Decentralisation of Indonesia’s forests – threat or opportunity?

JAKARTA, Indonesia – The Indonesian government is relaxing itscentralised control of the country’s forests. This action follows the trend in manymajor forest countries such as Brazil, China and the United States. The push towardsregional autonomy and decentralisation is inevitable, but brings with it as many dangersas benefits.

“Decentralisation cannot be avoided,” said DavidKaimowitz, the new Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research(CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia. He was speaking at a meeting of forestry experts inJakarta on Wednesday 15 August called to discuss decentralisation. “This process isvery important for Indonesia," he said. ”Forest industries provide a large shareof the country’s exports and millions of people depend on forests for theirlivelihoods. The question is how to decentralise without promoting lawlessness ordestroying the environment.”

Other countries have found that provincial governments and locallogging interests often show little concern for conservation, resulting in widespreadenvironmental damage. “Conservation areas are often seen as a burden, because of thelost opportunity to gain revenue for the regions and income for the people,” CIFORresearcher Daju Pradnja Resosudarmo told the meeting.

“But decentralisation can be guided in a more positivedirection,” said Kaimowitz, “The benefits may mean poor regions with rich forestresources receive a greater share of the income from their resources.” For example,Malaysia’s state government and Canada’s provincial governments receive most ofthe royalties from logging concessions. Russia’s district governments get 40 percentof forest taxes and royalties. Decentralisation can also make it easier to monitor loggingand promote stronger participation in decision making. “The changes allow districtsto play a meaningful role in their own land use and spatial planning by incorporatinglocal interests and needs,” said Resosudarmo.

In many parts of the world, free market supporters and socialactivists dislike centralised government bureaucracies. Provincial, state and districtgovernments are becoming more active in forest issues. Democratic reforms havestrengthened local governments and timber-rich regions are pressurizing centralgovernments for control of their own resources. “If we look at the major forestcountries such as Brazil, Canada, Russia and the United States,” Kaimowitz observed,“they all have federal systems with powerful state and provincial governments. Mostof Indonesia’s Asian neighbours also manage their forests in a more decentralisedmanner than Indonesia has in the past.” State governments control most ofMalaysia’s forest. In India, state forest departments manage 80 percent of theforests.

Experience elsewhere shows that Indonesia’s nationalgovernment agencies need to work closely with provincial and local governments to providethem with advice and incentives. The federal (national) government can then focus ongeneral policy, international relations, trade and research. “Decentralisation isdifficult to reverse,” said Kaimowitz, “and CIFOR looks forward to working withall of the groups in Indonesia concerned with forestry and forests to help making thisprocess a success.”

The meeting brought together representatives of ministries andother organizations dealing with forestry issues in Indonesia to mark the beginning ofDavid Kaimowitz’s term as Director General of CIFOR.

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CIFOR, with headquarters in Bogor, Indonesia is an international,non-profit research organization established in 1993 in response to global concerns aboutthe social, environmental and economic consequences of forest loss and degradation. CIFORresearch produces knowledge and methods needed to improve the well-being offorest-dependent people and to help tropical countries manage their forests wisely forsustained benefits.

CIFOR is one of 16 Future Harvest centers and receives itsprincipal funding from 58 governments, private foundations, and international and regionalorganizations known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Background Fact Sheet: Federal Forestry Systems around the World

  • Australia: The states and territories decide how forestland can be used and they regulate logging. Together with the Federal Government, they have prepared Forestry Agreements that provide guidance regarding land use and timber production. Each state has its own laws and codes of practice. States and territories manage most of the protected areas. Twenty percent of the taxes from forestry activities go to the states and territories.
  • Brazil: Many states have their own forestry laws. The federal Ministry of Environment gives responsibility for regulating forestry activities to those states that demonstrate they have the capacity to carry out those activities. Sales taxes collected from forestry activities go to the state governments, which pass 25% of the money they receive to the municipal governments. Both the federal government and state governments manage their own protected areas.
  • Canada: Provincial governments own two-thirds of the forest. They give out the forest concessions on that land and receive the royalties from the timber produced there. Each province has its own forest policy and forest laws. Indigenous groups manage some forest. The Federal Government mostly has a coordinating role in formulating a national forest strategy and a centralized role in sponsoring research.
  • Germany: The states (Lander) own and manage one third of the forest area. Federal forest laws provide the framework for most specific state forestry laws. The state government provides all technical assistance and many of the subsidies for forestry. They designate protected areas.
  • India: The state government forest departments manage over 80% of the forest. Federal laws and policies guide those activities. State governments have their own forest corporations that harvest, process and market timber, and establish plantations. Some state governments set some control on trade of forest products beyond state borders. A 1993 Constitutional Amendment gave local governments responsibility over a wide range of natural resource management and planning functions at the local level.
  • Malaysia: The constitution defines forests as a state matter. State governments have responsibility for implementing the National Forest Policy and are empowered to enact forestry laws and formulate their own independent forest policies. State governments decide what forest will be used for production, protection, and conversion. The state governments allocate concessions and receive taxes and royalties from those concessions. Each state has its own conservation plans and strategies, and there are both state and federal protected areas. The Federal Government only provides guidance, advice, technical assistance and training to the state governments.
  • Nigeria: The constitution makes state governments responsible for forests. Each state has its own forest policy, forest legislation and forest service. There is no federal forest legislation. State governments determine how forestland is classified and used. They have the right to award timber concessions and to receive the royalties from them. State government gets most of the revenue from forestry, and sometimes share it with local governments or traditional rulers.
  • Russia: Formally, the federal government still controls most forest and the decisions related to their use. In practice, however, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s 89 republics and other autonomous bodies have gained increasing control over forest affairs. These regional governments exercise great influence over most decisions made by the forestry departments and enterprises that operate within their boundaries. Regional and local governments receive 60% of forest taxes and royalties.
  • The United States: State governments own and manage approximately 5% of forests. They also have responsibility for regulating forest use on the 60% of forests that are under private ownership. Each state has its own forest practices legislation that determines what practices logging companies must follow. The Federal Government owns and manages about 35% of the forestland. The Federal Government must pay counties up to 50% of the revenues it receives from selling timber. States and the federal government each manage their own protected areas. Some forests are directly under the control of tribal authorities.