The SETAPAK program promotes good forest and land governance as fundamental to achieving sustainable forest management, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting sustainable low carbon economic growth. Civil society has an important role to play in supporting the recognition of the customary forest and land claims of local communities. A growing body of research indicates that when local communities’ rights to forests are secured, deforestation is slowed, forests are managed more sustainably, incomes derived from forests are distributed more equitably, and cultural traditions are more successfully maintained.

Despite the benefits of community based forest management and the long histories many local and indigenous communities have in managing and maintaining their ancestral land, customary (adat) communities often do not have legal rights to the forests on which they depend. Where adat communities’ forest claims are not recognized, the government is able to issue permits to large-scale plantation, timber logging, and mining companies. Through partnerships with the district parliamentarians and policy makers, SETAPAK partners work resulted in a district regulation recognizing adat communities’ political, cultural and natural heritage claims across the district of Bulungan, in North Kalimantan, establishing a foundation to support the rights of adat communities’ to manage their ancestral forests. Another key achievement to support customary communities’ land tenure rights is the national government’s formal recognition of seven adat forest (hutan adat) permit applications submitted by local communities with support from SETAPAK NGO partners HuMA and KBCF. On December 28, 2016, President Joko Widodo has announced the recognition permit of seven hutan adat at the state palace. This is the first time the national government has recognized customary communities’ tenure rights in the form of hutan adat. These regulations protect the rights of adat communities’ to sustainably manage a total of 6,400 ha of their ancestral customary forests.

Picture 1. Leaders of the Sababalat tribe in the Mentawai Islands demarcating their adat forests (Source: AMAN Mentawai, West Sumatera)

Adat Rights Recognised in Bulungan District

Indonesia’s spatial plans have not historically recognized adat and village boundaries. This has resulted in concession permits being allocated for community land without acknowledging the communities that have sustainably managed and depended on these resources for generations. With their customary forests and land under threat of conversion, adat communities find themselves lacking the legal protection they need to combat the rapid expansion of logging, mining and plantation industries. These industries are expanding particularly rapidly in the district of Bulungan, in North Kalimantan in the name of economic growth, consuming remaining areas of agricultural and forested land. The impacts of these industries are numerous, including pushing communities into smaller areas of occupancy resulting in inter-community conflict and increased poverty as agricultural land and forests diminish – the main sources of livelihood for rural communities.

Since the 1970s, land in the district of Bulungan has been issued to land-based companies for plantation forests, and in more recent years, for palm oil plantations and mining concessions. Residing in Bulungan are communities from ethnic groups that take in the Kenyah, Kayan, Punan, Bulongan, Brusu, Basap, and Tidung Dayak groups. These communities live within or near to forests and maintain adat-based connections to land and traditional forest management practices through adat law. Despite continuing to use forest products to sustain their livelihoods and water catchments and lakes for fishing, adat communities in Bulungan lack formal state-recognized rights to their ancestral forests.

In August 2014, SETAPAK partner NGOs the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) East Kalimantan and PIONIR established a forum, bringing together members of parliament, sub-national government policy makers, adat men and women leaders, and academics to speak about the need for the formal recognition of adat rights in the district. In addition, a series of village discussions were held between adat men and women, and government, around forest management and rights-based issues. As a result of these initiatives the district government agreed that there was a need for formal recognition and signed an MoU with AMAN East Kalimantan, the University of Borneo, and representatives of the various adat communities who were chosen based on each ethnic group’s own decision making processes. The agreement assigned each party a role in producing research to inform the regulation. The University of Borneo conducted ethnographic research facilitated by AMAN East Kalimantan to document adat history and forest management practices in the district. An adat collective decision making forum (musyawarah adat) was held to agree on the general conditions of the regulation.

Picture 2. Discussion with women in the village of Dulau, East Kalimantan to gain input into the adat rights regulation (Source: AMAN East Kalimantan).

As a result of these joint efforts, on 30 December 2016, a district regulation (no. 12/2016) that secured the recognition and protection of adat communities’ legal rights was issued. This is a very important result, as there is now a legal precedent for adat communities to refer to when pursuing their formal forest tenure rights. In the face of expanding land based industries, this will strengthen the bargaining power of adat communities’ when negotiating with private companies seeking access to their ancestral land. It can be seen as a legal safeguard that requires that companies engage with local communities at the permitting stage of a land acquisition.


Securing Customary Communities’ Forest Tenure Rights

SETAPAK partners are working to support the national government’s commitment to provide customary and local communities management rights to their ancestral forests. On taking office in 2014, the Joko Widodo government set a target of returning control over 12.7 million hectares of land to forest dependent communities. With SETAPAK’s support, national NGO Community and Ecological Based Society for Law Reform (HuMA) played a key role in contributing to meeting these ambitious tenure recognition commitments, by pushing for the formalizing of a number of customary forest (hutan adat) applications. Through HuMA’s efforts, six hutan adat permits were formalized by the national government, recognizing the rights of the following adat communities: the Kajang community in the Ammatoa village, South Sulawesi; the Wana community in Posangke village, Central Sulawesi; the Kulawi community in Marena village, Central Sulawesi; the Serampas community in Jambi; the Kasepuhan Karang community in Banten; and the De’sa community in Tapang Semadak village, West Kalimantan. In addition, East Kalimantan-based NGO Kawal Borneo Community Foundation (KBCF) supported a hutan adat permit application for the village of Juaq Asa, East Kalimantan. In all, over 16,624 people living in and around these seven hutan adat forest areas covering 6,400 ha of land have had their adat forest claims – and forest-dependent livelihoods – secured through SETAPAK’s support.

To support the acceleration of the formal recognition of adat communities’ forest tenure applications, SETAPAK formed a partnership with HuMA, who had a long-standing relationship with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF), and an extensive CSO network at the local level. HuMA had previously been supported by another donor to develop and submit hutan adat applications in October 2016, but after a month passed and the adat forest permit applications had still not been approved by the central government, SETAPAK supported HuMA to support the notoriously slow and dysfunctional approval process. The partnership with SETAPAK gave HuMA the support it needed to engage in policy dialogue with the MoEF to continue the approval process, including through holding a press conference, and conducting face to face meetings in early December 2016. As a result of HuMA’s efforts, on 28 December 2016, the MoEF approved four hutan adat applications, protecting a total of 5,566 ha of forest: Hutan Adat Ammatoa Kajang, South Sulawesi, 314 ha, where 11,624 people live; Hutan Adat Wana Posangke, Central Sulawesi, 4,660 ha, where 452 people live; Hutan Adat Marga Serampas, Jambi, 130 ha, where 418 people live; and Hutan Adat Kasepuhan Karang, Banten, 462 ha, where 2504 people live.

Picture 3. A community member from Juaq Asa village working with KBCF to document the Hemaq Beniuang adat forest (Source: KBCF).

This was the first time the national government had formally recognized customary communities’ ancestral claims to forests they have relied on and managed for generations. This recognition of hutan adat tenure then paved the way for further forest tenure applications approval. HuMA was supported by SETAPAK to continue to support hutan adat applications underway in Central Sulawesi and West Kalimantan. In March 2017, two hutan adat applications supported by HuMA were formally recognized: Hutan Adat Marena, Central Sulawesi, 741 ha, where 300 people live, and Hutan Adat Tawang Panyai, West Kalimantan, 40.5 ha, where 709 people live.

The SETAPAK program also formed a partnership with KBCF, to support a hutan adat application in West Kutai, East Kalimantan. KBCF supported the community of Juaq Asa, whose customary forest was zoned as area for other uses (areal penggunaan lain), which meant it was under threat of conversion to land-based industries. With SETAPAK’s support, KBCF supported the adat community to change their forest status to state forest zone (kawasan hutan), and have their adat forest formally recognized. On 5 September 2017, the Juaq Asa communities’ 48.85 ha Hemaq Beniuang adat forest was formally approved, protecting 617 local people’s forest-based livelihoods.

SETAPAK partners are now using the legal foundations established through the issuance of the Bulungan district adat regulations to support adat communities in formally securing their adat forest claims. AMAN East Kalimantan are working in Bulungan to secure wilayah adat, a form of regional community forest management claim. Similarly, other adat communities are being supported across other forested regions of East Kalimantan. The regulations require that the provincial and district governments form a committee that consist of civil society and government representatives, tasked with conducting verification and validation of land and forest mapping, including the identification and documentation of adat natural and cultural heritage areas.

HuMA is now supporting the four areas of hutan adat to ensure that effective forest management processes are instituted. They are continuing engagement with other NGOs and adat communities involved in the implementation of hutan adat, to build a collaborative forum to identify and resolve key challenges in the lengthy hutan adat application process, to enable more communities to have their forest tenure rights secured. In March 2017, a two day even was held in Yogyakarta, bringing together all adat-focused civil society organizations, to discuss hutan adat implementation challenges. The discussions identified that there is a need for ongoing and unending NGO support of communities to ensure hutan adat is managed sustainably and equitably. To respond to these findings, HuMa will train other SETAPAK partners to help them work more closely and effectively with local communities to secure social forestry. The training will take into account the specific needs and contexts inherent in individual cases and they will work closely with INSIST to provide a gender mainstreaming component that ensures that women are key actors in village level decision making. HuMA are also working with the MoEF to develop a national roadmap for formally approving hutan adat across Indonesia, alongside other national and regional SETAPAK partners. The roadmap aims to establish a country-wide plan to accelerate hutan adat application approval, including to ensure coordination across key government agencies and ministries with responsibilities for forest management.

Picture 4. Mrs Ija (Indo Ija), an adat elder of the Wana Posangke community