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Social Forestry: A Solution For Better Livelihood and Sustainability?

A female farmer crosses a paddy field. Inside the Sikulaping Protected Forest in Pakpak Bharat district, farmers also plant coffee and harvest other non-timber resources including rattan, bamboo, incense and gambier. Source: Andi Gultom.

November 23, 2018

By Eka Dalanta and Andi Gultom

Legal recognition for community-based forest management does not immediately increase people’s income or welfare. Three Pakpak Bharat forest farmers groups, which have obtained community forest permits, expressed the challenges they face following their permit issuance.



Pakpak Bharat, NORTH SUMATERA.  Despite being granted the permit to access state forest areas, forest farmers groups of Pakpak Bharat district, North Sumatra, are still overwhelmed and poorly prepared to manage forest resources to improve their economy. 

Three farmers groups, — Njuah Njerdik, Dos Ukur Mersada, and Pemuda Tani –, located in Sibongkaras village, Kuta Tinggi village, and Aornakan 1 village, respectively, were the first three groups at the district granted the social forestry permit under the community forest scheme. 

Community forestry is one of five schemes under social forestry, a program launched by the Joko Widodo administration in 2016, aimed at giving access to local peoples and communities to manage forest areas and its resources.  

The remaining four schemes are village forestry, community plantation forestry, customary forestry, and partnerships. 

The farmers groups were granted permit to manage about 400 hectares of the total 14,375 hectares of the Sikulaping protected forest areas, located in the Southwest of Salak, the capital of Pakpak Bharat district. 

On March 2017, Njuah Njerdik farmers group was granted 110 hectares, Dos Mersada was granted 104 hectares, and Pemuda Tani was granted 162 hectares. 

However, Paian Berutu, head of Njuah Njerdik group, said that nothing has changed after they received the permit. 

“Nothing changes. Up till now, there is no program run by the group. But, because we already got the permit, we no longer have hesitations to take non-timber forest resources,” said Berutu to Ekuatorial.com (12/8). 

He added that the farmers in his group only harvest bamboo, rattan, gambier (editor’s note: a flowering plant used as traditional medicine), incense, and forest honey. 

Meanwhile, Hormat Bancin, head of Dos Ukur Mersada group, said that farmers in his group are afraid to plan any program that commands space within the protected forest areas. 

“We are clueless in what to do, [we] couldn’t plan this or that, as this is protected areas. [We] hope that this permit that we have obtained does not go to waste, we need guidance from relevant agencies,” said Bancin. 

However, Bancin added that his group has been talking about possible agricultural activities, including nursery, planting and harvesting non-timber resources, such as gambier, bamboo, incense, rattan and djenkol. 

“To be able to manage forest resources and to increase selling value, we need capital,” he said adding that the farmers in his group normally plant paddy, chilly, corn and coffee. 

Farmers in Kuta Tinggi are harvesting chili, a main source of income for most of them. Source: Andi Gultom

Daniel Manik, head of Pemuda Tani group, said that the groups are not ready to manage forest resources because they do not have the experience. 

“We have no experience in managing forest [resources]. The experience that we have is what was passed on to us by the generation before us, [we] manage the forest traditionally,” said Manik. “The spirit was tremendously high before we obtain the permit. But, now, it’s sort of not dead, but not living either. There’s no progress. If it’s just about getting a permit, a paper is meaningless. We need concrete assistance.” 

Manik went on to describe how the farmers don’t possess the knowledge to process bamboo into raw material or souvenirs. “This is the kind of skill that is required. The same applies for capital, we don’t have the funds to purchase equipment and develop the facility,” he said. 


Guidance for farmers groups

The three farmers groups have received guidance from an non-governmental organization focusing on environmental campaign and education called Pesona Tropis Alam Indonesia Foundation, or PETAI. 

“Social forestry is a concept prepared by the government to accommodate land conflicts in communities, especially in forest areas. I have faith that social forestry can become a solution to land conflicts in forest areas. When people manage their area, they are also preserving the area. The people prosper, while making forests sustainable,” said Masrizal Saraan, director of PETAI.

Since 2015, PETAI provided on-site education and encouraged the three groups to obtain forest management permits. But the foundation was forced to seize its assistance in March 2017 due to shortage in funding . 

Saraan said that farmers are still dependent on and in need of assistance, especially from the Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships Agency and Forest Management Unit. 

“They [the groups] were confused, what are the next steps and how to implement the programs that have been planned,” said Saraan. 

If the confusion remains, Saraan added, it will continue to go downhill for forest farmers groups. 

“Forest farmers will be inclined to return to the old ways [by] encroaching, or becoming apathetic towards government programs,” he said.  


Forestry working group undertakes vital role

The readiness of social forestry working group tasked to assist forest farmers groups of Pakpak Bharat is also key in successful implementation.

Masrizal Saraan, director of PETAI Foundation, that is also part of the working group that  was established in 2016, said the working group’s tasks include facilitating the acceleration of access, campaigning and educating on social forestry, and facilitating the development of productive business unit, for farmers groups that have obtained permits. 

However, Saraan, added that internal issues within agencies has been a challenge for the working group.

Saraan also said there were programs implemented in the past, to support farmers groups development but it was not suitable to the villages’ condition and characteristic. He specifically named a field visit to Kali Biru village of Yogyakarta, a special province that focuses on tourism. Thus, having very different needs and assistance.

“After returning to the village, the farmers got so confused because the village that they visited focused on tourism, a very different condition than that of Pakpak Bharat forests,” he said. 

Ujang Wisnu Barata, head of Environmental Partnership Unit of the Sumatra Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships Agency, said that they will discuss the matter with Sidikalang Forest Management Unit and the working group, to better understand the needs of farmer groups who have obtained the permit. 

“Social forestry is a multi stakeholder work. It is true that guidance is one of the keys. In locations with intensive guidance, may that be from non-governmental organization or forest management unit, the practices run better. The stakeholders that are working under the working group comprises of related agencies, field assistants, forest management unit, among others. This working group is expected to come in where there are shortcomings of the Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships Agency,” said Barata. 

Henri Bakti Tumanggor, head of Forest Planning and Utilization of Sidikalang Forest Management Unit, explained that his unit has only been recently established and so guidance and programs have yet to enter full force.

The Sidikalang Forest Management Unit itself was formed in 2016, but its long-term plan was only approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry on February 2018. 

The Sikulaping Protected Forest is located southwest of Salak, the capital of Pakpak Bharat, North Sumatera. Source: Andi Gultom.

In September, Sidikalang Forest Management Unit had begun distributing equipment to Aornakan 1 village farmers, to manage their honey farms, while farmers in Kuta Tinggi and Sibongkaras were receiving assistance for rattan processing.

“In the future, we will propose for guidance, either through Ministry of Forestry or other agencies that can help,” said Tumanggor to Ekuatorial.com (13/8).

Daniel Manik, head of Pemuda Tani farmers, said that the honey farm equipment is just what they had hoped for, but they still need guidance and funding. 

“The equipment is according to our requests. It is the same with the proposal that we submitted to the forest management unit to help forest honey farmers in Aornakan 1 village,” he said adding that at least 30 families rely on honey farms as their main source of income.  

“However, as we said during the handing over from the forest unit management, this equipment is not the ideal solution. We still need training, guidance to the locations, and more funding to plant non-timber resources, such as djenkol, which will benefit us too,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Paian Berutu, head of Njuah Njerdik, Sibongkaras village, said that the machine given by the forest management unit could not be used by famers to process rattan because of insufficient power supply.

“The village’s electricity supply is not enough so we couldn’t use the machine. [However] the forest management unit had promised to provide generator for us to operate the rattan processing machine. This is already included in the next year’s budget,” said Berutu. 

Masrizal Saraan, director of PETAI Foundation, said that the unpreparedness of permit holders can hinder the success of social forestry.

“This could result in them losing trust in government programs in the future,” said Saraan. EKUATORIAL.



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