Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest

Starling Resource produces a bi-weekly Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest email for circulation to a broader cohort of practitioners, funders, and experts. The purpose of the digest is to present readers with a brief, easily digestible summary of significant, recent news items, reports, and papers relevant to conservation, sustainable development, and the environment in Indonesia, compiled from domestic Indonesian and international media sources. The digest is produced once every two weeks throughout the year. If you are interested in receiving the digest, please let us know by email at or subscribe here

News Digest
9th Edition :  9 May 2018

Marine & Fisheries

Indonesia wants to stay away from South China Sea conflicts
− Antara, 29 April 2018
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto said Indonesia does not want to get involved in South China Sea conflict and hopes that no country would ignite a fire in that conflict. Speaking on side-lines of the 32nd ASEAN Summit Conference in Singapore, the minister dismissed the suggestion that Indonesia is involved. "I said there is no conflict, no border problem with any other country." Beijing’s controversial “nine dotted line” overlaps with Indonesia`s territorial waters and EEZ in the area around the Natuna islands. A few days earlier, Indonesian Military Chief Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said 2,000 soldiers would be moved to the Natuna islands and that new port facilities, a helicopter hangar and a hospital were expected to be commissioned in May, 2019. Parliament Speaker Bambang Soesatyo expressed approval for the planned military build-up.

Cities from the sea: the true cost of reclaimed land
− Wade Shepard, The Guardian 2 May 2018
Land reclamation in Asia has now reached epidemic proportions. Beijing has put an end to some land reclamation projects in China earlier this year, but other Asian cities – including Penang, Manila, Phnom Penh, Colombo, and Dubai – are picking up where China left off. At the same time, reclamation in the South China Sea is repeatedly bringing that region to the brink of conflict and sourcing sand for reclamation has become a major problem. Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam have already banned sand export, with reports of a multibillion dollar black market in sand run by organized crime syndicates. Some of Indonesia’s Riau Islands have mysteriously disappeared – loaded onto barges and shipped to nearby Singapore, reports suggest. Mageswari Sangaralingam, a research officer for Friends of the Earth Malaysia, says reclamation meant the annihilation of mangroves, wetlands and reefs, destroying the habitats and breeding grounds for marine life.

Indonesia tuna harvest strategy to debut at Bali conference
− Undercurrent News, 1 May 2018
Indonesia government authorities will debut a new strategy for harvesting skipjack and yellowfin tuna in tropical waters at the Third Bali Tuna Conference and Sixth International Coastal Tuna Business Forum scheduled for May 31-June 1, according to a press release from the International Pole & Line Foundation. The strategy, which will cover Fisheries Management Areas WPP 713, WPP 714 and WPP 715, has been under development by Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) and other stakeholders since December 2014, and has already progressed through several technical meetings and consultations, according to the press release. Once implemented in the three WPPs, the Indonesian government and its partners will seek to replicate the strategy in other Indonesian waters and with other species.

Researcher: shrimp farm damages mangrove forests the most
− Shinta Maharani, Tempo 25 April 2018
Research by the Development and Innovation Agency of Ministry of Environment and Forestry discovered that Indonesia has the fastest rate of mangrove deforestation in the world, citing  the massive development of shrimps farm as one key driver. Expanding the areas of shrimp farms results in removal of mangroves, which causes the soil to decompose rapidly. Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Muhammad Firman, the Director of Soil and Water Conservation and the Ministry said Indonesia was losing 52,000 hectares of mangrove forest per year. “The most significant causes are expansion of land used for farming, pond, and followed by infrastructure,” Firman said at the Asia Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, April 24.  In a bid to suppress the high rate of mangrove loss, the government is expected to issue a new regulation on restoring and rehabilitating degraded mangrove forests.

Crab crisis: Maryland seafood industry loses 40% of work force in visa lottery
− Scott Dance, Baltimore Sun 3 April 2018
Maryland's seafood industry is in crisis: Nearly half the Eastern Shore’s crab houses have no seasonal workers to pick the meat for sale. A new lottery system being implemented by the Trump administration has made it impossible to obtain visas for their mostly Mexican workforce, including many women who have been coming north to Maryland for crab season for up to two decades. “This is going to cause the price of crab meat to go out of sight,” said Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood on Hoopers Island. “It looks like it’s a matter of time before they’re going to shut all of us down.” Many of the crabs sold in Maryland come from the Carolinas or Louisiana, and some meat comes from Asia or Venezuela. The USA is the biggest market for Indonesian crab export.

Pirates with black magic’ attack shipping in Indonesian waters
− Eric Frecon, The Conversation 27 April 2018
Sea muggings in Indonesia are a major concern for small and middle-sized vessels. There are two different categories of the so-called “pirates”. The first are local taxi-boat drivers and local fishermen who hide in mangroves along straits and steal valuables from boats passing close to shore. They put on masks and use their own household machetes as weapons when they strike. “Black magic” gives them confidence—believing water from sorcerers (dukun) will make their sampans invisible. The second group consists of young people from remote Indonesian islands such as North Sumatra and Flores who are hired as freelance henchman (anak buah) to hijack a vessel. During the operation, the ship crew are either taken hostage or left at sea on a lifeboat. Once on board, another crew takes over to sell the cargo.

Raja Ampat launches environmental education module
− Moses Ompusunggu, The Jakarta Post 3 May 2018
To commemorate National Education Day on May 2, Raja Ampat regency in West Papua launched on an environmental education module for local sixth-grade students to learn more about this world-renowned marine tourist area. The module was developed by Raja Ampat Regency's Education and Culture Agency, Tourism Agency and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency, as well as The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Indonesia. The module touches on the relationship between marine tourism and climate change and is the latest document launched for Raja Ampat's students, following the opening of two earlier modules on the same topic for fourth-grade and fifth-grade students in 2016.

Forestry & Land Use

What’s next for the Indonesia’s stalled indigenous rights bill?
− Cory Rogers, Mongabay 3 May 2018
The fate of a long-awaited bill on the rights of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples was in jeopardy last month when the home ministry expressed the view that the bill was not necessary. Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo pointed to 16 existing ministerial regulations which pertain to Indonesia’s indigenous peoples. Those regulations are the same chaotic mix of rules that Widodo pledged to simplify through the passage of the new  law.  Following an outcry from indigenous rights advocates, the ministry has backtracked on its position, but it remains uncertain whether the bill will make it through the legislative process before the end of the current parliament term. But even those pushing for the bill to be passed say it is far from perfect. One criticism is that the bill creates new hoops for indigenous communities to jump through on the path to securing tenure over their land and forests.

China agrees to increase palm oil imports from Indonesia
− Marguerita Afra Sapiie, The Jakarta Post 7 May 2018
President Joko Widodo and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang agreed on Monday to bolster trade between their two countries, including an increase in Indonesia's crude palm oil (CPO) exports to China. Li’s visit marked the fifth year of the Indonesia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The two leaders held a bilateral meeting and discussed ways to improve cooperation. "Premier Li Keqiang has especially agreed to increase [Indonesia's] palm oil exports to China by up to 500,000 tons [per year]," Jokowi said in a joint statement after the meeting on Monday.  China is a major importer of Indonesian palm oil.  In 2017, Indonesia exported 3.73 million tons of CPO to China, an increase of 16% over the previous year.

Indonesia's regional elections take a toll on environment
− Moses Ompusunggu, The Jakarta Post 4 May 2018
Testimony by a palm oil businessman Hery Susanto Gun, at the Jakarta Corruption Court has revealed how local elections have done more harm than good to the environment, at least in some cases. The court heard that Rita Widyasari, the suspended regent of Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, financed her political activities with billions of rupiah from Hery, who wanted to secure permits for a concession in a protected peatland area in the regency. Mining companies are also looking at the opportunities to receive permits before or after regional elections. Merah Johansyah, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), said at least 13 regions participating in local elections were prone to possibly irregular mining permit transactions during the polls. According to Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) Issuing extractive business permits on of the most common corrupt practices for regional leaders in Indonesia, along with misusing village funds, disbursing social funds, promotion for civil servants and misusing authority in goods and services procurement.

Indonesia environment minister rebuffs groups who want to preserve secondary forest
− Michael Taylor, Reuters 23 April 2018
Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry rebuffed conservationists who want the government to add secondary forests to its current moratorium on issuing new licenses to use land designated as primary forest. Environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Resources Institute have urged the country to extend the ban to include secondary forests—meaning previously cleared forest where secondary woody growth has again taken over. Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that extending the moratorium to secondary forests could undermine the country’s economic development goals. “We have to think about it, because Indonesia has a huge population and we’re still in the progress of developing,” she said. Bakar said the government’s main priority is assessing which land may be licensed for development, while deciding on the designation of secondary forests may come later.

Palm oil lobby turns to Holy See
— Anton Hermansyah, The Jakarta Post 5 May 2018
The Indonesian government is seeking support from the Vatican to lobby against the European Union’s plans to ban biodiesel imports. Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan visited the Holy See on April 25 to meet with Cardinal Peter Turkson, director of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. During the meeting, the cardinal expressed concern over the fate of oil palm farmers and the millions of other people whose livelihoods depend on the industry, Luhut said. Luhut added that the cardinal had proposed the idea of holding a seminar on palm oil at the Vatican’s Pontifical University in May. Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (GAPKI) executive director Danang Girindrawardana said that the seminar would focus on the role of palm oil in poverty alleviation in Indonesia, as well as its importance to the effort to reach its sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Palm buyers urged to work on sustainability, not ban vegetable oil
− Michael Taylor, The Jakarta Post 25 April 2018
British supermarket chain Iceland said earlier this month that it would remove palm oil from its own-brand food by the end of 2018 as part of efforts to stem deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. But according to Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), it would be much better for buyers and consumers to collaborate with sustainability bodies and schemes, like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and work to strengthen those standards. The managing director at Iceland, which trades from 900 stores and which specializes in frozen food, said the company did not believe there was such a thing as sustainable palm oil that is available to retailers. "The main issue is not palm oil – it is where it is planted,” he said, speaking on the side-lines of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta.

Indonesian government wants to turn haze-causing Mega Rice Project around
− Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay 3 May 2018
The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) is looking at developing agriculture on abandoned peat swamps from the failed Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan from the mid-1990s. To return the fire-prone wasteland to its former condition, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing is blocking drainage canals, focusing on the biggest canals in the network, while BRG is working to establish an agricultural project in which the land is prepared for planting without burning. The first round of the project, carried out in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, saw seven ha in Pulang Pisau turned into rice paddies. To avoid repeating Suharto’s mistake, the ministry and BRG have mapped areas of shallow peat which potentially could be suitable for agriculture.

Energy, Climate Change & Pollution 

Fuel subsidy to be increased by Rp10 trillion in revised state budget
− Tempo 5 May 2018
The government is set to submit a revised 2018 state budget (APBN-P) which would revise the fuel and oil (BBM) subsidy upwards by Rp10 trillion ($US 714 million). The plan for handling the fuel subsidy was discussed in a coordination meeting to help Pertamina better implement its new task in distributing diesel fuel to regions outside of Java Island, including Madura, and Bali. The decision to restore part of the former fuel subsidy will affect Presidential Decree No. 191/2014 on Fuel and Oil that is scheduled to be completed before the end of this month. A spokesman confirmed that Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan said openly that the reason the government would increase its fuel subsidy was to maintain price stability.

Indonesia pricing policy dispute fuelled Pertamina shake-up
− Fergus Jensen & Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Reuters 25 April 2018
The firing of Pertamina’s former chief executive, Elia Massa Manik, and dismissal of four other executives, coupled with Pertamina’s steep losses on sales of fuel, illustrate the stark dilemma facing the state-run firm. "As a state-owned enterprise, Pertamina's task is not just to seek profit but also to serve the needs of the community," Deputy State-Owned Enterprise Minister Harry Fajar Sampurno said in a statement. Manik had failed to “obey” the wishes of State-Owned Enterprise Minister Rini Soemarno on fuel prices, trying to plead the case for higher prices directly with President Joko Widodo, according to Inas Nasrullah Zubir, a member of a Parliamentary commission overseeing energy. Manik subsequently sent a text message declining to comment on his dismissal but saying Pertamina executives needed to ensure the oil company was not “left behind” while working to meet Indonesia’s energy security goals.

How attractive is Asia for renewables?
− Alaine Johnson, Eco-business 5 May 2018
Despite popular thinking about China’s coal-fuelled economy and smog-ridden cities, no other country can match China’s potential for renewable energy development, according to a new report from Ernst & Young (EY). EY’s latest Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) ranks the top 40 countries in the world in terms of renewable energy investment and deployment opportunities. Besides China (1st), other Asian countries highlighted are India (4th), Japan (8th), the Philippines (21st), and Thailand (30th). Indonesia reclaimed the 38th spot after dropping out of the rankings last year. Yet despite growing demand for energy and abundance of renewable resources, Indonesia is struggling to attract investors. To achieve the government’s ambitious target of 23% renewable energy supplied by 2025, an estimated US $101 billion will need to be invested.

Freeport shares slide on Indonesia environment demands, weaker outlook
− Nicole Mordant, Reuters 24 April 2018
Freeport-McMoRan shares fell 14% on Tuesday after the miner revealed that new environmental demands from Indonesia’s government could delay a new contract for its massive Grasberg copper mine. The world’s biggest listed copper miner also lowered its copper sales forecast and reported weaker-than-expected quarterly profit. Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport has been in negotiations with Indonesia to secure long-term operating rights at Grasberg following the government’s introduction of new rules last year aimed at retaining greater control of its resources.  The company said the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry wants to change the way it handles mining waste.  “We had an agreement with the government that over the life of the mine, we would retain 50 percent of the tailings on land. They’re now saying it should be 95 percent, which just cannot be done,” Freeport Chief Executive Richard Adkerson said on a conference call. He said the tailings, which are moved from the mine area by a river system to a lowland area, are benign.

Deadly fire erupts at illegal oil well in Indonesia
− The New York Times, 25 April 2018
A fire erupted at an illegal, backyard, oil well in a village in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh on Wednesday, killing at least 18 people and injuring about 40 others, authorities said. Firefighters and other emergency personnel, along with villagers, were still trying to contain the blaze on Wednesday evening. Illegal well operations are common in Indonesian regions where oil is present, including on the islands of Sumatra and Java. “Oil doesn’t come up to the surface easily in these old wells, so they try to pump it up manually, then try to separate the oil by distillation in barrels, and that’s where they probably had the fire,” said Mangantar Marpaung, former chief of the Indonesian Mining Fire and Rescue Agency. “Then they sell it as kerosene to the local market, or for motorcycles and fishing boats,” he said. “Those are their customers. The local governments know, but because they can’t provide any other jobs, they look the other way.”

Rawa Pening and Citarum as pilot project for water conservation program in Indonesia
− Business Insider, 27 April 2018
To address the lack of access to clean water in Indonesia, the government plans to build 65 dams and finish 15 lake restorations by 2019, according to Basuki Hadimuljono, Minister of Public Works and Housing. "Specifically, we are focusing on the restoration within Rawa Pening Lake in Central Java and cleaning up the upstream area of the Citarum River in West Java.  The Citarum River, considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world over a decade ago, currently provides water supply for more than 27 million people in West Java.  President Jokowi has announced priority programs to ensure that the Citarum River's water will be drinkable again by 2025. The Ministry of Public Works and Housing of Republic Indonesia initiated real movements to banish any waste from the lifeline river.

Conservation & Protected Area

Scientists say Chinese-backed dam risks orangutan habitat
− ABC News [Associated Press], 4 May 2018
Scientists are calling for cancellation of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam in Indonesia that threatens the habitat of a newly discovered orangutan species numbering only 800 animals.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, the experts say the 510-megawatt dam in Sumatra will flood or otherwise significantly alter some of the animal’s habitat, likely making it impossible to reconnect the pieces of fragmented forests which the primates are spread across, a crucial step toward ensuring the species survives. The dam is being built by China's state-owned Sinohydro, which is reportedly financed by Chinese loans. Critics of the project say it's part of China's "Belt and Road" plans which they describe as an attempt to carpet Asia with Chinese-financed infrastructure and extend its economic and political influence.




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