Eleven forest areas in Papua proposed to become customary forests – battling the lack of recognition

Between 2022 and 2023, various indigenous groups in Papua have proposed the recognition of customary forests to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF). Recognising these forests is vital for protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. In the Indonesian legal system, the recognition of customary territories is not the same as the determination of the status of customary forests. Recognition of customary territories is carried out at the local government level, while the status of customary forests is issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Nine clans from the Wambon Kenemopte Tribe in Boven Digoel Regency, South Papua, have submitted proposals. These clans include Kinggo Kambenap, Tenggare, Aute, Kanduga, Ekoki (Aiwat Village), Ekoki (Kampung Subur), Kemi, Eninggugop, and Wauk. Additionally, proposals came from the Gelek Malak Kalawilis Pasa in Sorong Regency and the Afsya people in Konda South Sorong District. The total forest area proposed is 245,506 hectares.

Processing delays

Yuli Prasetyo Nugroho, Head of the Sub-Directorate of Determination of Customary Forests and Forest Rights at MoEF, stated that the ministry is processing proposals from the Afsya Tribe and Gelek Malak Kalawilis Pasa with local governments. He noted that many areas are outside forest regions or under legal disputes, preventing immediate recognition. Many areas are designated for Oil Palm Plantation Use Rights (HGU).

Documentation challenges

Franky Samperante, Director of the Bentala Rakyat Heritage Foundation, highlighted the extensive documentation required for proposals. The Afsya people must correct errors in the Decree of the Regent of South Sorong. The deadline for completing these requirements is 31 July 2024.

Samperante estimated that 2,061,538 hectares of forest in Papua have been converted to plantation companies and industrial plantation forests (HTI), with 120,255 hectares cleared and 1,948,283 hectares remaining under indigenous control.

Insufficient recognition

Kasmita Widodo, Head of the Customary Territory Registration Agency (BRWA), emphasised that MoEF’s recognition is insufficient. Only 39,841 hectares have been recognised, despite over 11 million hectares of potential customary forests mapped in Papua. Verification intensified only in 2022, causing delays, and the lack of regional regulations remains a significant barrier.

Impact on indigenous livelihoods

Irene Thesia, an indigenous woman from South Sorong Regency, stressed the link between forest depletion and the survival of indigenous peoples. She fears plantation companies threaten their way of life. Thesia emphasised that indigenous livelihoods depend on customary forests and urged the Ministry to refrain from issuing plantation permits in Papua.

Advocacy and government support

Samperante stated that NGOs have been crucial in assisting communities, but local governments and MoEF must collaborate more effectively to accelerate recognition. He stressed the importance of recognising and respecting indigenous knowledge and ensuring social, legal, and economic security for indigenous peoples.