Forests in Crisis

Indonesia's once vast rainforests are in a state of crisis. Decimated by the timber industry, carved up for transmigration, plantation and mining projects, ravaged by fire...the natural forests are under increasing threat of extinction.

Nobody knows exactly how much of Indonesia's natural forests remain, but recent signals from the government and the timber industry are alarming. The depth of the crisis became startlingly clear earlier this year when Forestry Minister Djamaludin Suryohadikusumo announced that Indonesia may have to import logs to feed the plywood and other wood-based industries. The log supply from Indonesia's own forests was no longer enough to fulfill the industry's capacity. If necessary, said the Minister, logs would be imported from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) and the Solomon Islands. Malaysian logs would be avoided because, among other reasons, Malaysian exports are believed to include smuggled Indonesian logs!

The Minister's proposals were soon quashed by President Suharto, however, who said supplies would be eased when the rainy season ended. He also announced that logs from forests cleared for the multi-million dollar rice- field project in central Kalimantan would boost supplies (see companion article, this WRR) (Jakarta Post30/1/96).

The President may have felt that the implication of having to import logs -- that the timber industry has destroyed much of the country's forests -- jarred with his image as protector of biodiversity he is trying to promote internationally. Addressing an international forestry meeting this year, he said: "We develop forests without destroying, because the natural resources must be used by future generations" (Jakarta Post 8/3/96).

Plywood exports hit

The stagnation of Indonesian plywood exports is evidence that the log shortage is already biting where it hurts. Plywood exports dropped by 11.9% to $US3.7 billion in 1994 from $4.2 billion in 1993. In the first seven months of last year, exports fell again by 14.5%. Some plywood companies have run up huge debts as a result.

The industry blames low prices on the international market and predicts an upswing in plywood fortunes in 1996. But others within the government disagree. Forestry Minister Djalmidin, for one, has predicted that plywood exports will stagnate because of the declining standing stocks of natural forests.

It has long been evident that the wood industry is eating up more wood than the forests can sustainable provide, with capacity consistently outstripping the amount of timber legally cut from the timber concessions. Wood products account for some 14% of Indonesia's total export earnings and, as the world's largest supplier of plywood, Indonesia produces about 10 million cubic metres of plywood a year. There are about 100 wood-based companies with a total processing capacity of 44.5 million cubic metres per annum. The total annual allowable cut from the timber concessions is only around 23 million cubic metres. Even when timber from conversion, existing timber estates and other legal sources are added, capacity still outstrips supply. The wood industry's usual means of securing enough timber has been to turn to the usually abundant illegal supplies. Perhaps the current log shortage means that the forests that are sources of illegal timber have also been logged out (Jakarta Post 20/1/96, 23/2/96, 23/3/96).

Bad management

How has the forestry crisis come about? The blame must be shouldered by both the government and by the irresponsible logging companies it has set loose in the forests. Since large-scale timber extraction began in the 1970s, these politically well-connected companies have been depleting natural forests with little else in mind but profit.

Officially there are 64 million hectares of production forests, most of which is allocated to some 490 concessionaries, while the state-owned companies, Perum Perhutani in Java and Inhutani I, II, III, IV and V on other islands control about 11% of the forests. In theory timber companies are supposed to ensure the survival of the forests leased to them by using techniques such as selective logging and enrichment planting. They are supposed to cut 1/35 of their concession per year to allow a 35-year regeneration cycle, but the 20-year lease does nothing to encourage companies to stick to this rule.

The idea that concessionaries themselves could be trusted to log their plots sustainably has long been discredited. One hundred and eleven concessions have been revoked since the early 1970s due to poor forest management (Jakarta Post 20/3/96). In the 1992-3 period, over 85% of concessionaries were found to be breaking logging rules according to the government's own figures (See Down to Earth August 1994). According to a recentv World Bank report, excessive timber harvests -- many illegal -- have been stripping the country of trees at a rate 50 percent faster than the are being replanted (VOA 8/5/95).

Corruption in both companies and forestry officials mean that it is nigh on impossible to collect the mandatory fees. A Jakarta Post editorial describes part of the process:

Local officials who do site-inspections are either vulnerable to collusion with the loggers or feel powerless to deal with the politically well-connected concessionaries. On top of that, illegal logging, with the support of local security officials, is rampant. (Jakarta Post 17/1/96)

On the other hand, the alternative way of collecting fees by self-assessment based on trust, is easily abused. The system was meant to minimise the chance of collusion between government officials and timber-industry personnel by reducing contact between them. According to the Forestry Minister, losses caused by unpaid fees amounted to Rp2.76 billion ($US 1.2 million) in forestry royalties and $US 3.19 million in reforestation fees during the first half of the 1994-95 financial year alone. "I think it is time for the self-assessment system to be revised" said Djamaludin. In future, he said, only large concessionaries selected by the government with their own processing plants and a "good reputation" would be allowed to conduct self-assessment (Jakarta Post 20/7/95, 22/7/95).

Addressing the Crisis

Importing wood and logging central Kalimantan are just two of the measures the government has come up with to assist the troubled forestry industry. They range from the potentially constructive, like encouraging the more efficient use of timber from existing concessions, to the purely destructive -- more logging in less exploited areas.

The plunder of West Papuan forests

The government is turning to West Papua as an alternative source of logs to keep the plywood mills turning. In December last year, Forestry Minister Djamaludin said the government would encourage concessionaries in the territory to step up operations. West Papua's 41 million hectares of forest are the largest in Indonesia. Intensive logging will threaten the lives of the 1.3 million people who depend upon the forests for their survival. It will also destroy the habitat of thousands of species of animals and plants.

Statistics from the Irian Jaya Province Forestry Service show that 1.3 million cubic metres of wood was generated from 68 forestry concessions in 1992-93 -- three times the rate of a decade ago. This is only a small percentage of Indonesia's total estimated log production and not intensive enough for the Forestry Minister.

"The concessionaries in Irian Jaya are presently either inactive or have had their licences revoked, " he says. Hence the move to encourage more exploitation.

Jakarta is also offering licences for new sawmills and pulp mills in West Papua.

One of the incentives logging companies in West Papua benefit from is a lower rate of royalties paid on timber cut. In Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Maluku, for example, royalties for Meranti (Shorea spp) were raised last August to Rp23,500 ($US10) per *m3, whereas in the easternmost states, including West Papua, the cheaper rates of Rp19,000 apply.

Local Communities in West Papua have already been suffering the impact of an earlier government push to exploit West Papua's forests. In Bintuni Bay, on the western-most "Bird's Head" region of the territory, a Japanese-financed mangrove logging project invaded and destroyed indigenous people's resources; a South Korean joint venture has destroyed community forest belonging to the Taja people in the north; an army-owned company forced local people to log their ironwood forests in the south western Asmat area; forests belonging to the Mooi people of Sorong, also on the Bird's Head Peninsula, were cleared by Indonesian company PT Intimpura. When communities protest against destruction, they risk torture, imprisonment and even death at the hands of the military.

A renewed assault on the communally-owned forests of West Papua's indigenous peoples will only mean more violations and abuse. It will provoke more unrest and worsen a political situation which is already highly explosive.

(Sources: IPS 18/2/96, Jakarta Post 12/9/95, 30/1/96)

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How much forest?

Officially, there are 143 million hectares classified as forest lands, but since this fails to take into account the destruction meted out by various human and natural forces over the last thirty odd years, the actual figure is far lower. A recent estimate of the Director General for Forest Inventory and Land Use, Somohadi, put forest cover at less than 100 million hectares.

Estimates of deforestation rates have ranged from 700,000 ha to 1,300,000 ha per annum. The World Bank's most recent estimate is a million hectartes per year -- a figure which has been fiercely rejected as "a lie" by timber tycoon Bobn Hasan.

A report by Oxford Analytica quotes "non-official estimates" which put ther removal of old-growth forest at in excess of 40 million cubic metres per annum. "A linear projection of this rate will see the exhaustion of large- sized old-growth forest between 2005 and 2010."

According to head of state forestry company Inhutani I, the forests of eastern Indonesia alone are being degraded ar an annual rate of 600,000 to 900,000 hectares due mainly to logging and fire. Eastern Indonesia includes Kalimantan, eastern parts of Sulawesi, Maluku and West Papua.

Sources: Indonesia: Unsustainable Forestry by Oxford Analytica Asia Pacific Daily Brief, 6/9/95; Implementation Completion Report, Indonesia Second Forestry Institutions and Conservation Project (Loan 3243-IND) 2/1/96; Jawa Pos 3/2/96, Kompas 13/6/96; AFP 29/5/96.

Official Forest Categories:

The 143 million ha of forest lands are divided as follows:

Protection forests 30 mill. ha 21% (water & soil protection)

Nature Reserves\ Ntnl Parks 19 million ha 13%

Limited Production 31 million ha 22%

Regular Production 33 million ha 23%

Conversion 30 million ha 21%

Source: Jakarta Post 8/3/96

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