by Zainuri Hasyim, Yayasan Mitra Insani (YMI)
YMI’s efforts over two years facilitating several village processes in Kampar Peninsular, Riau, Sumatra, are finally showing some results. At a meeting in Jakarta on August 3, 2012 with the villagers of Serapung (Kuala Kampar sub-district) and Segamai (TelukMeranti sub-district) and the Minister of Forestry, the Minister gave his verbal consent to support the issuance of licenses on Village Forests for both villages. The Minister’s statement pumped the community’s spirits to realize that their commitment to sustainable land and forest resources management may finally be recognised by government. When issued, the Village Forest licenses in Segamai and Serapung will be the first such permits in Riau Province. This is important because the proposed Forest Village licenses are located on peat swamp forests threatened by pulpwood and oil palm plantations.
On March 8, 2013, after 27 months processing the licenses, Ministry of Forestry released the Ministry of Forestry Decision Letter (SK No. 154 and SK No. 155/2013) awarding Village Forest Tenure Instrument to two Villages, Desa Segamai and Desa Serapung, in Kuala Kampar Sub-District, Pelalawan District, Kampar Penisula, totalling 4000 hectares (2,000 hectares each) of deep peatlands. The letter has already been delivered officially to the District provincial Government on last 24 July 2013 .
The initiative on Village Forest licenses in Riau is based on the statement by the Ministry of Forestry that approximately 48 million people live in and around forest areas in Indonesia, in 33,000 villages. Some 10 million of those people are classified as poor. The contribution by companies in the forestry sector to improving the welfare of local communities are minimal, and are even making things worse by creating land conflicts. All this raises the question: what would be the result if communities had legal rights to use and manage their forests?
YMI began the initiative on Village Forest licenses with an in-depth assessment of land use in the villages in Pelalawan district, Riau in 2009, followed by community mapping, capacity building on planning and management, and environmental friendly economic activities. This built confidence and trust for YMI to serve as their facilitator related to the Village Forest proposition. Village Forest initiatives in Segamai and Serapung villages are not the first proposal in Pelelawan district, Riau. There has been an initiative in the past to propose Village Forest for Teluk Binjai village in Teluk Meranti sub-district in early 2009. However, the Head of District of Pelelawan did not give his consent to the request for a Letter of Recommendation for Village Forest, and the proposed area is now cleared of forest, part of the concession of PT. RAPP. The area is under dispute between the company and the community.
The failure to achieve a Village Forest created a serious impact to community confidence. YMI discussed this with the communities from Serapung and Segamai and they later agreed that the initiative on Village Forest requires an intensive and serious political process. At the same discussion YMI understood that Village Forest is not really providing a solution to the ongoing social and economic pressures of the communities, but YMI saw the scheme is important to secure access to use and manage forest resources legally.
Samdhana Institute’s REDD+ Preparedness program in Sumatra uses three strategies which accelerated its work on Village Forests in the Kampar Peninsular. Lessons and information exchange across partners in other provinces, particularly within the ‘Regain Community Forest’ group, has been an invaluable learning process in pursuing the Forest Village permits. The work through REDD+ Preparedness encouraged YMI to map opportunities to proceed with proposals on Forest Village licenses in four villages in Pelalawan District covering approximately 25,000 hectares. Learning from similar work in South Sumatra and Bengkulu done with the assistance of Samdhana’s REDD Preparedness, from four villages YMI agreed with the community to focus on two villages, in order to make the work at the various levels effective. Interestingly, this initiative was conducted with relatively small financial support. However, in addition to funding support, working together in a group and technical assistance by Samdhana’s team have been the driving force to help us work more effectively in the field, so YMI could produce in-depth analysis that later became its asset at the beginning of this initiative. This initiative has also been the basis for raising funds from other sources to encourage proposing Forest Village licenses.