Green growth in Indonesia meets the Bonn Challenge

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Peat fires can smolder for many months, emitting large amounts of smoke and greenhouse gases. Photo by Robert Finlayson/ICRAF

At the First Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Meeting in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia’s first Masterplan for Renewable Resources-Driven Green Growth was launched thanks to the technical support of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), a CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner.

Hosted by South Sumatra Governor H. Alex Noerdin, representatives of 28 nations and international research and development organizations met to discuss commitments to reforestation and progress towards them. The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million ha of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Under the leadership of the Environment and Forestry Ministry at the national level and of Noerdin in the province, South Sumatra is becoming a world leader in that commitment to restoration and the creation of a ‘green’ economy based on sustainable use of natural resources.

South Sumatra is of particular importance since more than 700,000 hectares of forest and peatland in the province were destroyed by fire in 2015, blanketing the province and neighboring parts of Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia in a toxic, choking haze for months on end. In responding to such a catastrophe, a huge effort has been made by the provincial and national governments with strong support from nations such as Norway and Germany to ensure that it never happens again.

However, in a complex landscape such as South Sumatra, simply buying more fire trucks won’t do the job. An integrated, cross-sectoral approach is needed to address all the issues that contribute to land degradation and fires.

An oil-palm and forest landscape is seen from above in South Sumatra. Photo by ICRAF

The greater part of South Sumatra consists of low-lying plains covered with plantations, marshes, mangroves and remnants of natural forests, most of which were converted to monocultural rubber, oil-palm and pulp-wood plantations. The area under oil palm has increased rapidly from 0.87 million ha in 2011 to 1.11 million in 2014. Nearly half of the plantations are on farmers’ smallholdings of around 1–2 hectares. Clearing of the remaining forests, whether ‘protected’ or some other status, continues as people look for opportunities to establish or expand their livelihoods.

The results of the conversions by large companies and smallholders alike has increased economic growth but has also had negative effects, such as deforestation and then draining of peatland (16% of the province) resulting in high carbon emissions from the drying peat and its subsequent burning, illegal logging and a general deterioration of all ecosystems, highlighted by the declaration of the Musi River Watershed as one of the most critical in Indonesia. These effects, in turn, are having an impact on the very economic growth that drove them.

According to the World Bank, estimates of the total economic cost of the fires in 2015 in South Sumatra and several other provinces exceeded USD 16 billion, equal to nearly 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product. This estimate includes losses to agriculture, forestry, transport, trade, industry and tourism. Some of these costs are direct losses of crops, forests, houses and infrastructure, as well as the costs of responding to the fires and disruption of air, land and sea travel owing to the haze, or toxic smoke (featuring carbon monoxide, cyanide and ammonium), which also caused widespread respiratory, eye and skin ailments and deaths, especially among the very young and elderly.

Daily greenhouse-gas emissions from the fires exceeded those from the entire US economy. If Indonesia could stop the fires, it would meet its stated target of reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 29% by the year 2030.

At the heart of the province’s response to these seemingly insurmountable challenges is the Masterplan for Renewable Resources-Driven Green Growth, developed by ICRAF in collaboration with IDH, the sustainable trade initiative, which was launched by Noerdin at the meeting, timed to coincide with a major conference of the challenge in Bonn, Germany. The publication will be available to the public shortly.

Noerdin’s initiative has inspired other Sumatran provinces. Representatives of the 10 provinces of Sumatra signed a joint declaration of commitment to green growth commitment following the launch of the masterplan.

The vision of the South Sumatra administration for a fire-free and sustainable province features five areas of achievement adopted from Indonesia’s national development goals: sustainable economic growth; inclusive and equitable growth; social, economic, and environmental resilience; healthy and productive ecosystems as environmental services’ providers; and reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Inspired by the vision, ICRAF’s Sonya Dewi and team used three principles to guide their approach to development of the masterplan. The first was ‘inclusivity’, in which government agencies, communities and businesses were actively involved in the creation of various growth scenarios, ensuring that aspirations and barriers were identified early on.

The second principle demanded ‘integration’ of the plethora of national and provincial government programs, particularly the province’s spatial and development plans, to ensure no overlap or conflict. The third, ‘informed’, stressed the necessity of valid evidence and scientific modeling that could project the socioeconomic and environmental impact of any particular development scenario, to be used to analyze trade-offs between economic growth and environmental health and in making decisions about which was the optimal scenario.

Sonya Dewi (left) and H. Alex Noerdin at the First Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Meeting. Photo by Arizka Mufida/ICRAF

The Land-use Planning for Multiple Environmental Services (LUMENS) methodology and software created by ICRAF, which forms part of FTA research, was used to develop green-growth scenarios and compare them with ‘business as usual’. LUMENS had previously been mandated by the Ministry for National Development Planning for use in all 34 provinces.

“To transform a process that has existed for years and years within an established bureaucracy is not easy,” acknowledged Dewi.

“Improvements in policies and technical abilities along with a change in mindset are needed for successful green development. In the past, actions did not run well and were uncoordinated. Hence the need for a jointly agreed plan that involves everyone, including local officials, the private sector and the commitment of the leader, which we have in Governor Noerdin.”

In essence, the masterplan combines the government’s spatial and land-use plans and its development plans to focus on low environmental impact, drive economic growth and ensure high engagement among the people of South Sumatra and beyond.

Dewi and team designed the masterplan to be implemented in several steps. First, government land-use plans need to be adjusted to include the actual existing conservation and commodity-crop areas, which at present are not well delineated. Further, degraded land is identified for restoration, including agroforestry, and social justice and agrarian reform carried out to distribute land to the poor as part of the national government’s programs.

Second, people’s capacity in all sectors of government, community and business needs to be built, based on the ‘five capitals’ of finance, human resources, physical, natural resources and social. Third, productivity of specific commodity crops needs to be improved through application of good agricultural practices, agroforestry and better management.

Fourth, value chains for commodities need to be improved hand in hand with building the capacity of farmers’ management and entrepreneurship skills to achieve the best possible post-harvest results. Fifth, remote agricultural production areas need to be better connected with transit centres and distribution lines by developing infrastructure.

Sixth, restoration of degraded land needs to be carried out. Land currently under agriculture will not be able to meet the needs of the people. Hence, degraded land needs to be brought into production through forest-landscape restoration, agroforestry and other restoration methods.

Finally, mechanisms need to be established to reward people for maintaining and improving the services provided by ecosystems, such as clean and plentiful water, and for innovating to ensure continuous supply of quality commodities or eco-certification for higher sale prices. The masterplan, if implemented successfully, will allow South Sumatra to grow economically in an equitable manner and raise the resilience of farmers, maintain watershed functions and biodiversity, reduce fire risks, curb natural forest loss, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

After the launch of the masterplan, discussions were held on the sidelines with a number of representatives of nations who were keen to continue their support of South Sumatra’s efforts as it begins implementation.

By Rob Finlayson and Angga Ariestya, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World. Edited by Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA.

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). 

We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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