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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
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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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  • Peatland fire policy: From past to present

Peatland fire policy: From past to present

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Forest fires are often caused by human activity. Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo credit: Rini Sulaiman/CIFOR
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Forest fires are often caused by human activity. Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo credit: Rini Sulaiman/CIFOR

Analyzing 20 years of peat fire management intervention in Indonesia

Indonesia – Almost two decades after the devastating Indonesian wildfires of 1997-1998 drew international attention and prompted a wave of management attempts, extensive fires returned in 2013, 2014, and most severely in 2015, producing a humanitarian and ecological crisis. Since 1998, wildfires have become increasingly decoupled from climate anomaly years, instead occurring on an almost yearly basis.

The destructiveness of the 2015 event has created a renewed burst of political will and governance experimentation around fire management and sustainable management of Indonesian peatlands. It is an opportune moment to take stock of what has been done, and how we can learn from past Fire Management Intervention (FMI) efforts.

The scientific community has been commenting on FMI for some time now. A common thread that has emerged in regard to Indonesian FMI is a critique of the bluntness of the policy instruments- mainly that FMI fail to target their resources strategically (i.e. towards the situations and actors most associated with haze and escaped fire), thus compromising their efficiency, equity, and effectiveness.

This body of scientific work also offers a clear account of the many proximate variables relevant to predicting haze and escaped fire in Indonesia. These include soil type, burn month, and landholder type. We should be asking ourselves whether these variables are being accounted for in FMI targeting, and if so, by who. Are there other methods by which FMI have been specifying targets?

Peat burns in the Tumbang Nusa research forest outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

An ongoing study conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), led by researchers Una Jefferson, Rachel Carmenta, and Jacob Phelps, aims to identify the tendencies between the sector (NGO, business, government, or mixed) mandating FMI, and the methods used to specify the target of intervention resources. In this case, “resources” can mean anything from enforcement capacity to project funds.

The CIFOR study analyzes the suite of FMI addressing peat fires in Riau Province, a center of peat fire activity in Indonesia. The dataset includes FMI between January of 1999 and December of 2016, and was verified through policy document analysis, literature review (both grey and scientific), and consultations with key stakeholders.

It allows the formal content of interventions and the sector and scale of the institutions behind them to be examined, shedding light on the dynamics at play in Indonesia’s diverse environmental governance arena. Although the research is still ongoing, initial analysis of the dataset indicates some early results.


What do we know about the focus of FMI? First, the data shows that since 1998, FMI have maintained a de jure emphasis on fire prevention, rather than short-term suppression. This long-standing focus (at least on paper) on addressing underlying causes of the ignition and spread of fires contradicts commentary suggesting that a shift in priorities towards preventative measures is recent. Instead, perhaps the “contemporary” prevention shift consists of a burst of political commitment towards bringing these FMI off the paper and into de facto reality.

Most FMI focus their efforts on landholders, and the bulk of these focus on smallholders rather than on businesses. Around a quarter of FMI target landholders, but they don’t distinguish between landholder types. This is an unfortunate omission, as a nuanced specification of actor type is important in addressing peat fires.


Preliminary results suggest the suite of variables linked to causes of haze and escaped fire are not being accounted for in targeting FMI. Soil type (peat or mineral) has important implications for fire incidence and fire escape, not to mention fire-related problems from haze to carbon emissions, and indeed it was the most commonly used of the targeting variables in our set.

Yet soil type was only specified by around half of FMI, and only one quarter were specifically tailored to peatland contexts.

Far fewer interventions target regulatory or project resources to high-risk fire periods (i.e. defined by weather parameters, month, or a set threshold of fire severity). Fewer still distinguish between more than two functional categories of landholder statuses — “smallholder” and “business” — in targeting, despite evidence that this dichotomy masks differences that are critical for the crafting of peat fire policy.

Overall, these results suggest that a crucial element of policy potential is not being harnessed, as policies need to be targeted to specific contexts to maximize their performance.


Proximate variables are not the only way to specify targets for FMI. Non-government FMI often use fire and haze occurrence itself as a basis for the selection of targets for intervention resources more frequently than government initiatives.

For example, of business- and NGO-driven FMI that employ sanctions and rewards, for the majority disbursement is conditional on performance, while government initiatives emphasize adherence to prescribed codes of conduct that are often broadly applied in areas where the evidence base suggests nuance is needed.

Similarly, the majority of business-driven interventions explicitly employ fire history in site selection for FMI, while until recently (i.e. Peatland Restoration Agency), government FMI tended not to do so.

While the use of proximate targeting variables is similar across sectors, more direct methods are employed by non-government initiatives. This divergence in tools suggests potential for cross-sector policy learning.


CIFOR’s research will continue through end 2017. Further analysis will include an elaborated, systematic and comprehensive categorization of the scalar and sectorial characteristics of the institutional framework behind FMI and their policy targeting performance.

This will hopefully enable reflection on the specific competencies of the diverse groups determining environmental governance in Indonesia, indicate potential for policy learning, and point to gaps between the content of FMI and the base of scientific evidence that could be addressed in the future.

By Una Jefferson and Rachel Carmenta, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Rachel Carmenta at

This research was supported by DFID-KNOWFOR.

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