Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal logging and FLEGT in Indonesia

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Violence, Displacement and Resource Conflict in Central Java, Indonesia

Figure 1: Central Java. The case study site is located in the far South East.


Indonesia is a country that has undergone its fair share of change over recent history. It began the 20th century under Dutch colonial rule, characterized by appropriation of ancestral lands by government and private companies.[1] Following Japanese occupation, a unilateral declaration of independence, and an attempt to re-establish control by the Dutch, on 19 August 1950 a single Republic of Indonesia was born[2]. The period until the end of President Sukarno's period of office in 1965 and the subsequent Suharto regime (1965-1998) saw an extension of colonial style land management and greater state control over forest resources[1]. Post 1998 came Democratisation and a policy of decentralization[1] of forest land control from central to district authorities[3]. A resurgence of state forest land occupation by local people and groups, which had originally occurred in the early 1960's before Suharto's extermination of suspected communists, was met with sympathy by President Wahid in 2000[3]; a marked change in government stance. However this was not reflected on the ground with State Forest Corporation (SFC) (Perhutani), plantation concessionaires and the military violently opposing occupations[3][4][5][6][7]. Over the years some displaced people have been able to gain either full legal title to their land from district or village level public authority[1], access, but not ownership via a community forestry scheme such as Pengelolaan Hutan Bersama Masyarakat (PHBM)[8][7], or remain in dispute. The ability of district and village authorities to make land allocation decisions on SFC land designated as State Forest is unclear and so de jure rights here are subject to primacy of viewpoint. The Indonesian government is now implementing a forestry management unit creation policy to recentralise land control away from district authorities, under the guise of decentralisation[3]. Central control is also gained via manipulation of international donors/parties [3], as well as via the PHBM program itself[9]. Power relations at local, district, regional and central government levels mean a multiplicity of possible combinations of actor groups seemingly manipulating policy for their own gain (power, control and opportunities)[10]. Both forest management units and community forestry can end up causing decentralisation or recentralisation depending on the interactions between levels. Therefore the formal v informal goals [3] of actors interact with overlapping land claims under different authorities in Java.

With so many potential competing claims on land it is no surprise that many activities have been characterized as illegal by the state, including logging. This case study follows the story of small villages of the Segara Anakan lagoon watershed which was introduced by Martin Lukas in his paper[7].

Framing the Problem

The Segara Anakan lagoon is situated on the southern coast of Central Java (Figure 1). The immediate surroundings are coastal mangrove and swamp forest leading to higher ground. A mixture of villages and SFC plantations exist on the hills. The lagoon has been suffering from silting associated with upstream erosion caused by illegal logging[11].

Political Ecology

A dominant discourse when faced with environmental degradation through illegal logging is to lay blame on the people doing the logging and to wish their activities could cease. These people are mis-managing the forest and should not be allowed to. However often the reality is much more grey. One-sided blaming of farmers’ cultivation practices is not substantiated by empirical evidence. It has rather distracted attention from numerous other drivers of accelerated erosion and sedimentation[12], and is partly a political strategy that has for many decades served as justification for the exclusive management of state forest territories by the state forest company and for keeping people out of these forests[7][13]. An overview of the history of the area provides a nice political ecology perspective on violence, displacement and resource conflict:

  • 1920s–30s: small population; land abundant, individual farmers owning 2–20ha of land each; land use including mixed crops and mixed forests[7]
  • 1950s: mountains east of Binangun village became base of Dar’ul Islam rebel forces. Rebels recruited or killed villagers. Those not killed or recruited were evacuated by state authorities (by mid-1950s)[7]
  • 1950s land swap: An official land swap signed, transferring property rights of peasants’ historic land to the SFC, and giving them rights to a smaller swamp land that had previously been owned by the SFC. The quality and size of the swamp land was significantly worse; it was infertile land with high levels of salinity. Most villagers either didn’t know about the land swap deal or felt they were forced into signing it. This marginalized the poorest in the community and many villagers were so poor that they were forced to sell their piece of swamp land in exchange for payment or food[7]
  • 1961: The security situation became better and some peasants able to (illegally) return to their ancestral land. This was around the end of the Sukarno period and when occupation of state claimed land was first being carried out across Indonesia. Starting in mid-1960s, anyone who had returned was accused of being a member of the PKI communist party, facing eviction, imprisonment or death[7]
  • 1965: The formation of the authoritarian, militarized Suharto regime followed by the anti-Communist “purge”; estimated 0.5 million people killed. The villages were cleared of people once again[7]
  • 1960s: SFC takes over land and immediately clears it to plant teak. An intercropping scheme (TS) gave peasants access to some forest, but accessed those TS rights via bribes. Without formal property rights or tenure, community had no incentive to conserve and instead illegally logged and degraded the forest[7]
  • 1997/1998: Government fell, democracy and new policy of decentralization came in. Peasants could (illegally) reclaim their territory due to a power vacuum. Access perfect for illegal loggers since SFC had installed roads, bridges, etc. in anticipation of harvest. Both locals and enterprising people from outside the area illegally logged the Teak. Peasants claimed ownership of land; they cleared the forest and cultivated it with annual crops. A large timber market grew up for processing and transport of the illegally logged teak plantations[7]
  • Early 2000s: The villagers were offered deal allowing access to forest via PHBM, but with state retaining ownership (bundle of rights). This legal agreement was considered by many to mean they had ownership of the land once more. However in reality not much had changed compared to the intercropping days of the 1960's. Peasants felt the state was trying to claim their land by reforesting, so pulled out tree seedlings newly planted by FSC. A combination of restrictions on timber production, crop types and land tenure led the villagers to eschew traditional management practices to mitigate erosion on the steep slopes. Until land conflict is settled the villagers won't invest in the terraces and perennial crops that will help to hold the ground together as they may have to leave at any moment[7]
  • 1990s at grassroots level: Representatives of the farmers’ committee are restricting access to the illegally recliamed land, selling access rights for ~€1500–2000[7]

So the illegal logging in question was carried out as part of land tenure dispute and subsequent erosion was a consequence of the history of the nation of Indonesia itself.


Figure 2: Schematic of an adaptive cycle, inspired by Holling's work

It is also notable that the development, change and redevelopment of new systems over time is analogous to cycles of panarchy[14], Figure 2. Three cycles are discernible, correlated primarily with colonial, authoritarian and democratic government systems. In reaction to these changes at higher systematic levels[14] there was a knock-on effect at the local level where re-organisation and re-adjustment were required to take place. Table 1 summaries the key points of system identity under the three cycles identified. Due to the high levels of erosion, poor crop choice and privatization of parts of the claimed land, these villages are at risk of entering poverty trap circumstances[14]. This is brought about from the constraining forces at higher systematic levels and would require systematic change to avoid.

Table 1: Panarchy system identity comparison under 3 system cycles (content sourced from Lukas[7]
Pre-1950s Displacement: 1950–1997

(TS scheme)

! Reclaimed land: 1997–present

(TS and PHBM schemes)

Government regime

Colonial Dutch control

1950s–1960s: Non-colonial government; rebel conflict

1960s–1997: Central, authoritarian regime

1997: Government regime change; efforts to decentralize forest management

Life-style and settlements

Legal claim to land; permanent settlement; “mosaic of scattered villages, agricultural land and mixed forests”

Land swap;

Lost legal claim to ancestral land; by the early-1960s peasants illegally returned to their land. But, were exiled once again in 1960s. Transient; land conflict

Illegally reclaimed land; permanent settlement; “at war with Perhutani”; annual crops

Property Rights

De jure: private property w/ individuals controlling 2–20ha each; common property aspects as well (eg. terracing)

De facto: open access, maintained through bribes, no incentive to maintain deforested areas so deforest

De jure: 1950–1965 open access; 1965–1997 state owned

De facto: open access

De jure: state owned land

Income sources

Agriculture, mixed forests (fruit and timber)

Intercropping; farming (annual crops), sell their plots for cash, illegally logging for cash

Agriculture on reclaimed land (annual crops);

PHBM: forest resources and % of timber and resin sales; Illegal logging

Land Use

Mixed forests (structure, variety, etc.)

Plantation forests of teak and pine

Few trees remain; annual crops

Increased externalities (eg. sediment deposits, salinity, flooding, etc.)

Ecosystem services

Biodiversity Carbon sequestration Water filtration Prevention of erosion NTFP’s

Carbon sequestration

Timber (provisioning)

Agricultural crops (provisioning)



In Segara Anakan the main environmental impact of the illegal logging was increased erosion [7]. The prior change of land use from mixed species, mixed aged forest to Teak plantation and subsequent clearance in the post-1998 era would have had a large initial impact on biodiversity. Studies have shown that even non-commercial logging will reduce biodiversity[15], soil community diversity and function[16], alter insect community[17] and bird species assemblages[18] in tropical forests. Furthermore, once logged, tropical forests produce less timber growth in the next rotation[19], affecting community composition and soil properties.


The communities engaged in illegal logging are occupying their ancestral land. In order to gain full rights to the land they need to go through the process of becoming legally visible[1] to gain bridging capital[20] to be able to move to the next step. Politically they have no choice. Despite the downfalls of PHBM[9], the creation of a LMDH and engagement with the cogs of government allow a certain experience and exposure to accrue. This is important for being able to engage in other fora in the future and developing options.

On a wider scale, the government has not really shown a clear lead in resolving land tenure problems. One hope is that they too are learning how to engage with local people and so can invest in development of appropriate, equitable and non-onerous communication channels[21]. The Indonesian definition of illegal logging in the FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) includes domestic timber which can make a whole swathe of informal but accepted logging practices illegal and marginalize people already living close to subsistence level[21]. The expense of legality verification may prove too high for existing community forests. If verification is not obtained and the rules strictly enforced then FLEGT may push people out of the industry, reducing local participation and increasing poverty[22]. The absence of legality assurance for CF timber would effectively become a restriction on their tenure over trees, the right to legally remove them. The government could opt to take a soft law approach[23] to local communities; Wiersum and van Oijen (2010)[24] propose choosing from 4 potential governance policy options, including a soft law approach offering alternative livelihood options and income earning for those currently engaged in illegal activities. By having a flexible, partially soft-law approach to small scale community forest use for personal and domestic markets, governments can bridge the gap between illegality of wood use and adaptation of VPA to local realities.


The loss of de jure access to the forest resources (including timber and some NTFP's) means an inability to legally acquire capital and may in fact cause more illegal logging through livelihood decisions[25]. Elsewhere in Central Java, PHBM communities have pruned, damaged and killed SFC timber trees in order to preserve light conditions for their crops grown underneath[25]. The relative power vacuum since the early 2000's and the reduced regularity of SFC patrols means they lack the power to remove all 'occupying' villagers[25]. FSC certification of SFC forests opens up markets and revenue opportunities. As tenure security is a key part of FSC certification, some SFC sites are keeping the occupations under the guise of participatory forestry, despite failed timber regeneration[25].

In Blora District, Central Java, the PHBM schemes in neighboring villages have different approaches to forest planting, tending and patrolling frequency depending on the state of the land when the scheme was introduced[8]; if endowed with full tree coverage and so increased revenue the motivation of the LMDH to enforce NTFP collection rules and for villagers to avoid illegal harvesting of timber was increased[8]. However the opposite was also true, highlighting the need for sufficient benefits so community forest schemes can succeed in their aims[20].


Illegal logging and the land tenure uncertainty experienced in these villages have led to a particular change in community power composition. A farmers association controls access to the land, takes rents from locals with customary claims to the land and also sells parcels to 'outsiders'[7]. Those with customary rights feel that the payment of rents will help establish their claim[7], a tactic to increase their visibility within governance structures which has been a precursor to gaining full legal title elsewhere, in West Java[1]. Whether this ambition is fulfilled in Central Java remains to be seen.

PHBM schemes are administered by a local committee (LMDH). This committee is responsible for issuing access permits, controlling patrols and resolving disputes and is the official, legal part of the community PHBM scheme[7][9]. The majority of revenue sharing money from the SFC, reported as 5% and 25% from final sales of pine resin and timber respectively in a Northern Central Java[26]PHBM scheme, to the community goes directly to the LMDH[8]. The LMDH is often made of village elites who may even be present mainly as interested stakeholders in forest resources due to other sources of income[8]. In the case study area, at least one member of the LMDH is an ex SFC worker[7]. These stakeholders exercise authority and power in the local context and the status quo may serve their interests more than pushing for full legal recognition of land tenure and loss of the PHBM income.

Initiatives to combat Illegal Logging - FLEGT

Here I shall only consider the FLEGT arrangements as these are the main focus for ensuring legality in Indonesia. FLEGT licenses were first issued in Indonesia in 2016, the first in the world. In Indonesia, as in nearly all FLEGT VPA countries, the timber legality system will include timber for the domestic market[27], raising concerns about the further marginalization of those without secure land tenure. However the existence of a joint committee supervising implementation and the use of recursive learning throughout the process[28]is promising for eventual land reform via representation and access to governance structures. This will, of course, reduce illegal logging too since the illegality is normative. FLEGT pervades; it uncovers deep-lying social issues and compels governments to confront and resolve them[28].

In Indonesia the timber legality verification instrument, SVLK, exists alongside a number of government and voluntary regulations and schemes for forest management. However whilst large-scale operators have successfully adopted the system, small-scale forestry lags behind[29]. The attitudes of different actors, from administration to farmers, differ across the actor groups and from region to region[30]. The attitudes of local people and community forest groups are crucial to implementation and are linked to the benefits derived. For example the belief that SVLK is legitimate is only held by farmers already involved in export-orientated trade agreements; without increased revenue per volume for SVLK certified wood those serving domestic markets aren't motivated to engage[30]. This shows the importance of developing livelihood alternatives and safeguards as part of the FLEGT process to facilitate engagement and legitimacy. Whilst other non-cash benefits were formally cited as reason for supporting SVLK, often the main informal driver was financial. Another interesting point made was that in more rural areas where timber production has a low profit margin, the implementation of SVLK may decrease the amount of land reserved for community forests in Indonesia[30]. Here a perceived lack of benefits to the community from FLEGT is driving livelihood choices away from community forestry completely. This is an area of study that would be very informative as rarely will any observations be made with the reason to not be a community forest as the topic.


The main recommendation is for the Indonesian Government, non-state stakeholders, community representatives and communities themselves to continue working towards resolution of tenure claims. These are the underlying causes of the environmental degradation caused by illegal logging and the logging itself. In the meantime a soft law approach to enforcement of the illegality definition for domestic timber is recommended.

Secondly facilitate ‘weak links’ between actor groups to increase resilience and capacity. Use NGOs and representative bodies to help, e.g ’levelling the Playing Field’ project 2004-2007 between UGM Forestry faculty, Perhutani, CIFOR and CIRAD[31]. It was a multi-stakeholder facilitation which improved empowerment, environmental mediation and network. These schemes help with provision of bridging and bonding capital to increase community forestry success[20], including reducing illegal logging.

Finally, the implementation of true polycentric governance in Indonesia. Widen focus to actors at district, regional and government levels to enable strategic planning, international timber sales, local community resource access and use to be managed at the level of requisite variety.


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  2. Vickers (2005) History of Indonesia
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