Four Indegenous Groups Demand Custody Of Home Forest

Four indigenous communities from Jambi, South Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi and Banten are demanding that the government fulfill its pledge to grant custody of customary forests to their communities, arguing that they have met all the requirements and, most importantly, have always played a role in protecting the forests.

More than a year ago, four indigenous communities — Wana Posangke from Central Sulawesi, Marga Serampas from Jambi, Ammatoa Kajang from South Sulawesi and Kasepuhan Karang from Banten — applied to have their lands recognized at the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The groups, who have lived in the forests for generations, have prepared all the necessary documents, such as customary forest maps, and have also obtained recognition of their customary rights from local administrations through bylaws issued between 2012 and 2016, which are among the requirements to gain custody of the customary forest.

However, to date, none of them have been granted their land rights although the government has promised to redistribute 12.7 million hectares of community forests by 2019 to curb rampant land disputes involving indigenous communities.
Andi Buyung, one of Ammatoa Kajang’s leaders, demanded the government explain the reason behind its sluggishness in granting the group custody of the forest. “We see no reason to delay the confirmation [of the Ammatoa Kajang customary forest],” Andi told a discussion forum on Monday.

Meanwhile Sairin of Marga Serampas revealed the group’s efforts to help the Kerinci Seblat National Park prevent illicit practices in the area, adding that the community had successfully safeguarded 20 hectares of their customary forest, which is located inside the park.
A regulation on customary forests, which was issued last year to follow up a landmark 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that annulled state ownership of customary forests, stipulates that customary forests are no longer considered state forests, and the government is obliged to recognize indigenous communities’ ownership. This allows locals to exploit the forests’ resources to meet their daily needs. The exploitation, however, must be in line with the status of the forest, whether it is a production forest or protected forest.

The government appeared to favor businesspeople over indigenous communities late last year when it launched an economic stimulus package that cuts corners in permit handling for investment in the forestry sector.

Indo Laku, a Wana Posangke elders, revealed that representatives from the community had traveled to Jakarta at least four times to seek assurances that their rights would be protected, but to no avail.

The four indigenous groups are among 13 traditional communities who have received assistance from the Community and Ecological Society for Legal Reform (HuMa), along with other local NGOs, in fighting for the recognition of their customary forests scattered mostly around Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

“Having customary communities managing the forests will help the government to protect forests. For instance, it will reduce the operational costs [of forest protection],” Dahniar Andriani of HuMa said.

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