist Indonesia in rapidly reducing overcapacity. In particular, funds should be provided for the retrenchment and retraining of forest industry workers who will lose their current jobs. These grants should have strict conditions to ensure that they will actually benefit those workers affected by the initiatives to tackle the overcapacity problem.

Indonesia’s forests are home to tens of millions of indigenous peoples. However, the forests which indigenous communities traditionally owned and managed have been expropriated by the Ministry of Forestry.

In addition to increasing poverty and threatening the very survival of the society and cultures of traditional communities, these actions violate the international law on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, and also violate the spirit of the 1945 Constitution.

The CGI must request the Indonesian government to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and to stop all industrial logging and conversion operations taking place on their traditional lands without their free and informed consent.

All attempts to address the crisis concerning Indonesia’s forests are being stymied by corruption, which is widespread throughout the tiers of government, military, police, legislature and judiciary.

Sadly, a lot of time and resources has already been lost recently on debates about “technical” solutions to curb illegal logging by timber tracking, and to support “sustainable” logging by timber certification, to help address Indonesia’s forest crisis.

It is time to be realistic: It is time for a nationwide moratorium on industrial logging, followed by implementation of the reforms agreed to at the 9th CGI meeting.

No another CGI meeting can be allowed to pass by without making solid commitments to immediate and fundamental reforms of Indonesia’s forestry sector. Unless, of course, the CGI members consider it more “realistic” to be indifferent to, and thus indirectly encourage, government corruption, corporate crime, ecological destruction and gross human rights abuses.

It is hoped that “good governance”, “human rights”, and “poverty alleviation” are not just empty words.


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