|Letting Indonesia's forests 'breathe'
By Bill Guerin
aid donors led by the World Bank may, just may, put more
pressure on Indonesia to reform its forestry policy.
Management of Indonesia's remaining forests is among the
topics on the agenda of the 12th meeting of the
30-member Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) in Bali
Most donor countries, though
themselves large-scale importers of timber products,
have consistently slammed Indonesia's environmental
stance on sustainable resources.
Indonesian archipelago comprises little over 1 percent
of the Earth's land surface, it holds a
disproportionately high share of its biodiversity, is
host to a wealth of natural riches and contains 11
percent of the world's plant species, 10 percent of its
mammal species, and 16 percent of its bird species.
Indonesia also has the world's second-largest
reserves of natural forest. These are among the most
diverse and biologically rich in the world. They are
Asia's largest and the world's third-largest contiguous
areas of remaining tropical forests.
experts say these forests have been exploited with
little regard for their sustainability as a valuable
resource. Corruption in the bureaucracy, military and
police have fueled a frenzy of illegal logging, so much
so that 5,000 hectares of forest is destroyed every day.
This rampant pillaging of the nation's natural
resources is characterized by exploitation for political
ends and personal gain and the unprecedented annual loss
of nearly 2 million hectares of forest every year,
double the rate of the 1980s, spawned by the political
and economic instability of the past five years.
With other economic needs taking priority,
illegal logging has reached unprecedented levels in
post-Suharto Indonesia, and up to 56.6 million cubic
meters of logs are felled without permits each year.
Rampant corruption in the local and national
bureaucracy, weak or non-existent monitoring, and the
support of the military have combined to ensure the
perpetuation of a top-down laissez-faire approach.
The loss of forest also destroys wildlife
habitat. Time is running out for many of Sumatra's
remaining natural forests and national parks, which
provide a haven for a host of critically endangered
species. Thousands of species of mammal, including the
Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros,
orangutan and clouded leopard and sun bear live in the
same Sumatran natural habitat.
Pressure on aid
donors to look at the deforestation issue in economic
terms increased when the Center for International
Forestry Research (CIFOR), funded by more than 50
international donors, including the World Bank, called
for the government to halt the sale of US$2 billion
worth of loans owed by Indonesian pulp and paper firms
and plywood factories.
Huge conglomerates such
as Bob "Mr Jungle" Hasan's Kalimanis Group and Burhan
Uray's Djajanti Group owe almost half of this. Though
Hasan, a Suharto crony, is still in jail over
forestry-related crimes that caused $75.5 million in
state losses, his Kalimanis, with timber holdings
spanning nearly 20,000 square kilometers in Kalimantan,
has been slammed as "one of the most voracious, barbaric
conglomerates in the world".
CIFOR wants to see
many of these companies pushed into bankruptcy, in order
to reduce the demands on forestry resources. This is by
no means a new initiative, though similar pressure in
2001 from the CGI saw little action by Jakarta.
The environmentalists, local and foreign, want
Jakarta to commit to a national plan, which would
reclaim the vast tracts of land that currently lie idle
and properly conserve the primary forest that remains.
Government policy, on the other hand, has been to
convert forests into palm-oil or rubber plantations,
which, of course, further drives deforestation.
Nearly 9 million hectares of land, much of it
natural forest and allocated for industrial timber
plantations, has been cleared in the past five years,
but only 2 million hectares has been replanted. Some 7
million hectares of forest has been approved for
planting palm or rubber trees but forestry sources say
only 4 million hectares has been planted.
frenzy of logging that has gripped Indonesia over the
past three decades has been ratcheted up by regional
autonomy. The shifting of authority from Jakarta to the
provinces and thence down to local districts has
resulted in even more exploitation of forest resources
as the easy path to riches and short-term revenue.
The illegal logs come mainly from Aceh, North
Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central
Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi and Papua.
Autonomy gave district heads (bupatis)
the right to issue small forest exploitation permits
(IPPK). Hundreds of logging permits have been issued in
forest-rich areas such as East Kalimantan, ostensibly to
local community initiatives, which are usually
controlled by firms backed by powerful business
Bupatis are limited to issuing
permits of up to 50,000 hectares, and governors up to
100,000 hectares. Governors are responsible for any
concessions that cover one or more districts and the
central government retains control over concessions that
overlap more than one province. Some local authorities
now often question the status of ministerial decrees.
The heady expansion of the plywood, pulp and
paper industries over the past two decades means that
demand for wood fiber now exceeds legal supply by some
40 million cubic meters a year, with illegally cut wood
accounting for as much as 65 percent of the supply in
Forestry experts calculate that the
widespread illegal logging costs the country an
estimated annual loss of Rp30.42 trillion ($3.42
billion) and say 50.7 million cubic meters of timber a
year is sold illegally.
Some estimates put the
revenue from timber exports at a healthy $10 billion per
year but many of the major industry players are among
Indonesia's biggest debtors, who owe big bucks to the
Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA).
Both the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) are said to be ready to support a
halt in IBRA's sale of loans and assets belonging to
these debtors in advance of a total restructuring of the
sector and a review of license holders authorized to
According to Ministry of Trade and
Industry data on wood-based industries in Indonesia, the
needs of the pulp and paper industry together with the
plywood and furniture sector's raw material needs amount
to some 63 million cubic meters of wood per year. On the
other hand, the Forestry Ministry says only 12 million
cubic meters were legally felled in 2002. The shortfall
confirms estimates that up to 80 percent of timber
felled in Indonesia is illegal. This costs the state an
estimated $5 billion a year and some $609 million
annually in environmental destruction throughout the
The wild card is the Indonesian
military. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment
(WALHI) says most illegal timber is first shipped to
Singapore or Malaysia, and then to its final markets in
Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Most shipments carry
documentation that, with the connivance of the police,
customs and navy, is accepted to be legal.
(Indonesian armed forces) chief General Endriartono
Sutarto acknowledged last week that military personnel
were behind many illegal logging operations in the
country and promised to crack down on them. Sutarto
promised a new cooperation between the military and the
Forestry Ministry and local administrations to arrest
those involved in the illegal logging.
must be severely punished. Their illicit activities have
not only inflicted financial losses on the state, but
they are also destroying the sustainability of out
forests," he told a news conference after meeting with
Forestry Minister Muhammad Prakosa.
willingness by TNI to be seen to cooperate in combating
illegal logging was lauded as a milestone, it fell short
of an admission that the military as an institution was
partly to blame for protecting those involved in illegal
The donors in Bali would have noted the
general's candid and timely public words, but a few days
earlier a report from the Environmental Investigation
Agency, a non-profit group based in London and
Washington and funded by Indonesia's major donors, blew
The EIA report, "Above the Law:
Corruption, Collusion, Nepotism and the Fate of
Indonesia's Forests", said that the military, through
its private businesses, has logged illegally and
operated sawmills to cover the daily needs of troops.
EIA wants donors to consider linking future financial
aid to proof that Jakarta is cracking down on illegal
logging and they condemn the police and the courts for
failing to prosecute illegal loggers, even when other
agencies, including the Ministry of Forestry and navy,
Indonesian legislator and timber
baron Abdul Rasyid was cited as the main player in the
rape of Kalimantan's forests. Kalimantan province, the
Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, has been hit
worst by the illegal logging. Rasyid's company, Tanjung
Lingga, has consistently looted timber from Kalimantan's
Tanjung Puting National Park, says the report, prepared
with the help of local activists, adding that Rasyid and
those who work for him have used violence and
intimidation, attacked researchers and tried to kill an
The issue of illegal
logging and the trade in illegal timber commands
center-stage attention worldwide. Much of the spleen has
been vented on Indonesia as one of the world's leading
timber-producing (and -destroying) nations, though
Malaysia's demand for cheap raw materials has helped
drive this destruction.
Malaysia has a lot to
answer for. It is the biggest exporter of tropical
timber in the world and also a major exporter of wood
furniture. In 2000 the value of Malaysia's exports of
tropical logs, sawn, ply and veneer was in excess of
$2.4 billion, and wood-furniture exports were valued
above $1 billion.
Malaysia's own log production
has reduced dramatically in recent years, to about 22
million cubic meters, but, like Indonesia, installed
capacity of the country's wood-processing industry
outstrips production and is estimated to need more than
40 million cubic meters a year.
timber from Indonesia makes up the shortfall and
highlights the role of Malaysia in undermining
international efforts to control the problem. An
estimated 3 million cubic meters of illegally felled
Indonesian timber enters Malaysia every year - a trade
worth more than half a billion dollars.
environmental organizations from the Asia-Pacific region
met in Kuala Lumpur, at a convention known as Ring of
Fire, and announced publicly that the most exploited
region was the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Malaysia did
A year later, in September 2001,
Southeast Asian countries together with Japan, China,
the United Kingdom, the United States and the European
Union met in Bali for a ministerial-level forest
law-enforcement conference. They all signed up to the
Bali Declaration, a far-reaching agreement to work
together to tackle the problem within the region. Again,
Malaysia was notable by its absence.
expected to get some $3.2 billion in fresh loans from
the CGI to promote equitable growth, investment and
poverty reduction. There is unlikely to be much
reduction in poverty for local community's affected by
the continued deforestation.
development is little more than a textbook theory. The
government has long deprived local communities'
participation in the management of the surrounding
forests that succor and sustain the livelihoods of
millions of forest-dwelling or forest-dependent
Everything, as so often in
Indonesia, revolves around money, not principles or
ethics. Far from benefiting the rural poor, forest
management has been subverted to serve the interests of
the ruling elite. Logging concessions are dished out to
powerful players, who can pay the most. Even today only
10 companies control 45 percent of the total logging
concessions in the country.
Sukarnoputri, addressing an International Tropical
Timber Organization (ITTO) meeting in Bali last year,
called for a logging moratorium in order to stop forest
destruction and loss, citing the need to let the forests
"breathe". As always, the good lady can be relied on for
looking at issues in the simplest of dimensions.
The problem, however, is immense and can only be
properly tackled by a complete overhaul of forest
management in Indonesia boosted by international
pressure and sanctions on buyers and traders.
Last June Prakosa kicked off the government's
slow-moving attempts to redress the balance. A permanent
ban was imposed on log exports and wood chips. The
forestry minister also plans big cuts in the permitted
annual quota for timber felling, to move more in line
with sustainable levels and match the capacity of the
sawmills closer to the volumes of timber cut down
Searching and unannounced audits of
some of the largest wood-processing mills are also in
the cards and the government will allow logging
companies to produce only 6.8 million cubic meters this
year, down about 50 percent from 12 million to 15
million cubic meters last year.
the UK was first to stop the rot through a
ground-breaking agreement with Jakarta to work to stop
illegal logging and the trade in stolen timber, amid
pressure for all timber sold on the European mainland to
be clearly marked as having come from sustainable
forests. Greenpeace has also put pressure on Western
wholesalers and retailers to prove that timber they sell
A concerted, donor-led campaign to
instigate and enforce bans on shipments of illegally cut
timber and accept responsibility, with Jakarta, for the
management of Indonesia's forests, would have much more
impact than the annual soapbox speeches.
and Japan have the biggest appetite for Indonesian wood,
and unlike major Western timber importers, so far, at
least, have had no qualms about the environmental and
conservancy issues posed.
After all, as
Environment Minister Nabiel Makari points out, illegal
logging only succeeds because of those who want to keep
on buying its products. Just as in the international
drug trade, he says.
(©2003 Asia Times Online Co,
Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com
for information on our sales and syndication policies.)