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Given their invaluable resources, Indonesian forests have been the subject of a tug of war for ages. A range of forest-related discourses have managed to justify certain interests.
It is common for certain stakeholders to use a variety of techniques and forms of knowledge to develop discourses to advance their interests while obstructing the aspirations of others.
The discourses are diverse: Forests as a source of economic growth and development; forests as sites of conservation and biodiversity protection; and forests playing their part in sustainable development. These paradigms can be easily found in both state and public documents.
Interestingly — but not so surprisingly — a 2010 Harvard Kennedy School study highlighted how the narratives of Indonesia’s forest-related discourses are related and continue to be dominated by the
calculus of economic gain.
Backed by strong political connections, this discourse has been employed to justify the taking of forests from stakeholders with less economically valuable activities, and offering them to those with more economically promising designs such as for plantations or mining, supposedly to increase the welfare of the nation.
However, this notion of the nation’s prosperity does not always seem plausible when rent seekers, backed by “political gangsterism” — as the Harvard study chose to put it — continue to influence and weak forest governance and policy making in Indonesia.
This rings true in the context of the discursive struggle over whether the government should extend or terminate the forest moratorium policy.
The contested policy was launched by Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011, which limits the issuing of new forest concessions for a two year period that expires in May 2013.
Who can forget how the palm oil sector’s lobbying of the economic loss paradigm led to the moratorium policy being undermined?
Here we are, just two months away from the President announcing a decision on the fate of the policy, and diverse competing discourses are once again playing themselves out in the media. Of course, it entirely makes sense for policy to be a product of political give and take in which diverse stakeholder interests are contested and negotiated.
The national media’s narratives tell us that the lawmakers are threatening to freeze the reforestation fund if the President decides to continue the policy.
This threat is backed by the argument that the policy hinders national economic growth. The discourse is echoed by the palm oil and mining sectors who complain ominously about the risk of economic loss and the unfriendly atmosphere for business investment.
The Agriculture Ministry subscribes to the same paradigm and has argued that the moratorium is unnecessary as long as a stricter permit system is in place to protect deep peatland and primary forest areas.
A competing discourse is advocated by a coalition of green non-governmental organizations. Drawing on the urgent need of forest protection, this coalition has publicly reminded the government of its commitment to reduce the nation’s green house gas emissions by between 26 percent and 41 percent by 2020, a commitment that would be virtually impossible to materialize if the moratorium policy goes up in the smoke.
A group of scientists and international research organizations share the narrative advocated by the green NGOs. Several publications by the Center for International Forestry Research call for the extension of the policy and demonstrate the benefits that the policy has already brought.
Some of the benefits explored are: The moratorium has increased transparency in forest governance; and it has been deemed as fostering good practice in engaging public and civil society organizations in managing and protecting the forests.
The government itself seems to have a conflicting discourse since the Forestry Ministry supports the extension of the policy. However, it has offered around 40 million hectares of degraded land for use by oil palm plantations, in the apparent hope that this will address the concern of the lawmakers and the
Another government institution that is in the position to support the extension is the REDD+ Taskforce. Central to REDD+ implementation in this country, the Taskforce realizes the importance of the moratorium to give time to the government to revisit disputes over concessions and forests borders.
This seeks the clarity that is expected and required for the successful implementation of REDD+.
Analyzing the various discourses carried by the media gives us an understanding of how particular stakeholders frame the problem, form alliances and advance their competing agendas.
We may also come to an understanding on the risks of possible political collusions that could hinder forest protection and impede any attempts to improve transparency in forest governance.
It is also worth noting that stakeholders from the same sector may not share the same positions. This can be seen in the contradictory interests of the government ministries or between government-related
This phenomenon demonstrates that forest policy making in Indonesia is a messy arena in which authority is disputed and contradictory positions are deeply embedded.
Paying attention to this discursive landscape enables us to map stakeholders’ positions and provide an insight into possible cooperation’s to produce a just and sustainable forest moratorium policy.
For this to happen, it is necessary for green NGOs to form an alliance with certain stakeholders in government institutions, scientists, and international research organizations. Such an alliance needs to go beyond the ego and rhetoric of stakeholders. An alliance with shared storylines will produce a strong discourse, which could win public support.
To balance diverse interests, ultimately it is up to the government to choose whose interests are to be facilitated.
One thing to remember is that benevolent interests are easily distorted in governance processes.
The writer was energy and climate policy coordinator at WWF Indonesia 2011-2012.
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