In the 1960s, 80% of Indonesia’s Land-Cover Was Rainforest; Now It Is 50%

In the 1960s, 80% of Indonesia’s Land-Cover Was Rainforest; Now It Is 50%

Indonesia is an equatorial country with significant tropical forest. These forests are the largest of their kind in Asia. Indonesia has the third largest endowment of tropical forests in the world after the Amazon and Congo rainforests. These Indonesian forests contain 10 to 15% of the earth’s plant and animal species. Indonesia has 480 types of coral reefs housing 60% of known hard coral species. Indonesia is one of 17 mega-diverse countries with 2 of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots. In the 1960s, 80% of Indonesia’s land cover was rainforest. Now, that figure stands around 50%. This has significant consequences for the many Indonesians who rely on rainforests. Approximately 40 million Indonesians in rural areas depend on the biodiversity of their surrounding environment for subsistence. The most biodiverse environments in the country are tropical lowland forests which are under the greatest pressure of any natural ecosystem in the country by agricultural expansion.

The loss of high biodiversity forests in Indonesia is mostly the result of agricultural production for export, largely for pulp and paper and palm oil products. Although the deforestation rate has slowed from the dramatic rates of the 1990s and the 2000s (one period between 1996 and 2000 had an annual deforestation rate of 3.5 million hectares), Indonesia still bled 493,000 hectares from 2017-2018 and 462,000 hectares in 2018 to 2019. These falling rates are due to new conservation schemes and policies, mostly achieved without creating national parks or officially designated wild areas. These conservation efforts protect biodiversity, especially when targeting primary forests.

Activity Rating:  ** Standing Still

Indonesia falls behind other nations in the amount of land it sets aside for national parks. Currently only 9% of its land is national park compared with France’s 33%. However, vast swaths of forest fall under conservation schemes. One scheme is the social forestry program, which gives rights to people living in and around forests to manage 12.7 million hectares.

Indonesia has 521 designated conservation areas which cover 27 million hectares, including national parks, which fall into categories such as nature reserve forest (Hutan Suaka Alam), recreation forest (hutan wisata), strict nature reserve (cagar alam) and wildlife reserve (suaka margasatwa). A further 13 million hectares are protected marine environments.

These conservation schemes have taken a hit in recent years. A policy to inspect export timber to ensure it was not sourced from conservation forest narrowly avoided being gutted in May. The moratorium on clearing primary forest in 2011 is often flouted when forests are held under concession licenses. This moratorium on clearing primary forest and peatland covers 66 million hectares, by far the largest conservation scheme. Pulpwood concessions have 3 million hectares of natural forest and oil palm hold 1.44 million hectares. Concession holders have little incentive to regenerate forests in their areas and are under pressure to develop them so as not to lose their license for underexploiting. While the moratorium was made permanent in 2019, monitoring and enforcing a moratorium on primary forest clearing is challenging. The moratorium also covers peatlands. After the 2015 fires, concession holders were not allowed to develop on peat with depths larger than 3 meters and were required to restore any degraded areas of that depth. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) amended that requirement to require protection of peat domes, not all deep peat. The idea being that these topographically raised peat areas would act as water towers for the surrounding plantations during the dry season; a management system called “eko-hidro”. In reality, flows from peat domes are less than 5% of the necessary water to compensate for water loss in the dry season. 24 companies have already revised their maps with plans to develop deep peat.

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The links between biodiversity, health and overall human well-being are clear. Biodiversity is essential in the maintenance at the planetary scale in the Earth system down to the human gut. Biodiversity is key in water and air quality, controlling the spread of infectious disease, providing food security and agriculture stability when incorporated into agro-ecosystems, buffeting extreme weather events, as well as a host of other benefits. As landscapes harboring biodiversity are replaced by monoculture and intensified land-use systems the risk for infection disease spread rises. Two thirds of infectious human diseases are shared with animals. A majority of emergent diseases come from wildlife. As land use systems pressure and replace wild areas, particularly biodiverse ones, zoonosis risk increases. Changes in land use and food production are the sites of new disease emergence.

As human landscapes infringe as stark frontiers on the edges of natural landscapes, pathogen spillover and negative health impacts will worsen. While Indonesia protects millions of hectares of primary forest, it fails to create human landscapes in tune with wild areas. For years, the Indonesian government has favored large scale agriculture, particularly mega plantations of palm oil run by corporations, over small holder agriculture. 128,000 hectares of small holder agriculture are lost each year. 5.1 million households between 2003 and 2013 left farming. The replacement of more diverse, small production farming with large-scale monoculture is decreasing food security and fracturing wild areas. This in turn increases health risks and decreases benefits from biodiversity.

Greater fracturing of wild areas and abrupt transitions between natural and human areas increases the proximity of humans to wildlife. This fracturing and decrease of wild areas decrease biodiversity and increase interaction between wildlife and humans. Both of these increase health risks, including zoonosis. The Indonesian government must protect forests and improve the management of the forest-agriculture-human nexus on frontiers of deforestation.

Contact Information:

Reach out to the Ministry of Agriculture (Kementerian Pertanian RI) and urge them to encourage biodiverse-friendly agriculture and the development of agro-ecosystems.


Background on Indonesia’s parks and designated conservation areas governance:

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Indonesia Country Manager Tristan Grupp

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