Dec 08, 2023 Last Updated 10:51 AM, Dec 7, 2023

Struggling for control

Struggling for control
Published: Oct 29, 2011

Jodie Goodman

Forest farmers holding a meeting in Sesaot
Jodie Goodman

Struggles for power and access to resources between various levels of government and civil society organisations have been a part of Indonesia’s decentralisation process for the past decade. The authority to manage Indonesia’s forests is no exception. Conflicts over the status of the forest and over who has right to manage it are at the forefront of Indonesian forest politics.

Communities are more vocal than ever in their claims for access and control. District and provincial governments clash over who has the authority to govern. The lack of certainty regarding authority has led to further degradation of Indonesia’s forests.

In one protected forest in West Lombok, struggles for access and control are coupled with poor management and illegal logging in ways that exemplify contemporary forest politics. There is a battle going on in the Sesaot forest, in the western part of the Rinjani National Park Complex, between two different ways of managing the forest.

Contending approaches

The first is called the Community Forestry (Hutan Kemasyarakatan or HKm) model. Under this system, community groups are responsible for managing the forest using local rules agreed upon by the village, district and province. Community groups allocate land to members who meet their criteria and they manage matters such as planting, replanting and protecting the forest.

According to the relevant government regulation (Forestry Minister Regulation 37 or 2007), the main aim of the community forestry system is utilisation of either protected (lindung) or production (produksi) forest for the empowerment of local communities. Permission for a community to manage the forest must be granted by the central government; however it is the district government, in this case, West Lombok, that has the authority over forest management.

The management of Sesaot protected forest with HKm began in 1986. Now around 6000 families are managing around 3857 hectares of forest through this system, although only 185 hectares of that is covered by formal permission. There have been mixed results in terms of conservation under this system largely due to a lack of monitoring by government agencies and weak institutional arrangements of local groups.

The second way of managing the Sesaot forest is the model that the provincial government wants to impose, called ironically People’s Forest (TAHURA or Tanaman Hutan Rakyat).This system of management can be used in forests classified as Conservation Forests and the authority for this system of management lies with the provincial government rather than with the district.

In contrast to the Community Forestry (HKm) system where the rights to management of the forest are granted to the community, this People’s Forest (TAHURA) system allocates sections of the forest for different purposes. The community is given access to 10 per cent of the forest to plant suitable crops, while the rest of the forest is allocated to other various functions such as conservation, research and tourism.

While the provincial government argues that People’s Forestry is more suitable for conservation purposes, many community members are suspicious of the government’s motives, arguing that its vision for the forest extends only to isolated programs rather than a holistic approach to sustainable forest management. The government implemented the People’s Forestry approach in a nearby forest (Suranadi) with little community involvement, resulting in extensive deforestation and degradation.

Rich resources, poor people

The Sesaot Protected Forest Area consists of 5,990 hectares of state forest. The change of status and function of the forest from production to protected forest in 1982 resulted in the disruption of local community livelihoods and produced criminal activities such as tree theft. Conflicts emerged between local community groups wanting access to the forest, government agencies implementing various programs and commercial interests which wanted to log the forests as quickly as possible.

These conflicts became especially acute during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the early post-Suharto ‘reformasi’ years saw a weakening of governance arrangements, law enforcement and policy. This situation combined with livelihood and poverty issues to trigger a de facto open access situation. Both local and external actors logged Sesaot forest extensively.

At the same time, the provincial government had reasons for concern because during reformasi the laws regarding protected forest changed and provisions were made for communities to participate in the management of the forest. The central government also created provisions for district governments to gain more power and authority over the management of local forests. This threatened the provincial government with loss of control over an important source of revenue.

Provisions allowing district governments to gain more power and authority over the management of local forests threatened the provincial government with loss of control over revenue

During consultations over introduction of the People’s Forest model in 1999, government officials assured local communities that they would still be allowed to carry out agricultural activities inside the forest. As a result, they accepted the proposal. This turned out to be a stretch of the truth as the province provided a much smaller area to local communities under the new system compared to what had been available previously. But from 1999 until 2009, apart from a couple of planting programs and the construction of an office on the edge of the forest (which is now rundown and disused), no further People’s Forestry activities or management plans were implemented.

At the time, there was central government funding for various programs under the People’s Forest model and it seems that this was the motivation for changing the status of Sesaot forest. However, according to community members and NGO staff, the provincial government had no clear management plan for the area.

According to the district government and a local NGO, the correct mapping procedures required to legitimise the status change of the Sesaot to conservation forest were not followed. As the provincial government made no effort to manage the forest for ten years, the community considered that the status of Sesaot reverted back to protected forest and they continued their system of de facto community forestry management, with support from the district government.

Farmers protecting the forest

Currently, four community forestry groups manage around 3700 hectares of the forest using their Community Forestry (HKm) system. These groups come from four villages that surround the Sesaot forest. The farmers are responsible for maintaining and protecting the forest while at the same time they can benefit from the land by planting certain compatible cash crops.

Currently however, only one of these four groups has been able to obtain formal government permission to manage the forest, with that permission covering only 236 hectares or six per cent of the total forest area. The provincial government has been reluctant to support more of these licenses, reflecting its lack of support for the Community Forestry system.

In 2006 a new umbrella group calling itself the Sesaot Forest Forum was formed. The Forum is made up of a number of community groups (farmers, women and youth) from the four villages bordering the protected forest area. The Forest Forum coordinates all sorts of advocacy, relations with external parties, and security for the community-managed forest from theft, illegal logging and other problems. The Forum has also implemented a traditional awiq-awiq (local customary law) system for establishing forestry rules and prosecuting offenders.

In early 2010, tensions flared when the community groups managing the forest submitted a request to the central government for formal permission for the entire Sesaot forest to be managed under a Community Forestry system. The provincial government announced that it did not support the request and was adamant that its People’s Forestry model should prevail. Implementing their scheme would result in the transfer of management rights from the community to the provincial government with only 10 per cent of Sesaot forest allocated for community use.

Many community members were worried they would be expelled from the land they were managing and reliant on. The conflict escalated to the point where the community took their case to the West Lombok People’s Representative Council (DPRD) and to the central government. A number of protests and meetings were held.

Moving the People’s Forest

Negotiations took place involving all parties until finally the provincial government agreed to move the their People’s Forestry zone to an area of forest on the neighbouring island of Sumbawa. The government announced the decision at a community meeting and for a short while it seemed the community had succeeded and the conflict had been resolved.

However, some weeks later, talk of the People’s Forest management model emerged again. The attempt to transfer Sesaot’s People’s Forest status to Sumbawa had failed because the Sumbawan community had refused to accept it. The full name of the management system to be implemented there was TAHURA Nuraksa. Nuraksa is a Lombok term and the Sumbawan community were reluctant to accept a management system which had ‘foreign’ connotations. They were worried that they would be forced to manage their forest according to ‘foreign’ rules.

The basic problem for the provincial government is that it has been allocated funds from the central government to manage a People’s Forest and if there is no People’s Forest then it must return those funds. This explains why it was prepared to move the status to another island but when that failed, resumed efforts to create a People’s Forest in Sesaot.

In contrast to the provincial government, the district government of West Lombok, where the Sesaot forest is located, has a lot to lose if the community does not win the right to manage the forest. It currently receives a significant income from the levies paid by the community farmers. If the provincial government’s People’s Forest model is implemented and managed by the province, the district stands to lose this income as well as supervision of access.

Further negotiations and local NGO lobbying did not prevent the confirmation of Sesaot’s legal status as a provincially-managed Conservation Forest by the central government in May 2011. However, the conflict continues and the district government has recently applied to the Department of Forestry in Jakarta to have the status reverted back to protected forest so that Community Forestry management system can continue (as it has done throughout all the conflicts).

Local forest management conflicts about access and control of revenue are not unique to Lombok but occur all over Indonesia. Communities want the right to determine who uses local forests and where the revenue goes. Provincial governments support their own schemes because they need the revenue. They deliberately use terms like ‘community management’ and ‘people’s forestry’ to disguise their goals and depict local community demands for self- management as unreasonable.

Illegal logging

In the midst of this struggle for access and control, illegal logging is still occurring. In 2011 the Sesaot Forest Forum has dealt with two cases. Both involved community members and members of the state apparatus. In both cases, the forest police were unable to deal with incidents and the Forum took control, and a provincial forestry official and a police officer have been named as suspects by the local police. The Forum has also taken the stories to the local media in an effort to ensure that the cases are followed through by the justice system.

But they are up against powerful vested interests in Lombok, which Ahmad Mulyadi, the head of the Sesaot Forest Forum well knows. He explains, ‘We are ordinary members of the community. If we are going to look after the security in the forest, we need protection from the police…They can’t just leave us to do this work by ourselves, we need back up from the government. If we act as law enforcers at the local level, illegal loggers and irresponsible officials will also threaten us…We’ve got to have government back up, otherwise we can’t be effective.’

It is difficult to imagine a system of sustainable forest management without first reaching a compromise that satisifies communities as well as local governments. The involvement of both community members and state officials in illegal logging and mismanagement of forests calls for an approach that has the support of all parties.

Jodie Goodman ( is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award and is completing a PhD thesis at Murdoch University.

Inside Indonesia 106: Oct-Dec 2011

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