Why are forest farmers being subject to illegal levies? Bambang Supriyanto, the Director-General of Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership at the Environment and Forestry Ministry answers.
Reports of forest farmers in Java being charged fees for social forestry permit application incensed Bambang Supriyanto. In the last two months, the Director-General of Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership at the Environment and Forestry Ministry (KLHK) has issued two circular memos: one on the role of social forestry advisors and the other on prohibition of advisors from asking for money from farmers.
Bambang said being the government initiative, the social forestry program was completely free of charge. Advisors, cooperatives, farmer group leaders and any other individuals are forbidden from soliciting money from farmers with the excuse of processing documents. “For their operational costs, we can endorse advisors to access donors’ fund,” he said on September 16.
There are two types of social forestry advisors: government and independent. Governmental advisors can be individuals from non-governmental organizations, forestry professionals, academics or anyone who has received training and been certified by the forestry ministry.
Bambang did not deny news that after running for six years as a national program, the social forestry program is still plagued with various implementation issues. For example, unlike those in Java, industrial plantation forest (HTI) companies in Sumatra are harvesting timber from social forestry areas making use of preexistent encroachment as an excuse.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has tasked Bambang Supriyanto to respond to Tempo’s questions surrounding the issues and achievement of social forestry. He later sent a written reply to supplement his statements.
In Sumatra, HTI companies planted acacia trees outside the concession areas of their own, farmers and cooperatives, and then applied for social forestry permits and the government granted them. How could this happen?
It’s possible. The most important thing is that local communities benefit from them and the companies don’t treat them as puppets and they act as off-takers. Cooperation between farmers and companies can be forged through social forestry program. Besides access to management, the collaboration provides opportunities for farmers to do business and to improve farmers group management.
The companies use preexistent conditions as an excuse to push the locals to apply for social forestry permits...
It’s not like that as far as I understand. What happened was the locals staked their claims for forest land, then applied for social forestry permits. Afterwards, they worked together with private companies via partnership schemes. What I scrutinize is their contracts.
A social forestry area in Jambi has already become an oil palm plantation but still got the social forestry status. What is the rationale?
Applications submitted for the lands there were already oil palm fields before the 2020 Job Creation Law and the Environment and Forestry Minister Decree No. P.83/2016 regarding social forestry were given a 12-year permit since the time of planting, and they must apply the rehabilitation strategy, that is, planting woody trees, at least 100 per hectare, between oil palm trees. Permit applications submitted after the Job Creation Law and the Environment and Forestry Minister Regulation No. 9/2021 are first processed by the control and oversight unit.
Are HTI companies allowed to harvest timber from social forestry areas?
Social forestry permit holders may work together with the private sector for wood harvesting. Basically, we approve their social forestry work plan and they must follow the timber management process, like entering the data in the Forest Product Administration Information System. It’s not illegal for the private sector to buy wood from farmers as off-takers. In principle, the purpose (of social forestry) is to conserve the environment and the access to the land is given to the people, not the companies.
Meanwhile in Java, we found that forest farmers were charged levies. Isn’t the application free of charge?
Such levies are illegal and unjustifiable. Social forestry program doesn’t involve any fees, be it for technical verification, issuance of decrees or distribution.
You were aware and have you taken actions already?
We haven’t got any formal report from farmer groups or local governments regarding these charges and fees. We monitor information on social media. As preventive measures, we issued a circular prohibiting farmer group advisors from charging fees. Actually, they can be prosecuted as these are illegal fees. Therefore, we don’t condone this practice. The public can report it.
They can report to any law enforcement authorities. We will check and monitor the progress.
Has this practice been around for a long time?
We have no idea.
We asked for confirmation from advisors who charged fees. They argued that they needed operational fund to process permits ...
Independent advisors can get fund from donor agencies for operational costs as long as they remain farmers’ facilitators. We can endorse them to get access to it.
Not just facilitators, Perhutani (state forestry company) officials also collect fees...
This is an old problem. That’s why we tidied up social forestry through the KHDPK or a forest zone under special management so that Perhutani can focus on business while the government takes care of social performance.
By the way, the realization of the social forestry program is still far from the target of 12.7 million hectares.
The challenge is in distributing access to forest farmer groups or indigenous communities. Verification was hampered by the pandemic but we tried an innovative approach with online verification. It is ongoing although the distribution declined compared to that in 2019. The object (the land) and the subject (forest farmers) must be ‘clear and clean’. For that, we collaborate with the home affairs ministry to verify applications by location, by address and by name.
With only two years left until 2024, is it possible to achieve the target?
It’s 5.07 million hectares as of today. This number already means something. It would be even better if this 5.07 million hectare is a quality achievement. We will strengthen advisors and straighten up the bad ones.