Holding the remaining 38% of primary forest in Indonesia in 2012, the western part of the island of New Guinea has become the final hope on preserving Indonesia’s declining forests. In October 2015, then-Governor Abraham Atururi declared his Province of West Papua as a Conservation Province, the first-ever in Indonesia—and the first in the world. Then, in 2018, the two Papuan provinces signed Manokwari Declaration—both provinces pledged to maintain at least 70% of their respective primary forest area.
Manokwari Declaration and Government’s Follow Up
The Declaration itself serves as a commitment for the two provinces to maintain sustainable development in the region. Overall, the Declaration lists 14 commitments as the result of ICBE 2018 (International Conference on Biodiversity, Ecotourism, and Creative Economy 2018) held in Manokwari. Perhaps one of the most important commitments stated in the Declaration is that the two provinces are committed to involving ethnic groups and their customary territories in their conservation efforts through proper Provincial Special Regulation and Regency Regulations.
Through the Ministry of National Development Planning/National Development Planning Agency, the Central Government of Indonesia has also designed a more holistic and inclusive developmental plan for Papua. This new development plan aims to be more inclusive towards the locals in both Papuan provinces.
In local stages, the government of West Papua has passed Provincial Regulation No. 10 the Year 2019. The focal point of this new law is that all provincial activities must be centered around conservation. Spatial Plans for the Province would also include conservation agenda. The neighboring Papua Province has also put ecological preservation efforts upfront on each development plan, complete with Strategic Environmental Studies to back them.
Impacts on Indigenous People
Ethnic communities welcomed these conservation-based policies as their life still heavily depends on the forests. However, in reality, there are still violations conducted by oil corporations. Not too long ago, palm oil licenses from 12 corporations were revoked by West Papua Governments due to administrative violations by said corporations. These revocations tailed years-long effort from local ethnic communities to be recognized by the Central Government. They demanded their rights over their cultural territories to be handed back from oil corporations.
While the Manokwari Declaration mandates local Papuan governments to guarantee indigenous people’s rights and participation in sustainable developments, how exactly we would achieve this has not found any conclusive scheme. For now, both central and local governments relied on eco-tourism schemes to preserve the environment while elevating indigenous people’s economic status.
Gabriel Asem, Chief of Tambrauw Regency, once stated that his policy to make Tambrauw a conservation regency has faced criticism for “creating pockets of poverty.” However, he claimed that indigenous people in his jurisdiction will benefit from conservation-based eco-tourism in the future.
Asem hoped that if the forest is preserved, indigenous people could help present it to the tourists. Asem’s hope was proven true when Atafia, a resident of Ayapokiar Village in Miyah District. She stated in an article that she was more than happy to accompany tourists to visit her village’s forest, saying that she can directly show them that she and her people have preserved the forest for generations.
All and all, the 2018 Manokwari Declaration is the all-important first step in the preservation of primary forests in both West Papua and Papua Provinces. Ever since, both Central and local governments have issued several regulations and development plans in accordance with the Declaration. Violations from the private sector still pop out occasionally, but the governments are more than eager to make sure the violators face the consequences. The Declaration also guarantees that local indigenous communities would contribute directly to the government’s effort and benefit from both short- and long-term.