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Forest governance in Southeast Asia – evidence for policy innovation

Peter Kanowski
The Australian National University

Peter Kanowski
The Australian National University

Gillian Petrokofsky
University of Oxford


The forests of South East Asia are amongst the world’s richest and most significant – in terms of biodiversity, ecosystem services, forest products, and culture and livelihoods. They are also subject to the greatest rates of deforestation and degradation globally. Forest governance is repeatedly identified as one of the factors critical to forest conservation and sustainable management. This panel focuses on forest governance in two of SE Asia’s most forest-rich nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, and draws from current research and practice to illuminate challenges and opportunities for improving forest governance. The cases from which the panel draws represent key elements of forest governance – conservation, Indigenous peoples, the timber trade, the integration of interests across landscapes, and the evidence base for decision-making. Panellists bring perspectives from countries in the region, and from the academic and private sectors.


Paper 1: The impacts of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan on Domestic Timber Governance in Indonesia

Abidah Setyowati
Rutgers University
The EU’s 2003 Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan aims to leverage international trade to address concerns over widespread illegal logging in developing countries. A core component of this plan is to encourage countries to establish legality licensing schemes through Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). Once these schemes are approved, the EU will admit only licensed wood from VPA partner countries

While FLEGT legality licensing is conceptualized as a means to ensure legality for EU supply chains, much of the wood produced in Indonesia and other VPA countries is sold through informal, domestic markets. Drawing from a case study of Indonesia, this paper therefore will examine the impacts of the EU FLEGT on domestic timber governance, the degrees of formalization and legalization this entails, and the impacts this has on local community rights and benefits. This will include consideration of the different perspectives of stakeholders at multiple scales on the appropriate degree of legalization and formalization needed for domestic timber governance in Indonesia. This paper is based in depth interviews carried out with various stakeholders in the EU, UK and Indonesia during March – September, 2015 and document analysis on the relevant policies and regulations.


Paper 2: Legal pluralism of land laws and forest tenure in Indonesia – the case of an Adat community in a National Park

Rebakah Daro Minarchek
Cornell University

This paper is based on research carried out from 2013-2015 in the Jakarta, Bogor, West Java, and Banten regions in a location where villagers (members of the Kesepuhan adat community) are often acutely aware of the insecurity of their land tenure rights within statutory law. However, they generally feel secure in their rights under adat law, regardless of their location within a National Park. I investigate the duality of these law regimes and their impact on land tenure and perceptions of land tenure. More specifically, I am concerned with understanding how customary and statutory law systems interact, accommodate, and intertwine in the everyday lives of forest-dwelling communities and the impact on forest use. Further complicating the situation is the recent Constitutional Court ruling of MK35/2012, which could possibly, once enforced, grant control of National Park forests to adat communities throughout Indonesian, including the Kesepuhan people. The outcome of this Constitutional Court ruling depends greatly on the interpretation of statutory and customary laws that govern the region. To explore the possible outcomes for MK35/2012, this research examines the legal systems in place within the park and governing the area from provincial capitals and Jakarta through ethnographic methods and archival materials.

The research found that, with regard to legal systems, customary law provides greater security to the Kesepuhan community members despite its lack of “power” at the national level and that the statutory system, even with such promising rulings as MK35/2012, is a source of confusion and broken promises for community members. Furthermore, that statutory laws are often in conflict with each other and are enforced on an ad hoc basis to the greatest advantage of the provincial, district, or national level enforcer, further weakening their power at the local level.


Paper 3: Decentralised Powers: State Governments Determine Central Forest Spine Policy Outcome

Agkillah Maniam
University of Auckland

The Central Forest Spine (CFS) is a forest and wildlife conservation policy enacted at the federal level in Malaysia and passed on to 8 involved states to be implemented. Classified as a centralised federation with one-party predominance, relationship between the federal and state governments was found to be influenced by Barisan Nasional’s (BN) inter- and intra-party relations; where states led by a government composed of the BN party conducted itself like a subdivision rather than an autonomous unit of the federation. The chief ministers at the state levels were dictated to adhere to decisions or policies made by the federal government, with only possibility of insubordination to be initiated by the traditional Malay rulers of each state. As such, success or failure of a policy has been attributed to its intergovernmental relations. However, the CFS policy faces a failure in implementation in states like Pahang and Terengganu although the state leadership comprises of the BN party; and has been successfully implemented in Selangor – a state ruled by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), an opposition political party. Though the traditional Malay rulers still have influence over timber logging, keeping or conserving wildlife conservation; no clear veto power resides with the Sultans when it comes to the CFS implementation. Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak, in fact, has been a strong patron to the execution of the CFS policy in his state. Hence, my research concludes that Malaysia is not entirely a centralised federal system where party relations does not influence the implementation of the CFS policy. The veto power lies with the state governments irrespective of political party as forest and wildlife still remains as main sources of income for states.


Paper 4: Creating sustainable landscapes – redefining an established resource management paradigm to address global challenges in the Indonesian context

Blair Freeman
Indufor Asia Pacific

The ‘landscapes approach’ is one of the predominant paradigms presented at a range of international forums grappling with the loss of forests in Southeast Asia, and the implications for climate change and biodiversity conservation.

The landscapes approach is not a new concept. Broadly encompassing a holistic view of biophysical processes and multi-sectoral activity at the catchment (watershed) scale, landscape level considerations are generally reflected in leading resource management models operating or advocated worldwide. However, this paradigm is being redefined through ongoing international dialogue, for contemporary application in both developing and developed countries. A key feature of the current focus on the landscapes approach is the establishment of key principles and metrics – essentially an evidence base – to enable policy makers and practitioners to demonstrate clearly there is active management and tangible progress towards agreed objectives.
In addition, the current focus tends to incorporate key principles of ‘learning landscapes’ and ‘adaptive management’, which both require systems to monitor and measure the impacts of management interventions, so these prescriptions can be refined or changed over time.

This paper will present a synthesis of key principles of the landscapes model, drawing on a range of published research and development project observations from Indonesia in particular. It will highlight key principles and common themes emerging from contemporary models. It will also discuss areas for policy innovation in relation to creating sustainable landscapes. Examples of this innovation may include further development of landscape accounting frameworks and direct linkages to fiscal transfers for sustainable development.