A change in the landscape of Java!

During the last three decades, a remarkable change has occurred in the landscape of Java. Indonesian researchers and statisticians have reported a marked increase in forest cover. On the island of java around 3 million hectares of land – historically used for shifting cultivation –has been replanted with trees out of a total of 15 million hectares. Surprisingly, this has happened close to major urban centres on one of the most densely populated islands on earth, where the population density exceeds 1500 people per square kilometre!

This trend of transformation towards cash crops and forestry, was induced by a combination of policy, market, institutional, infrastructural and other conditions, as well as the existence of professional farming communities. Growth seems highest close to the industrial market, which explains the rapid development in Java while similar changes in the outer islands are slower paced.

Image 1: The impact of family forestry on land restoration in Java

Photos: Wanagama

In Indonesia teak (Tactona grandis) was first established on plantations by a state-owned company. Today it is widely cultivated also by a multitude of smallholders who grow these trees on their privately-owned plots. As CIFOR reports of a mountainous region near Bogor, farmers find planting teak especially lucrative since they can make almost three times as much money as slash-and-burn farmers producing food crops. And the benefits are not just economic; people also stated that, those who indulge in teak-based agro farming hold a higher social status in the community when compared to other farmers due to their wealth.

In addition, planting trees can also give farmers stronger tenure rights to their land. Farmers practicing the swidden cultivation system (shifting cultivation or slash-and-burn agriculture) tend to leave the land fallow for varied periods of time. And during this time, other people could take their land. However, if they adopt agroforestry, the trees are more permanent, and that can give them more permanent rights to their farms. This is a major driver for the transition from cereal-based shifting cultivation to agroforestry.

Image 2: The impact of family forestry on land restoration in Java

Photos: Wanagama

Community managed forests or agro-forest lands are located outside forest estates, and classified as forests when they have more than 30% tree cover. These agro forests in Gunung Salak include a combination of adat (customary) protected forests based on indigenous forest management systems and often help conserve springs, while enabling timber production and fallow tree crops. These systems, which are named “Hutan Rakyat” (people’s forests) in Java, cover around 2,7 million ha – close to twenty percent of the total land area of the island. Tree species planted are mainly teak, sengon (Paraserianthes falcataria), Jati putih (Gmelina arborea), fruit species and medical plants. The pace at which people’s forests are increasing is also remarkable: By 2003, Hutan Rakyat accounted for 1.56 million ha and by 2010 this increased to around 2.7 million ha involving over 17 million families.

Apart from expanding carbon stock, these forests are increasingly important also as providers of key ecosystem services. Communities are reporting increased water yields in springs while others observe birds and small mammals that they had not seen for years. While these reports are anecdotal, the impact of people’s forests on timber production is significant. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF), these same areas produced timber supplies to feed processed wood production reaching 50 million cubic meters in 2013 of which 80% are from the island of Java. With a total of over 375 timber processing plants, the timber industry has been rapidly growing in Java mostly due to export markets.

At the same time, natural forests are maintained, and production forests continue to be developed. This is strongly related to the emergence of the furniture industry around the city of Jepara which was initiated in the late 19th Century. Currently, the production of teak furniture employs approximately 80,000 people in the town, who work mainly in small workshops.

While the regulatory framework does not enable sustainable land use by providing compensation for ecosystem services in Java, current legal measures are restrictive both in terms of land use planning as well as trade policies. However, considering the different types of forests, legalisation needs to be adjusted to the specific local context based on shared principles. The regulatory framework should provide opportunities for smallholders to get compensation for the environmental services they deliver, while REDD+ policies, actions and measures also need to address this issue. This could include assessing the possible use of a fiscal mechanism to stimulate carbon sequestration as well other environmental services on private lands. Within this context, lower tariffs (taxes) on forested lands can stimulate tree planting on degraded private lands by farmers. Potentially, REDD+ can play a role here in compensating districts for lost land value income.

About the author

Johan Kieft is Regional Technical Specialist with UN Environment and can be reached at johan.kieft@unep.org

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