Aggressive expansion of Indonesia’s pulp
and paper industries over the past decade has created a level of
demand for wood fiber that cannot currently be met by any
sustainable domestic forest management regime.
Forest clearance by small-scale farmers is
a significant but not dominant cause of deforestation.
Illegal logging has reached epidemic proportions as a result of
Indonesia’s chronic structural imbalance between legal wood supply
Illegal logging, by definition, is not
accurately documented. But a former senior official of the Ministry
of Forestry recently claimed that theft and illegal logging have
destroyed an estimated 10 million ha of Indonesian forests.
This gap between legal supplies of wood and
demand is filled by illegal logging. Many wood processing industries
openly acknowledge their dependence on illegally cut wood, which
accounted for approximately 65 percent of total supply in 2000.
Legal logging is also conducted at an
unsustainable level. Legal timber supplies from natural production
forests declined from 17 million cubic meters in 1995 to under 8
million cubic meters in 2000, according to recent statistics from
the Ministry of Forestry. The decline has been offset in part by
timber obtained from forests cleared to make way for plantations.
Industrial timber plantations have been
widely promoted and subsidized as a means of supplying Indonesia’s
booming demand for pulp and taking pressure off natural forests. In
practice, millions of hectares of natural forest have been cleared
to make way for plantations that, in 75 percent of cases, are never
More than 20 million hectares of forest have been cleared since
1985, but the majority of this land has not been put to productive
Nearly 9 million ha of land, much of it
natural forest, have been allocated for development as industrial
timber plantations. This land has already been cleared or will be
cleared soon. Yet only about 2 million ha have actually been planted
with fast-growing species, mostly Acacia mangium, to produce
pulpwood. The implication: 7 million ha of former forest land are
Nearly 7 million ha of forest had been
approved for conversion to estate crop plantations by the end of
1997, and this land has almost certainly been cleared. But the area
actually converted to oil palm plantations since 1985 is about 2.6
million hectares, while new plantations of other estate crops
probably account for another 1-1.5 million ha. The implication: 3
million ha of former forest land are lying idle.
No accurate estimates are available for the
area of forest cleared by small-scale farmers since 1985, but a
plausible estimate in 1990 suggested that shifting cultivators might
be responsible for about 20 percent of forest loss. This would
translate to clearance of about 4 million ha between 1985 and 1997.
The transmigration program that relocated
people from densely populated Java to the outer islands was
responsible for about 2 million ha of forest clearance between the
1960s and the program’s end in 1999. In addition, illegal migration
and settlement by pioneer farmers at the margins of logging
concessions, along roads, and even in national parks has greatly
accelerated since 1997, but reliable national-scale estimates of
forest clearance by forest pioneers have not been made.
Large-scale plantation owners have turned
to the use of fire as a cheap and easy means of clearing forest for
further planting. Deliberate fire-setting, in combination with
unusually dry conditions caused by El Niño events, have led to
uncontrolled wildfires of unprecedented extent and intensity. More
than 5 million ha of forest burned in 1994 and another 4.6 million
ha burned in 1997-98. Some of this land is regenerating as scrubby
forest, some has been colonized by small-scale farmers, but there
has been little systematic effort to restore forest cover or
establish productive agriculture.
The Indonesian Government is facing mounting pressure
domestically and internationally to take action, but progress is
slow and not all policy reforms in process are necessarily good news
In the freer political atmosphere that
followed the fall of President Suharto in 1998, environmental
activists have demanded greater accountability from both the
government and the private sector. Access to official information
has improved, but efforts to prevent the worst abuses of corporate
power have met with limited success.
Numerous forest-dependent communities,
sensing the weakening of central power, have erupted violently
against logging and plantation operations that they consider to be
plundering their local resources. Longstanding problems of unclear
land tenure rights are the root cause of many such conflicts. The
government is no longer willing to protect corporate interests as it
once did, but neither does it appear to have any coordinated plan
for dealing with the problem.
Since 1999, Indonesia’s principal aid
donors have coordinated their assistance through a consortium called
the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI), chaired by the World
Bank. Improved forest management has been declared a priority, and
the Government of Indonesia has committed to a 12-point plan of
policy reform. But continuing political turmoil seems likely to
undermine these efforts. In April 2001, the then-Forestry Minister
acknowledged many failures, saying that Indonesia should not have
agreed to “such unrealistic targets.” As one example, the government
imposed a moratorium on further conversion of natural forest in May
2000, but the ban is widely disregarded in the provinces.
Indonesia is moving rapidly toward a new
system of “regional autonomy,” but the provincial and district
governments that will benefit from decentralization are largely
without the capacities or funds needed to govern effectively.
Raising short-term revenue will be a top priority and, as a result,
intensified exploitation of forest resources is already occurring in