Asia's largest forest nation, Indonesia, is losing out to regional rivals because it doesn't grant the people living in its forests proper land rights says a new report.
"There is ample evidence that communities are reliable managers of natural resources and forests, yet for some reason Indonesia has yet to embrace the concept of local tenure rights with any seriousness," said Dominic Elson, an independent consultant for Trevaylor Consulting. Elson says that this failure will cost the country environmentally and economically.
The paper was presented at a conference in Lombok on Asian forestry management which aims to promote sustainability and poverty reduction.
Previous research by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) has found that indigenous people are more effective at managing forests than governments. New research from RRI says that China, South Korea, Vietnam and India have achieved very successful economic and environmental change by granting indigenous people land rights.
Indonesia, however, has bucked this trend while having the fifth largest area of forested land in the world. In Indonesia, communities have rights to less than one percent of the country's forest land. In fact, the situation in the country is getting worse, with less than 100,000 hectares of forest land handed to local control in 2010 against a target of 500,000 hectares handed over annually.
The results are painful. Some 359 confrontations over forested lands were recorded between 1997 and 2003 in six provinces alone. And the rate of conflict is rising alarmingly, by around 70 percent, causing misery and even death.
Elson has further criticised the Indonesian government's economic approach. He says a focus on logging and palm oil plantations is simply helping the rich get richer while forest land is sold at well below its real value.
But RRI does see hope for change.
"The fact that Indonesia is a co-sponsor of one of the biggest conferences ever held on forest tenure, governance and enterprise in Asia, by itself says a lot about the realization at very high levels that the status quo is not a perfect one and it needs improvement," said Pak Boen Purnama, former Secretary General of the Ministry of Forestry, and current advisor to the Ministry.
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