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
2019 – 9: 1 May 2019

Marine & Fisheries

Indonesia, Vietnam clash again at sea
—  Agnes Anya and Dian Septiari, The Jakarta Post, 30 April 2019
Indonesia’s diplomatic ties with Vietnam have been strained again after a collision between an Indonesian Navy ship and a Vietnamese patrol vessel in waters contested by both sides. On Saturday, the Indonesian Navy reported that a vessel belonging to Vietnam’s Fisheries Resources Surveillance Agency (VFRS) rammed one of its warships to obstruct the arrest of a Vietnam-flagged boat suspected of fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. “The actions taken by [the crew of the] Vietnamese surveillance ship was very dangerous for both personnel from the Indonesian military vessel and the Vietnamese ships themselves. Their actions […] violated international law,” Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) said. This was not the first time that tensions between the neighbors have flared up this year. KKP Minister Susi Pudjiastuti had previously demanded a formal apology from Hanoi following two similar incidents in February. Jakarta has since stepped up its presence in the Natunas and rolled out plans to develop the region as a fisheries hub.

Indonesia trains its citizens to deal with stranded marine mammals
—  Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 24 April 2019
The waters around Indonesia serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, but these cetaceans are often found dead on Indonesian beaches. Last year, Indonesia had 54 strandings of marine mammals, according to Whale Stranding Indonesia (WSI), a group that logs such events. However, very little is known about why this happens, and when it does, very few Indonesians living near the coast know how to respond. To help prevent the deaths of stranded marine mammals, the government is establishing a network of trained first responders. With the help of civil society groups, more than 900 people have been trained in some 30 workshops across the country, mostly in Borneo and Bali. But experts say what’s most important is reducing the threats to marine mammals by improving the management of marine habitats and tackling pollution in the sea.

Shark fins, meat still delicacy in Jakarta
— A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, The Jakarta Post, 20 April 2019
Shark fin and meat curing businesses are run with caution in Jakarta, where the price of a small bowl of shark fin soup can reach into the millions of rupiah following restrictions on the shark meat trade. One such businessperson is Luwih, 40, who runs a business specializing in shark and stingray meat near Muara Angke dock in North Jakarta. Luwih cures around 3 tons of shark meat and fins every week, as well as 2 tons of stingray meat supplied by fishermen from outside Jakarta. She then sells the dried products to various wholesellers for Rp 26,000 (US$1.85) to Rp 175,000 per kilogram. WWF Indonesia’s Bycatch and Shark Conservation Coordinator Dwi Ariyoga Gautama said that Jakarta had become one of the biggest shark meat markets in the country. The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has not totally banned the trade of all shark meat, only curbing the sale of those deemed the most endangered. Among the 117 species of sharks found in Indonesian waters, only whale sharks are fully protected.

Indonesia probes foreign vessels ‘in disguise’
—    Fransisca Christy Rosana et. al., Tempo, 11 April 2019
The Indonesian Task Force for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) is on alert for foreign vessels suspected of operating "in disguise" as Indonesian-flagged. Satgas 115 Special Staff member, Yunus Husein, said his unit works to verify reports from the public and marine authorities. "Once there is a suspicion that a ship was built with foreign money, we will check it," Yunus said. The presence of foreign ships disguised as Indonesian vessels was revealed by Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, who stated at a press conference that there are 300 fishing vessels operating under Indonesian registration that actually belong to foreigners. The minister said she suspected that this practice involved Indonesian citizens ranging from fishermen to officials to politicians. Since January 2019 through 9 April, a total of 38 fishing vessels have been for seized for illegal fishing, 28 of which were foreign-owned.

Forestry & Land Use

Vice President Kalla criticizes palm oil ‘discrimination’ at BRI forum
—    Rachmadea Aisyah, The Jakarta Post, 30 April 2019
Vice President Jusuf Kalla attacked discrimination and negative campaigning against Indonesian palm oil under the pretext of environmental conservation at the second Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing, arguing that this has hampered the country’s ability to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Vice President said sustainability issues surrounding palm oil production had been taken seriously by palm oil producing countries, but that critics of palm oil ignored Indonesia’s counter-arguments, specifically referring to the EU’s decision to classify palm oil as a high-risk commodity. Following the BRI summit, the Council for Palm Oil Producing Countries issued a statement saying that it viewed the [EU] delegated act as an effort to isolate and exclude palm oil from the renewable energy sector.

‘Death by a thousand cuts’: vast expanse of rainforest lost in 2018
—    Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 25 April 2019
Millions of hectares of pristine tropical rainforest were destroyed in 2018 with beef, chocolate and palm oil among the main causes. Clear-cutting of primary forest by loggers and cattle ranchers in Brazil dominated the destruction, but losses were also high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia. But Indonesia is the only country where government protections appear to be reducing forest losses. The destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests has been driven by the expansion of palm oil plantations, but the rate of loss has begun to fall and is now at its lowest level since 2003. The government’s policies appear to be working, but 2019 is likely to be a dry year and fires exacerbated by the draining of land could spike again. “It is really tempting to celebrate a second year of decline since peak tree cover loss in 2016,” Frances Seymour from the World Resources Institute (which produced the analysis) said, “but if you look back over the last 18 years, it is clear that the overall trend is still upwards.”

Former Minister of Forestry linked to coal mining permit irregularities
—    Hussein Abri Dongoran et. al., Tempo English, 15 April 2019
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has discovered irregularities in the issuance of a coal mining permit involving the former Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan, now speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). In 2010, Zulkifli Hasan issued a permit letter allowing PT Baramega Citra Mulia Persada (Baramega) to mine coal in a production forest area in South Kalimantan just five days after Borneo Lintas Khatulistiwa (PT BLK) became a major shareholder in Baramega. The KPK alleges that PT BLK was actually owned by Zainudin Hasan, a non-active regent of South Lampung regency and the brother of Zulkifli Hasan, who as Minister of Forestry had approved the permit. Zainudin Hasan allegedly organized the placement of his cronies in PT BLK, and profited from the permit issued by his brother. Zainudin Hasan was arrested in July 2018 and now faces a possible 15-year sentence and a fine of Rp 66 billion. KPK Deputy Chairman Laode Muhammad Syarif said the commission will also investigate persons involved in the issuance of Baramega’s forest permit.

Indonesian official fights corrupt palm concession
—    Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 24 April 2019
A local official in Indonesia has mounted a non-legal challenge against the national government for permitting the development of a corruption-riddled oil palm concession in his district. Amirudin Rauf, the head of Buol Regency in the eastern Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, filed his complaint under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s dispute mechanism. He’s seeking to reverse the minister’s decision earlier this year to allow the conversion of 100 km2 of rainforest in Buol into an oil palm plantation. Minister Siti Bakar exercised her discretionary authority to change the land-use status of the area from “forest” – where plantations are forbidden – to “non-forest,” where they’re allowed under a 2015 government regulation and a 2016 ministerial regulation. “Based on the two regulations, the environment minister can just issue [permits] based on his or her wishes,” said Viktor Tandiasa, a lawyer representing the Buol Regency administration in the dispute.

Oil palm plantations’ partnership with farmers under scrutiny
—    Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 25 April 2019
Palm oil companies are currently under scrutiny from Indonesia’s independent business watchdog for their lack of commitment to comply with the regulation requiring them to allocate 20% of their plantation area to smallholder plasma farmers under the Plasma Transmigration Program. “We are not talking about a monopoly or unhealthy business practices, our focus in this matter is on how the government can ensure fair welfare distribution in the palm oil sector by allocating 20% of the land to communities,” said Guntur Saragih, Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) commissioner, who is spearheading the investigation. The deputy director of environmental group Sawit Watch, Achmad Surambo, said there are more than 200 palm oil companies in Central Kalimantan that did not have land cultivation rights, which subsequently exempted them from the 20% allocation policy. He added that he appreciated the KPPU’s aim to probe the partnership program and expected that by year-end there would be an official list of communities or other entities that should hold 20% of the land area.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution 

Calls for RI to offer renewable energy, not coal
—    Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 26 April 2019
Experts suggest that Indonesia should take advantage of the trillions of US dollars that will be spent under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop clean energy in the country. Currently Indonesia is set to offer at least four coal-fired power plant (PLTU) projects to Chinese investors at the second BRI forum. Instead, “why don’t we use the BRI to boost investment in large-scale renewable energy power plants,” said Adhityani Putri, the director of regional energy think tank Center for Energy Research Asia (CERA). From 2013 to 2018, China’s foreign investment in the energy sector was mainly focused on coal-fired power plants. Local environmental group Ecological Action and People’s Emancipation Association (AEER) said the government should start to offer renewable energy projects to China, currently one of the world’s leading producers of solar panels. However, Putri said that Chinese investors were focusing on coal-fired power plants instead of renewable energy-based power generation here because Indonesia still preferred coal-fired power.

Indonesia electricity chief charged with bribery over coal-fired power plant
—    Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 25 April 2019
Indonesian anti-graft investigators have charged the head of state-owned power utility PLN, Sofyan Basir, with bribery in connection with a coal-fired plant on the island of Sumatra. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) alleges that Basir, the chief executive of PLN, took bribes in exchange for awarding contracts for the construction of the $900 million Riau-1 power plant. PLN had earlier suspended the project following multiple corruption allegations that have ensnared a government minister and a member of parliament, among others. The project was awarded by PLN subsidiary Pembangkitan Jawa Bali (PJB) to a private consortium that includes a subsidiary of Singapore-listed energy firm BlackGold Natural Resources without going through a transparent bidding process. Sofyan faces charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years and fines of up to Rp 1 billion ($70,000). The PLN chief was in France on a work trip when the KPK made its announcement. PLN’s general counsel, Dedeng Hidayat, said the company would cooperate with the KPK in the investigation.

Conservation & Protected Areas 

Taman Safari Indonesia accused in illegal protected animal trade case
—    Mustafa Silalahi, Edi Faisol, Tempo English, 15 April 2019
Indonesia’s National Police Criminal Investigation Division (Bareskrim) has seized eight animals from Taman Safari, a wild animal theme park in Bogor. Officials said the animals belonged to an animal trader suspected of “laundering” illegally captured prohibited wild animals through fake “donations” using Taman Safari’s status as an ex-situ conservation institution. The police learned of the Taman Safari’s ties to the illegal animal trade when they apprehended Dicky Rusvinda, broker for an international animal trading network, which led to the exposure of ten trading networks, including a Suraybaya-based group believed to have sold 41 Komodo dragons to international customers and shipped two orangutans to a customer in Bangladesh in May 2018. Since 2017, Bareskrim has apprehended a total of 796 traders of prohibited animals and seized an estimated 15,640 animals. The total annual illegal trade in protected animals in Indonesia is estimated at Rp 13 billion (US$914.2 million), according to the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia.

Innovation needed to end human-elephant conflict
—    Ivany Atina Arbi, The Jakarta Post, 28 April 2019
Over the past few years, the conflict between humans and elephants on the island of Sumatra has become more and more intense. Massive land conversions across the island since the 1980s have turned forested areas (the natural habitat of the Sumatran elephant) into plantations and residential areas. According to WWF Indonesia, three or more elephants were killed in Aceh, Jambi and Lampung last year in conflicts with humans. “Effective and innovative tools to drive elephants away from plantations and villages is needed,” said Chik Rini, a communication officer at WWF Indonesia. WWF Indonesia has initiated a competition to encourage the design of elephant repelling tools. The top three proposals will win a prize of Rp 10 million (US$705) and the opportunity to visit Aceh and live in an area inhabited by elephants to test their proposed tool. “Hopefully, this competition can help us to save the elephants as well as human beings,” Rini said.

Rise in crocodile sightings linked to habitat degradation in Indonesia
—    Nurdin Tubaka, Mongabay, 18 April 2019
The capture of a saltwater crocodile by Indonesian villagers on Pulau Seram in Maluku province last February was the latest in a series of increasingly frequent – and occasionally deadly – sightings of the reptiles near human settlements. According to the local wildlife conservation agency, BKSDA, Maluku tops the nation in crocodile sightings close to human settlements.The BKSDA is looking into what might be behind the growing number of crocodile sightings. Mukhtar Amin Ahmad, the Maluku BKSDA chief, said he believed it might be driven by destruction or damage to the reptiles’ habitat from blast fishing with explosives. Depletion of local fish stocks might be another factor, he said, as well as conversion of coastal habitats into farm land. Saltwater crocodiles prefer rivers or estuaries with murky water, plenty of tree logs or roots, and an abundant food supply far from human activities, Ahmad said. The agency has advised locals to remain vigilant, particularly when fishing.

Hope, cut off by a road
—    Febrianti, Tempo English, 20 April 2019
Harapan Forest, the last lowland tropical rainforest in Sumatra, is an important habitat for 26 rare and critically endangered species, including the Sumatran tiger. But now this former production forest concession area is threatened by the planned construction of 31.8-kilometer-long mining road that would provide a route to transport coal from a mine to Pulau Gading village. As many as 15 NGOs oppose construction of the road, which they say would threaten forest restoration efforts. “Tearing through the forest, the road would threaten the livelihood of some 220 families from the Batin Sembilan society,” said Warsi Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI Warsi) Director Rudisyaf, representing the NGO coalition. He added that the coal mining company should be able to utilize existing roads instead, such as the ConocoPhillips' road or Bumi Persada Permai’s road rather than building a new one. If constructed, the road would provide new access for forest encroachment, illegal logging, and the poaching of endangered animals.


How a picturesque fishing town became smothered in trash
—  John Vidal, HuffPost, 10 April 2019
You can smell the beach before you see it. The stench of decay hits at around 100 yards. A layer of plastic trash several feet thick covers the black sand beach in Muncar, an otherwise picturesque fishing town in the East Java province. This garbage hotspot sits at the mouths of four rivers carrying waste from dozens of small towns, villages and factories out to the sea. Thousands of tons of plastic flow out from the port each year, mixing with additional industrial and household trash washing over from the neighboring island of Bali. The trash problem here is getting worse, despite recent cleanup efforts by the community and an influx of foreign money. Similar scenarios are playing out across Indonesia, a country that has become emblematic of the world’s addiction to disposable plastic goods. The embarrassed central government has pledged US$1 billion a year to reduce marine debris 70% by 2025. But the tide of plastic continues to rise, with no sign of turning.

West Papua to boost exports to Pacific countries
—    Victor Mambor, The Jakarta Post, 18 April 2019
Papua province plans to open a new export route for agricultural products, including Wamena coffee, to enable products from Papua to reach 13 million people in 14 Pacific countries, according to Governor Lukas Enembe. The governor expressed support for the central government’s initiative to encourage growth of the province’s agricultural sector. “Papua has to be the gateway to ASEAN and Pacific countries,” Enembe said. However, while Pacific countries need economic cooperation with Papua, the province still lacks adequate facilities for direct exports. “The President has approved of the plan. But the Transportation Ministry has yet to give its approval. We have to push it to accelerate exports from Papua,” he said. One of the commodities the province will champion is Wamena coffee, grown on 1,910 hectares of land in Jayawijaya regency. The province says Wamena coffee has a distinct flavor that is suitable for export. In 2017, the province produced 125.8 tons of the coffee. Other championed export commodities are vanilla and flour.

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