Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia, has forests with an area of approximately 42.5 million hectares comprising 33.75 million hectares in Papua and 8.75 million hectares in West Papua. The area is almost ten times larger than Jakarta. This is an easy target for timber companies since they have logged the majority of Sumatra and Kalimantan forests.
This raises concerns among the people of Papua and West Papua, especially regarding the threat of forest destruction that will continue to occur due to large scale businesses such as palm oil, mining, and both legal and illegal logging on their land. They also have difficulty protecting their forests because the authority for forest and land management is regulated by the ministry located in Jakarta.
The Importance of Papuan Forest
During the “World Rainforest Day: Hutan Papua Benteng Terakhir Masa Depan Indonesia” (Papuan Forest, the Last Stronghold of Indonesia’s Future) webinar, the regional secretary of West Papua Nathaniel Mandaca said that the leaders of the nation had been discussing forest preservation since the reign of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as an effort to resolve global warming.
For the local indigenous communities around the forest of Tambrau district, West Papua, the forest is a staple for their livelihoods. For them, the forest is a place to hunt pigs and deer, to fish, to find medicines, to forage sago, and to find edible vegetables and greens – pakis, gohi, and gnemon. This is why the head of the district, Gabriel Asem, pledges to prioritize the land rights of the local communities and that both conservation and sustainable development can go hand in hand.
Law and Policies on Protecting Papuan Forest
West Papua government continues its effort to review the concessions to list down unproductive oil palm plantations that can no longer be rejuvenated. The West Papua government suggests changing palm oil to other plants to restore the function as a forest.
The emerging issues demand concrete actions. The provincial government of West Papua pledges to set aside more than 70 percent of its area as protected or conservation areas as the last stronghold of not only Indonesia’s but also the world’s future. This is why the local government pledges to find ways to develop Papua without clearing the forest.
Especially in In Tambrauw district, West Papua, around 80 percent of the 11,000 square kilometers are conservation areas. The local government makes the rules for protecting forests, beaches, and elsewhere that must be agreed with the community of customary owners because they have territorial rights, in accordance with the Special Autonomy (Outsus) Law No. 21/2001.
Article 63 of Law 21 of 2001 on special autonomy for Papua region mentions that the development in Papua is carried out by following the sustainable development, environmental sustainability, benefits, and justice principles by paying attention to spatial planning. This needs collaborative efforts from both the central government and international organizations who have claimed the Papuan forest as the lung of the earth.
The Special Bylaws (Perdasus) on Sustainable Development in West Papua becomes the basis of the initiative to review the West Papua Spatial Planning (RTRW). It restores the proportion of protected areas to 70 percent and biodiversity areas to 30 percent of 8.75 hectares in total and pledges to restore the former function of West Papua areas that have been transformed into oil palm plantations and mines into forests.
The local government says that Papua’s planning documents—including RTRW, long-term regional development plans (RPJPD), and city working plans (RKPD)—have prioritized environmental aspects. These documents are equipped by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (KLHS) which will be fundamental for anyone building Papua, including for the private sector. Papua also already has a green growth document. This is Papua’s commitment to Indonesia in the world event.
The government of Papua creates Special Bylaws (Perdasus) and Provincial Bylaws (Perdasi) by following Otsus Law article 63. There’s only one regulation in West Papua— Perdasi No. 10/2019—which includes, among others: Conservation becomes the heart of any government activity plans. With this regulation, it is hoped that there will be no more illegal business activities on forest land belonging to West Papua.
Talking about forest protection in Papua is inseparable from the indigenous people. The government acknowledges that all lands and forests that are regulated by the government in various legal products and development planning documents are the property of indigenous people.
Since 2013, the Government of Papua has proposed a special approach to development in Papua. Papua’s contextual development based on indigenous territories has been approved by the central government and adopted in the national development policy. Efforts have also been made to provide incentives for indigenous peoples so that the forest area will continue to benefit and be protected. However, many irresponsible parties take advantage of the economic hardships of indigenous people by giving insufficient compensation and destroying forests.
With the forest area and livelihood of people of Papua and West Papua being threatened, the government has regulated the development plan without clearing the forest. Sustainable development is to be met by enforcing the law and policies that prioritize the natural environment.