A comprehensive, map-based analysis of the scale and pace of change affecting Indonesia's forests and the forces and actors that are driving deforestation -- turning Indonesia from a forest-rich country to a forest-poor country.

Executive Summary

Indonesia is endowed with some of the most extensive and biologically diverse tropical forests in the world. Tens of millions of Indonesians depend directly on these forests for their livelihoods, whether gathering forest products for their daily needs or working in the wood-processing sectors of the economy. The forests are home to an abundance of flora and fauna unmatched in any country of comparable size. Even today, almost every ecological expedition that sets out to explore Indonesia's tropical forests returns with discoveries of new species.

But a tragedy is unfolding in Indonesia. The country now finds itself the unwelcome center of world attention, as domestic and international outrage mounts over the rampant destruction of a great natural resource. Indonesia's "economic miracle" of the 1980s and 1990s turns out to have been based, in part, on ecological devastation and abuse of local people's rights and customs. For example, one of the country's fastest growing sectors, the pulp and paper industry, has not established the plantations necessary to provide a secure supply of pulpwood. Instead, pulpmills rely largely on wholesale clearing of natural forest. The economy is plagued by lawlessness and corruption.

Illegal logging has been rampant for years and is believed to have destroyed some 10 million ha of forest. Indonesia's wood-processing industries operate in a strange legal twilight, in which major companies that---until the economic crisis of 1997---attracted billions of dollars in Western investment, obtain more than half their wood supplies from illegal sources. Wood is routinely smuggled across the border to neighboring countries, costing the Indonesian government millions of dollars in lost revenues each year.

Although the evidence of destruction is mounting, the picture has been muddied by conflicting data, dis-information, claim and counterclaim. The need for an objective appraisal of the situation is urgent - one that will provide a sound information base for every individual and organization seeking to bring about positive change.

The data difficulties are formidable, but this report sets out to meet that need. It provides a comprehensive summary of the scale and pace of change affecting Indonesia's forests and identifies the forces and actors that are driving deforestation. Forest Watch Indonesia and Global Forest Watch have compiled the best available official data and reports from environmentalists in the field to address the following questions:

  • How much of Indonesia's forest cover is left, and how much has been lost over the past 50 years?
  • What is the condition of remaining forest cover today?
  • What are the major driving forces behind deforestation, and who are the principal actors?
  • Given current political and economic conditions in Indonesia, what are the prospects for forest policy reform?

Our findings do not provide grounds for much optimism, despite clear signs of change in Indonesia.

The major bilateral and multilateral donors are now working actively with the Indonesian government to develop a strategy and action plan for reform. The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is committed to implementing specific actions at the national level and has recently endorsed a wide-ranging regional plan to combat illegal logging.

Yet even if current policy reforms are successful, it is clear that Indonesia is in transition from being a forest-rich country to a forest-poor country, following the path of the Philippines and Thailand.

Millions of hectares of former forest are now covered in degraded forest remnants, scrub, and the ubiquitous alang-alang grass. With this loss of forest, Indonesia is losing biodiversity, wood supply, income, and ecosystem services.

Degraded forest lands can be replanted and man-aged to provide wood, tree crops, fruits, and other non-timber products. Ecosystem services such as freshwater regulation and soil retention can be restored. Part of the tragedy of Indonesia's forests is that the current industrial timber plantation program, and the system of forest conversion to plantation crops, have not contributed to sustainable forest management but rather have accelerated deforestation.

Officially, decisions in the forest sector are no longer oriented toward clearance and conversion but, in reality, clearance and conversion continue. The system should be restructured to require the establishment of new plantations on the vast areas of degraded land that are already available for planting. The requirement should be enforced. Indonesia is at a crossroads where much of its natural resource base has been destroyed or degraded, but much still remains. Land development for plantations to supply timber and valuable export crops is a vital part of the country's economic strategy.

In coming years, the easier route will be to allow logging operations and plantations - and the wasted land that accompanies their development -- to spread over the remaining natural forests, rewarding developers with huge unearned windfall profits from forest clearance. The harder but ultimately more sustainable route will be to reclaim the land that currently lies idle and conserve the primary forest that remains. Sixty four million hectares of forest have been cut down over the past 50 years. There is no economic or ethical justification for another 64 million hectares to be lost over the next 50 years.

Togu Manurung
Director, Forest Watch Indonesia

Jonathan Lash
President, World Resources Institute