All Indonesian songs seem to be about love. This was one of my key observations on a 14 hour car journey through Jambi, Sumatra, during which the driver remained staunchly in control of the stereo. Happily, this was not the only observation on the expedition towards Tebo Multi Agro (TMA), an APP supplier concession in a region that will be a test bed for a new approach to forest conservation in Indonesia.
The main question on the journey, which took us through two other APP supplier concessions – Wirakarya Sakti (WKS) and Rimba Hutani Mas (RHM) – was quite simple. How can the landscape we are driving through, with its patchwork of industrial plantations, agriculture, community lands and natural forest be managed in a way that ensures the best possible outcome for Indonesia’s forests and the people that depend on them for their livelihoods.
On the trip are representatives of APP, Sinar Mas Forestry, The Forest Trust, Greenpeace, WWF, Ata Marie and Ekologika. Some of us are travelling by road, the lucky (and much maligned) ones are observing by helicopter – a 14 hour drive reduced to a leisurely 90 minutes.
We are here to begin planning for APP’s first Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plan (ISFMP) using the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach, which builds on the High Conservation Value (HCV) work already carried out. These are technical terms that most people do not understand but they represent the best hope for the survival of Indonesia’s forests, as they form the basis of large companies’ Zero Deforestation commitments.
To be clear, when we talk about ‘Zero Deforestation’, we do not mean that no land will ever be cleared in a given area. We actually mean that land will only be cleared if it does not contain HCV, HCS, critical peat and it does not conflict with the interests of communities.
The HCS approach also analyses the viability of the areas it identifies (patch analysis). The key word here is ‘viability’. Indonesia is a fast-developing nation with a huge population, much of which lives below the poverty line. As such, illegal logging and community encroachment are endemic to the country’s forests and this is true in APP’s concessions too. In addition, legitimate development itself can represent a threat to forests as the population grows and infrastructure expands.
APP’s ISFMPs will be a balancing act in resource allocation. Before determining that an area should be conserved, the question must be asked ‘is this area viable for protection?’ For example, a one hectare patch of high carbon stock close to a road and subject to a land claim is unlikely to remain conserved for long. Protecting it would take resource away from areas which stand a much higher chance of survival. That is why determining the final status of an area should be done in collaboration with multiple stakeholders.
Such decisions will be made by a multi-stakeholder working group in each landscape. These groups, known as a Pokjas (the word is an amalgamation of ‘kelompok’ – group and ‘kerja’ – work), will consist of private sector, NGO, local government and community stakeholders.
This field trip certainly raised more questions than answers as we encountered a number of landscape issues which must be addressed. The helicopter team described a landscape where a large number of patches of carbon-rich forest were evidently under threat.
There was more optimism about areas that were surrounded completely by plantations, which act as a buffer preventing encroachment into the natural forest. Generally speaking, accessibility and viability are inversely proportionate in this setting, as the further away from people the areas are, the less likely it is that the forest will be exploited. The exception to this is when forests are protected by indigenous communities who have lived and worked in and around the forests for decades, although this is a rarity in Jambi.
Having surveyed a number of sites like this, the team began its long journey home to digest its findings and think about the future. Jambi is an interesting case because there is so little forest in the province that saving what is left is arguably more important than elsewhere.
The struggle for Indonesia’s forests rolls on and there is a consensus among most experts I have spoken to that things are likely to get worse before they get better. However, the work being undertaken by this group and the Pokjas in each of the districts, is surely now one of the most promising solutions to Indonesia’s forestry issues.