Mina Setra, the deputy secretary general of the Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recently visited CGD to speak at an event about Indonesia’s efforts to prepare to participate in REDD+, the UN program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation that would offer payments from rich countries to keep tropical forests standing. Afterwards I invited Mina and CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour, the former head of the Center for International Forestry Research to join me on the Wonkcast. Our controversial topic: the complex relationships linking Indonesia’s forests, its indigenous peoples, and REDD+.
REDD+ aims to provide incentives for forest protection. That’s nothing new to Indonesia’s 70 million indigenous peoples, who, Mina tells me, “have been protecting the forests for decades” because “for us, for indigenous peoples, forests are everything.”
Though much of Indonesia’s land has belonged to and been managed by indigenous peoples for centuries, formal documentation of such ownership has typically been lacking. Mina tells me about a 1999 forestry law that claimed traditional indigenous forest as “state forest” to be managed by the ministry of forestry. As a result Indonesia’s indigenous peoples lost millions of hectares to individuals and corporations that seized control and cleared or otherwise degraded the forest through logging or conversion to palm oil plantations. Mina says that the subsequent displacement of many indigenous peoples “created a lot of problems, not only that we lost our forests but further economic and social problems.”
Frances recalls that when she first arrived in Indonesia some 25 years ago, “indigenous peoples were not only invisible, but to talk about indigenous peoples’ rights was a taboo.” Although indigenous people were recognized in the constitution, they did not have any actual operational rights to their traditional lands, she says, adding that conversations about such rights only began to gain momentum three or four years ago.
AMAN had tried to raise the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights nationally without success, Mina said. It was only when “the international community started talking about forests and REDD+ that we had the opportunity to show that we do exist,” she added. “When talking about forests, you cannot escape talking about the people who have been living there nurturing the forests since even before Indonesia existed.”
Not everybody views REDD+ so favorably. Indeed, a lively debate about the impact of REDD+ on indigenous land rights continues, as Frances explains in a new blog post marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Some people continue to worry that payments for forest protection envisioned by REDD+ will provide yet another reason for outsiders to push indigenous people out of their forest homes.
“The change in positioning of indigenous groups in recognizing REDD+ as having elements of opportunity and not just threat” is quite recent, says Frances. One reason: REDD+ programs developed in consultation with indigenous peoples, such as Indonesia’s ongoing national mapping initiative.
The maps give indigenous groups the opportunity to prove the legitimacy of their land claims, and Mina hopes it will continue to grow. “We hope that in 2022, we can map forty million hectares of indigenous territories all over Indonesia, as evidence that we do exist,” she says.
However, the continued success of the REDD+ programs depends on international support, Frances explains. With the noticeable exception of Norway, this has yet to happen.
Listen to the full Wonkcast for more on indigenous efforts to be recognized in Indonesia and how Mina and Frances view the interaction between indigenous people’s rights and the global effort to reduce protect forests and thereby reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases.
My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post.