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Reformasi1 and its Effects on Forest Management Policies in Indonesia

Hasanu Simon
Gadjah Mada University
Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia is endowed with an extensive tropical forest resource covering 143 million ha. It is the prevailing land cover on the large islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya as well as the smaller, but less populated, islands. For centuries, however, commercial forest management concentrated on the island of Java, Indonesia's fifth biggest and most densely populated island (900 persons/km2). The vast forests of the outer islands had remained virtually untouched by the forestry sector due to lack of technical expertise and infrastructure. To utilize the forest resources of the outer islands for national economic development, the government created incentive systems for local and foreign forest harvesting operators. The Forestry Act of 1967, more commonly known as Undang-Undang (Law) No.5/1967, was particularly aimed at stimulating investment in forestry. Within five years of the promulgation of the act, annual log production from the outer islands increased sharply.

The only reference law available in Indonesia for formulating Undang-Undang No.5/1967 was the existing forestry law of 1927 for Java-Madura. This law was drafted by the Dutch colonial government to secure raw material from teak plantations for the shipyards in the Netherlands. At that time, social issues were of little concern and received no mention in the law. The 1927 forestry act focused on timber production only, as did the Undang-Undang No.5/1967.

Ten years before passing Undang-Undang No.5/1967, the Indonesian government had actually drafted a regulation for decentralization (PP No.4/1957)2. According to the 1957 regulation, local governments could permit logging by local people in forest areas not exceeding 10,000 ha (with permission from the Governor, who is the Head of Province) or 5,000 ha (with permission from the Bupati, Head of Regency). Above 10,000 ha, permits were issued by the central government. The new Undang-Undang (No.5/1967) replaced this earlier regulation as it was viewed as inefficient. PP No.4/1957 was replaced by PP No.21/1970, which vested all control over forest concessions with the central government. As a result, local people's access to forest resources was severely restricted and conflicts between local communities, concessionaires and government officials increased steadily. Until the end of 1997, conflicts were usually resolved in favor of the government and concessionaires, leaving local people at a disadvantage. However, this has changed drastically since May 1998 when Suharto stepped down as the Indonesian President.

The Problems

After only two decades of timber extraction in Indonesia, the vast natural forest is severely degraded. Due to supportive government policies, the number of wood-based industries increased rapidly; as has the demand for logs as raw material, which has tremendous implications for the forestry sector. The unsuccessful regeneration system, TPI (Indonesian Selective Cutting), was replaced by a modified system, TPTI (Indonesian Selective Cutting and Planting). However, forest regeneration in logged-over areas did not improve. Instead relogging became a more common practice.

As the forest conditions continued to decline, conflicts between the local people and the concessionaires as well as government officials increased in intensity, which exacerbated the forest fires of 1982/83 and 1997/98. All of these developments have added pressure on the forest resources of the outer islands with the following associated problems:

Forest Distribution and Population

Forest distribution on Indonesia's main islands is uneven (Table 1). More than 47 percent of Sumatra is covered by forests, although coverage ranges from 30.6 in southern Lampung to 68.6 percent in West Sumatra. The forest cover of East Kalimantan is 75.6 percent. Less than 24 percent of Java is covered by forests. Nationwide, 30 million ha of forests have been classified as conversion forest, to be used for agriculture, estate crops and settlements. While the forest area is still extensive, it requires a comprehensive strategy for its management and conservation.

Table 1: Area and percentage of forest cover in Indonesia


Total Area (`000 ha)

Forest Area (`000 ha)

Forest cover (in %)









Nusa Tenggara
















Irian Jaya




Total Indonesia




The uneven distribution of the forest is mirrored by the differences in population density. While Java is extremely densely populated, very sparse populations characterize Irian Jaya and Kalimantan (Table 2). The uneven distribution of forest resources and population are aggravating circumstances in national economic development planning, particularly from the forestry sector's point of view. A decentralized system will be more appropriate if maximization of forest benefits for the welfare of local people is the goal. However, such a system needs proper planning and management. It also requires people skilled at all levels of the administration. Finally, it must be supported by strong local governments and people's organizations at the community level.

Table 2: Population and population density in Indonesia


Total Area (km2)


Density (Prs/km2)









Nusa Tenggara
















Irian Jaya








Reformasi in Forestry

Total Reformasi was proclaimed by the people, especially students, when President Suharto was replaced by President Habibie on 21 May 1998. Forestry is one of the most important areas within Reformasi because it is contentious as well as economically very significant. Only 10 days after the new Minister of Forestry and Estate Crops was appointed, the Communication Forum for Community Forestry (FKKM) initiated discussions on how Reformasi should be implemented in Indonesian forestry.

On 22 June 1998, FKKM organized a national seminar in Yogyakarta, which was opened by the new minister. The seminar proposed that the export-earning objectives of forestry should be shifted towards improving local people's welfare. To meet this goal, the new vision of forest management in Indonesia is to manage the forests sustainably and democratically for the benefit of all people. More details of the vision were laid out in the following nine mission statements that indicate the necessity to:

The new minister set up a Reformasi Committee to facilitate the shift in forest management. While the FKKM continues discussions on reforms in the forestry sector, differences in views and approaches are emerging between the Forum and the Reformasi Committee. Although the two institutions agree that the people's share in benefits and roles in forest management must increase, the different views on how exactly to involve people in forestry are obvious. The FKKM members have experience working directly with local people and are aware that solutions are not straightforward. The major difference between the two institutions concerns policies regarding the concessionaire system. FKKM has proposed new policies and management to gradually replace the old system, or at least to reduce the role of the concessionaires. What is obvious, is that forest management needs to change and follow the principles of proper forest ecosystem management.

The Solution

The immediate tasks for reforming the forestry sector are to:

  1. Setup a new system for formulating the Forest Resource Management (FRM) Plan.
  2. Perform forest management (at least initially) by one of the following three stakeholders.
  3. Change or improve the attitudes of all stakeholders involved in forest management in order to maximize financial and economic benefits.

Time Frame

Improving forest management in Indonesia consists of the following three stages, with the final stage only starting in 20253.

Preparation stage (1998-1999)

The objectives of the first stage are to:

Stage 2 (2000-2025)

The second stage is broken down into five, 5-year periods. Its objectives are to:

The first five-year period starts in the year 2000. Its specific objectives are to:

1 Reformasi is a general term in the Indonesian political context used to denote the change from the authoritarian Suharto regime to a more democratic system of goverment

2 PP is the abbreviation of Peraturan Pemerintah (Government Regulation)

3 At this point in time it is not possible to outline the objectives of the final stage.

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