Conservation and the Village Forest

Do community forests reduce deforestation?

Community forest management has been identified as a win-win option for reducing rates of deforestation while also improving the welfare of rural communities in developing countries. But is it delivering the hoped for benefits? Despite considerable investment around the world in community forestry, there is a lack of systematic evaluation on the impact of these policies at a landscape scale. To provide a little insight on what might be gained, we set out to assess the relative performance of a community forest scheme in Indonesia.

In an unprecedented shift in policy, the Indonesian Government recently announced a plan to allocate 12.7 million hectares of land to marginalised communities by 2019 under the Social Forestry Initiative. Currently, about two thirds of the total areas that have been allocated and proposed for social forestry is located on the island of Sumatra and Kalimantan. One scheme that has been put forward is Hutan Desa or Village Forest.

We mapped these Hutan Desa sites incorporating a number of variables relating to the tenure condition and physical circumstances of the land, and then evaluated the likelihood of deforestation with and without the presence of the community forest scheme (Santika et al, 2017).

We found that Hutan Desa performance varied by land use zones (Fig. 1). Avoided deforestation was moderate and consistent across different years and locations for Hutan Desa granted on watershed-protected forest and limited production forest. But for Hutan Desa granted on permanent or convertible production forest, the rates were higher overall but fluctuated over time and varied markedly across different locations.

Figure 1: Hutan Desa performance by land use zones/histories.

Figure 1: Hutan Desa performance by land use zones/histories.

This comparative performance corresponds to varying human pressure, and likely also to the complexity of issues associated with land use locations and histories. For example, watershedprotected forest and limited production forest are typically located in areas with low human pressure (high altitude, steep slopes, far from industrial agriculture), whereas permanent or convertible production forest are typically located in areas with high human pressure (lowland and near cities and major roads and industrial agriculture).

Our evaluation also highlighted that Hutan Desa located on peatland is vulnerable to extreme climate events (Fig. 2). Climatic variables, particularly the amount of rainfall during the dry period in drought years significantly reduced Hutan Desa performance in abating deforestation, especially those located on peatland and where the surrounding area has been highly degraded and recurrent fires had occurred. This was evident during the severe El Niño conditions in 2015, when the rates of deforestation escalated in Hutan Desa granted on watershed protection forest on peat soil located in extremely dry areas in Kalimantan.

Figure 2: The performance of Hutan Desa located on peat soil in Kalimantan during severe El Niño events in 2015.

Figure 2: The performance of Hutan Desa located on peat soil in Kalimantan during severe El Niño events in 2015.

Indonesia is expected to experience more intense droughts in the future due to global warming. Hence, climate change will pose additional challenges to the management of Hutan Desa located on degraded peatland.

This suggests that increased effort, technical capacity, and financial assistance will be required to maintain and improve the performance of these Hutan Desa. The success of Hutan Desa management on peatland will require close cooperation with the Indonesian government peat restoration agency in terms of capacity building and funding.

Overall, we found that the community forest approach of Hutan Desa has successfully achieved avoided deforestation. However, strong and complex anthropogenic pressures and climate extremes remain the main challenges in the future. These pressures vary across different Hutan Desa areas. Consequently, the level of government support (in the form of technical assistance, amounts of financing, and support for local leadership) should take this into account and be implemented appropriately.

More info: Truly Santika


Santika T, E Meijaard, S Budiharta, EA Law, A Kusworo, JA Hutabarat, TP Indrawan, M Struebig, S Raharjo, I Huda, Sulhani, AD Ekaputri, S Trison, M Stigner & KA Wilson (2017). Community forest management in Indonesia: avoided deforestation in the context of anthropogenic and climate complexities. Global Environmental Change 46: 60-71.

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