Local communities and customary landholders, important allies in monitoring Indonesia’s forests


Independent forest monitoring (IFM) is widely recognized as an important way to increase the transparency of the timber sector in tropical timber-producing countries. Local communities and customary landholders trained to undertake monitoring missions are well placed to act as monitors due to their daily presence in the field and their understanding of the local context. 

To strengthen IFM in Indonesia, the FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Programme supported the Mangkubumi Environmental Education Center (PPLH Mangkubumi) to work with civil society, customary landholders, and local communities to improve their knowledge and capacity in monitoring activities. This was one of eight IFM projects supported by the Programme, training over 800 monitors across Indonesia.

The road to becoming a monitor

Following a rigorous selection process involving shortlisting and one-on-one interviews, PPLH Mangkubumi selected 16 local community members and customary landholders from across four Indonesian provinces of East Java, South Kalimantan, North Maluku, and Papua/West Papua to participate in a 30-hour training program developed the Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK). Topics covered included forest governance, forest certification, the Indonesian Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) standards, forest management and timber supply chain control mechanisms, and how to carry out monitoring and reporting. 

Following theoretical training, the participants planned field monitoring, including identifying concessions, timber processing companies, and exporters to monitor. Once these plans were complete, the newly trained monitors collected field and secondary data while receiving close mentorship from experienced monitors. 

The Dynamics of SVLK Monitoring 

The 16 monitors trained by PPLH Mangkubumi carried out investigations into 32 timber companies and forest management units. Teams of two monitors carried out investigations on the ground by presenting themselves as prospective buyers and timber entrepreneurs, allowing them access to forest operations they would otherwise not have. 

Monitors found several gaps in the implementation of the SVLK during these investigations. One significant finding in Semarang revealed high rates of ‘fake’ legal documents being used by non-producer exporter companies which led to a follow-up assessment by JPIK. The assessment found that weak supervision by the Certification Body (LVLK) of non-producer exporters led to the proliferation of buying and selling V-legal documents. Individual reports and a book which contained monitoring evidence, recommendations for the government, and follow-up plans, were subsequently sent to law enforcement officials. As a result of these reports, at least three companies had their certification frozen following evidence of illegal activity, one suspect has been arrested, and further investigations are ongoing. 

“Forest monitoring by customary landholders and local communities initiated by PPLH Mangkubumi is a very relevant idea. About 90% of cases handled by Gakkum [Indonesia’s forest law enforcement body] result from local community information”, explained Muh. Nur, Head of Gakkum of Java-Bali-Nusa Tenggara Region

More monitors, greater legality

“The existence and work of independent monitors in monitoring the SVLK system and implementation is central to the credibility of the SVLK”, highlighted Agus Justianto, Head of Directorate General PHL, Ministry of Environment and Forestry. 

One of the current challenges in monitoring SVLK compliance is the limited number of monitors operating in the field. In this context, customary landholders and local communities represent important partners in the fight against illegality due to their widespread presence, extensive community networks, and close connection with the forest. These factors feed into a robust, continuous, integrated monitoring system across the timber value chain. 

PPHL Mangkubumi also involved the larger public in IFM activities by establishing a public complaint channel. This mechanism allowed members of the public to report suspected violations for further investigation by independent monitors. During the project, the website received information on violations from six Indonesian provinces and will continue to provide a space for reporting suspected illegalities. 

The work of PPLH Mangkubumi, and others in Indonesia’s vast network of forest monitors, has shown that community-based monitoring is an effective tool to tackle illegal logging and improve overall forest governance in Indonesia. These monitoring activities safeguard community livelihoods and land rights, ensuring that the forest resources they rely on are protected for generations to come. 


Read more about the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme’s experiences, best practices, and lessons learned drawn from over 10 years of support to independent monitoring here.

The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations is a global demand-driven initiative that provides technical support and resources for activities that further the goals of the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan. The Programme is funded by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.

Since 2016 the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme has supported 18 projects in Indonesia, amounting to over USD 1 779 344.