Indonesia’s Forests in Crisis
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,000 islands stretching from the waters off Malaysia to the island of New Guinea. Indonesia’s forests are home to ten per cent of the planet’s diversity of plants and animals. Orangutan, elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, a thousand species of birds, and thousands plant species are all part of the biological heritage of Indonesia. The archipelago is also home to hundreds of indigenous peoples who have lived from and managed Indonesia’s forests for thousands of years. For the last 30 years, however, the Indonesian Government has handed out logging, plantation and mining concessions covering the majority of Indonesia’s forests without regard for the rights of forest peoples. About ten per cent of Indonesia’s forests have been designated as protected areas, and are also managed by the National Forestry Department. As with production forests, the Forestry Department has forced indigenous communities out of forests designated as protected areas.
Indonesia’s wood processing industry was built up in the 80’s and 90’s with the assistance of foreign finance, including loans and export credit guarantees from many Western governments. Today, the forestry industry in Indonesia is out of control. Up to ninety per cent of all industrial wood extraction is illegal. For 2003 the Forestry Department’s annual allowable cut for the nation’s forests was set at 6.9 million cubic meters. This was dwarfed by an estimated 80 million cubic meters that were logged to feed the nation’s ply, pulp and saw mills and for illegal export.
Most illegal logging operations are in one way or the other connected to and dependent on legal logging operations. This is so because of the extremely high demand from wood processing mills, which all require more wood than their permits can provide, and the ease with which officials can be bribed to issue new permits, accept forged ones, or ignore non compliance with forestry laws.
The latest statistics for deforestation are also shocking. Forest loss in Indonesia doubled during the 1990’s to 3.8 million hectares lost in 2000. This is equivalent to six times the rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. The remaining lowland forests of Indonesia will be destroyed in the coming decade unless the logging industry can be bought under control.
No large protected forest in Indonesia is free of illegal logging, and many areas are being severely degraded. In October 2003, almost 200 people died when a river choked with debris from illegal logging operations in Leuser National Park, Sumatra, flooded, and the debris washing downstream destroyed more than fifty houses. Landslides, flash floods and droughts are becoming common across the country as forests are destroyed.
The plight for forest dependent species is also severe. There are only about 500 tigers left in the wild in Sumatra, five per cent of their original population. Each year, hundreds of thousand of hectares of forests in Sumatra are converted to plantations, leaving little space for tigers, elephants or other forest dependent creatures. Legal and illegal logging is also destroying the habitat of the Orangutan, the Great Ape of Asia. The Orangutan population has been reduced by 90 per cent over the last century. Illegal logging is taking place in protected areas throughout Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo Island.
Some fifty million indigenous people live in and from Indonesia’s forests. Although their rights to land and livelihood are recognized in the Indonesian constitution and in various national laws, the Government has systematically violated these rights by handing out logging concessions and creating protected areas on customary lands without the consent of the owners. Communities that used to manage and protect their forests have been forced from their lands or have become illegal squatters on the lands of their ancestors. The Forestry Department, having presided over the expropriation of indigenous lands to make their forests available for logging and parks, is today unable to control the vast majority of industrial wood production each year. Almost 90 per cent is illegally logged, illegally traded and often illegally exported.
Attempts by the Forestry department to prosecute big illegal logging operations routinely fail and cannot be expected to be successful until the police, the military, the judiciary, and the forestry department undergo fundamental reforms.
The situation is so desperate that in October 2003, the Indonesian Minister for Forestry called on the European Union to stop purchasing wood products from Malaysia, as a significant proportion of Malaysian wood exports are made from wood logged illegally in Indonesia, and illegally exported to Malaysia. Some estimates say that up to ten million cubic meters of illegal wood are imported by Malaysia from Indonesia. The Malaysian Government denies that Malaysia receives significant amounts of illegal wood from Indonesia, and says that illegal logging is Indonesia’s responsibility. Indonesia sells plywood, sawn timber and paper products to over one hundred countries. A large proportion of any wood exports are from illegal and destructive operations.
The Indonesian Government has responded to the crisis by signing memorandums of understanding with major wood consuming countries, including the UK, Japan, China and the EU. These initiatives hope to identify and stop the trade in illegal wood products, but are developing very slowly. One of the tree species threatened by logging in Indonesia is Ramin, and the Indonesian Government has banned the cutting, sale or transport of Ramin, except from independently certified forestry operations. NGO investigations, however, reveal that large amounts of Ramin are still being cut and illegally exported to Malaysia.
It is in the context of this crisis that environmental and social groups across Indonesia are calling for a moratorium on industrial logging. WALHI, the Indonesian Forum for Environment, a coalition of 450 local environmental and social groups, has led the call for a moratorium on industrial logging. The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago regards the current logging concession system as illegitimate and is calling on the Government of Indonesia to scrap the concession system and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights to their customary lands. WALHI is calling on consumers of Indonesian wood to suspend purchases from Indonesia until the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are upheld, rampant forestry corruption has been eliminated, and overcapacity in the wood processing industry has been reduced to below the Government’s level for the annual allowable cut.
At the root of the crisis in Indonesia’s forests is the question of who controls the forests? Although the Government of Indonesia has asserted its right to manage the nation’s forests, it is clearly failing to do this. Greenpeace, along with Indonesian NGO’s calls on the Indonesian Government to recognize and respect indigenous peoples’ rights to their customary lands, to reduce overcapacity in the wood processing industry by up to 90 per cent, and to make strenuous efforts to fight corruption in the forestry sector. Greenpeace also supports the call from Indonesian groups for a moratorium on industrial logging, and a boycott in the market for Indonesian wood products until fundament reforms are implemented. Greenpeace calls on the Government of Indonesia to protect important forest areas from industrial development, where indigenous peoples are in agreement, so that Indonesia’s enormous diversity of plant and animal species can continue to exist into the future.