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 – 18: 4 September 2019

Marine & Fisheries

Indonesia affirms commitment to sustainable fishing with MSC
—  Undercurrent News, 28 August 2019
The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have reaffirmed their commitment to cooperating in the promotion of sustainable fishing in Indonesia. The memorandum of understanding signed by Nilanto Perbowo, KKP Secretary General, and Patrick Caleo, Asia Pacific regional director for the MSC, focuses on making the MSC’s market-based sustainability programs more accessible to fisheries in Indonesia. It covers the development of Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs), capacity building, and sharing of sustainable fishing best practices. "We hope that the MSC can assist the Indonesian government in giving global market recognition to Indonesian fisheries products that are free from [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) practices]. We hope the MSC can help push Indonesian fisheries product to the global market," Perbowo was quoted as saying. Indonesia is the second-largest fisheries producer in the world with fish products accounting for 54% of the national protein intake.

Six weeks later, Indonesians wait for answers while oil coats their beaches
—  Muktita Suhartono, The New York Times, 27 August 2019
Fish and crustaceans usually run strong in the Java Sea, but the men of Sedari village, on the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Java, have no plans to go out on its waters. Weeks after an unexpected gush of crude oil from an offshore well sent an inky stain across 12 miles of shoreline home to a dozen villages, Sedari’s fishermen are still grounded by the huge spill. Nurji, 25, was born in Sedari and began working the seas as a teenager. These days, rather than fishing, he spends his days ferrying bags of polluted sand from the devastated beach. “There’s no point going out there,” he said of the polluted waters. “There are no fish to catch.” Most of Indonesia’s fishermen barely make a living from the maritime bounty of the world’s largest archipelagic nation. Before, Mr. Nurji, the Sedari fisherman, could count on $14 a day from his catch, plus more on weekends when he took tourists on fishing excursions. Both income streams have dried up.

Indonesia and Chile to strengthen marine and fisheries cooperation
—  Ade Irma, Antara News, 31 August 2019
The Indonesian and Chilean governments have publically declared their commitment to strengthening cooperation in improving their marine and fishery sectors. "[Our cooperation] will chiefly focus on addressing illegal fishing and pollution,” said Safri Burhanudin, Deputy to the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs for Human Resources Coordination, Science and Technology, and Maritime Culture. “One [area of cooperation will be] disaster mitigation, because Chile experiences the same types of natural disasters as Indonesia." Burhanudin explained that the cooperation in disaster mitigation will be aimed at reducing the risks of disasters from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. In addressing environmental issues, the two countries also share similar views with regard to marine debris. The cooperation between Indonesia and Chile will be important as the two countries take care of environmental issues, particularly plastic waste which has become a global issue, Chilean Ambassador to Indonesia Gustavo Ayares Ossandon said.

Film on Thai activist who saved 4,000 sea slaves
—  James Broadbent, Asia Times, 2 September 2019
Singapore is set to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to publicly screen Ghost Fleet, an acclaimed documentary that reveals the full extent of slavery at sea throughout the region. The hero of the documentary, Patima Tungpuchayakul, who is credited with rescuing more than 4,000 fishers and aims to rescue hundreds more, is visiting Singapore with Chutima Sidasathian, the documentary’s field producer, herself a noted activist. In Ghost Fleet, cameras accompany Patima and Chutima and a rescue crew from Thailand on a voyage to remote parts of Indonesia, where they find fishers who have either been deliberately stranded or who have jumped overboard to flee years of abuse. Some rescued fishers have spent five, 10 or even as long as 24 years on remote islands, without their families ever knowing they are still alive. For decades, captains on Thai trawlers took onboard fishermen who had been kidnapped and sold by traffickers or decided to keep other workers at sea indefinitely, without pay. Cambodians, Laos and Myanmarese were considered easier victims than Thais.

Forestry & Land Use

Auditors’ findings weaken Indonesia’s defense of palm oil industry
—  Vincent Lingga, The Jakarta Post, 28 August 2019
The Supreme Audit Agency’s (BPK) findings that millions of hectares of oil palm estates in Sumatra and Kalimantan are currently managed under questionable permits will weaken Indonesia’s efforts to defend the sustainability of the industry in the international market. Unless this matter is clarified in a credible manner, it will be futile for the government to send missions overseas to confront the global campaign against palm oil, suggested Senior BPK auditor Rizal Djalil. He did not elaborate on the discovery when speaking to media, but revealed that almost all big plantation companies in Sumatra and Kalimantan were implicated in permits that were problematic with regard to the right to cultivation, overlapping concessions, concessions on protected forests or peatland and companies’ obligations to empower smallholders. Unlike the Development Finance Comptroller (BPKP), which is an internal auditor of the government, the BPK is a politically independent agency whose executive board members are selected by the House of Representatives. Hence, a BPK audit report is often seen as more credible.

Indonesia probing palm oil companies over forest fires
—  Fransiska Nango, Reuters, 29 August 2019
Indonesian police are investigating three palm oil companies on suspicion of starting fires on Borneo island, where environmentalists say extensive deforestation has occurred to make way for plantations. The Ministry of the Environment and Forests is also investigating 24 other companies on Borneo and Sumatra in connection with fires in their concession area, Rasio Ridho Sani, the ministry’s director general for law enforcement, told reporters. “Previously, we focused more on bringing suspects to civil courts and giving administrative sanctions. But with the forest fires still taking place in 2019, we are using criminal instruments more intensively,” Sani said. The three companies were identified as suspects only by their company initials (SKM, ABP and AER). The burning of forests has become hugely contentious. The ministry has issued warnings to 210 other companies regarding fires in their concession areas. In the January-July period this year 135,747 hectares of land has been burned across the country, compared with to 72,115 hectares in 2018, the ministry said.

New tool shows decline in oil-palm related deforestation in Borneo
—  Monica Evans, CIFOR, 2 September 2019
The felling of old-growth forests for oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo has tracked a steady decline since its 2012 peak, according to the revamped Borneo Atlas, a new tool combining annual satellite data from the past 18 years with information on land ownership. This has created the clearest picture yet of the relationship between deforestation and the development of industrial oil palm and pulp-and-paper plantations on the island of Borneo, which is divided among the three countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The free web atlas, developed by scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), will have significant implications for how companies and governments operate in and around some of the world’s last remaining old-growth tropical forests. Using the Atlas data, scientists have already determined that while annual deforestation rates peaked in 2016, clearance for plantations made up a decreasing portion of this total from 2012-2018, due to a range of factors, including low prices for palm oil, moratoriums on new oil palm and pulpwood plantations, and focus on conversion of peatlands.

West Kalimantan police arrest 52 suspects in wildfire cases
—  Ani Nursalikah, Republika, 27 August 2019
The West Kalimantan police arrested 52 suspects in land and forest fire cases in the province, West Kalimantan Police Chief Inspector General Didi Haryono stated, affirming that the police will adopt stringent legal measures against all involved in land and forest fires. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has revoked the licenses of 10 plantation and industrial forestry companies where some hotspots were found. In several instances, West Kalimantan Governor Sutarmidji has warned of suspension of permits for plantation or industrial forestry (HTI) companies found to have intentionally burned their land or allowed burning to occur. "I will take stern measures against plantation and HTI companies whose concession lands are still on fire. We will suspend their permits, and those lands cannot  be used for five years," he noted. The governor also warned that he would permanently revoke the licenses of companies proven to have deliberately burned land or allowed fire to ravage their areas.

Energy, Climate Change & Pollution

Cultivating consent: challenges and opportunities in the palm oil sector
—  Sophie Chao, New Mandala, 26 August 2019
Indonesia is the world’s top producer of palm oil, but as available land grows scarce on Sumatra and Java, the oil palm frontier is rapidly moving east into West Papua, a region that is home to over three hundred indigenous groups and half of the country’s biodiversity. However, West Papua oil palm developments are routinely designed and implemented without the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous landowners. Indigenous forest-dependent communities face local food insecurity, land dispossession, and suffer from respiratory and skin problems resulting from large-scale forest burning and water contamination. Few have found employment opportunities within the agribusiness sector, as companies prefer to bring in their own labor force or hire non-Papuan migrants. In some cases, government and corporate bodies have invited indigenous landowners to participate in ‘sosialisasi’ before land development begins, but sosialisasi—a term that can be translated loosely as ‘awareness raising’—can also be problematic.

How not to design feed-in tariffs for renewable energy projects
—  James Guild, DevPolicy, 4 September 2019
Despite a wealth of potential sources, Indonesia has struggled to accelerate growth in renewable energy. In 2012, the total installed capacity of grid-connected solar, wind, and biomass energy was 31 MW. By 2017, it had only reached 68 MW. By contrast, the Philippines’ renewable energy sector expanded rapidly from 153 MW to 1,537 MW over the same time period. Both countries used feed-in tariffs, a policy tool whereby the buyer agrees to purchase renewable energy for a period of 20 to 30 years, typically at above market rates in order to promote investment in the sector. The gap between performance in the two countries can be explained by Indonesia’s weak regulatory environment for private capital, inconsistent policy-making process, and large domestic coal reserves linked to a powerful and well-connected extractive industry. While Indonesia’s recent experience with renewable energy has been disappointing, a new regulatory framework could create an opportunity for moderate but realistic capacity gains in places that need it most.

Conservation & Protected Areas

Indonesian court cancels dam project in last stronghold of tigers, rhinos
—  Junaidi Hanahfiah, Mongabay, 2 September 2019
A court in Indonesia’s Aceh province has ordered an end to a planned US$3 billion hydropower plant project in Sumatra’s unique Leuser Ecosystem. Environmental groups had filed a lawsuit against the Aceh government and the dam’s developer earlier this year citing potential environmental destruction and violation of zoning laws. The area is the last place on Earth still home to wild tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants whose habitats would be flooded and fragmented by the dam and its roads and power lines. Villagers in the region were also widely opposed to the project, which they say would have dammed up the river on which they depend and forced them to relocate to make way for the reservoir. The Aceh government violated prevailing regulations, the court found, by permitting the development of forest land greater than 5 hectares. The ruling ordered the developer and the provincial government to halt the project straddling the three districts of Gayo Lues, Aceh Tamiang and East Aceh.

If we lose orangutans, we will lose the forest too
—  Albertus Tiju and Joko Tri Haryanto, The Jakarta Post, 22 August 2019
The government has been intensively campaigning to save orangutans at national and global levels. The fact is, however, that the orangutan population in Indonesia keeps decreasing. What role and value does the orangutan have as a unique species in the nature chain? Indeed, orangutans are partners in human life, as their ability to spread seeds from leftover food supports the regeneration of Kalimantan and Sumatra’s great forests. The forest then supplies oxygen for living things and humans. Now is the time to intensify cross-border orangutan conservation efforts. This includes controlling the threat of forest fires, preventing poaching and wildlife trade, and effectively managing water and land. This can be achieved through a cooperation to end the illegal wildlife trade between Indonesia and Malaysia; reactivating development partner institutions to support cross-border orangutan conservation through the Heart of Borneo (HoB) Initiative; ensuring that a thorough study of maintaining biodiversity as an integral part of the development plan is carried out; and encouraging funding institutions to get involved in cross-border orangutan conservation.

Sumatran elephant sanctuary under threat from bridge, port projects
— Taufik Wijaya, Mongabay, 26 August 2019
The planned construction of a bridge and private port in southern Sumatra threatens to damage one of the last remaining habitats of the island’s critically endangered elephants. The project is part of the South Sumatra provincial government’s tourism development drive, under which it plans to build a bridge from the Sumatra mainland to the island of Bangka. The site where the bridge will begin has also been earmarked for construction of a private port by a subsidiary of Indonesia’s biggest paper producer, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). Environmentalists say the two projects will damage a crucial habitat of the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), which is classified by the IUCN as “critically endangered.”The site includes the Padang Sugihan Sebokor Wildlife Sanctuary, an important hub for elephants which connects smaller populations in several other forest fragments. If the authorities hope to ensure the elephants’ continued survival, they should protect the area from any future development, said Yusuf Bahtimi, from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


Indonesia, ASEAN, and the Indo-Pacific, Part 1 and 2
—  Rizal Sukma, The Jakarta Post, 29 August 2019
ASEAN regional leaders officially endorsed and adopted the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” (AOIP) during the group’s 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in June, calling for the organization to develop its own vision for the future regional order. However, that strategic change is still in process, and the final outcomes remain to be seen. Nonetheless, three developments have emerged. First, a great power game is returning to Southeast Asia. Second, the future of Southeast Asia is increasingly defined by how extra-regional powers interact with each other. And third, key extra-regional powers are beginning to formulate and promote their own vision of regional order. As the AOIP originates from Indonesia, it is logical to expect that Indonesia will continue to take the lead in ensuring that the AOIP does what it is meant to do. Indonesia under President Jokowi is now trying to balance past preference for norm-setting/norm-building with a more action-oriented, more realist, interest-driven initiative in foreign policy. The question is: What should we do next?

Explainer: deepening unrest in Indonesia’s Papua
—  Tom Allard, Reuters, 29 August 2019
Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua on the island of New Guinea - collectively known as Papua - have been racked by civil unrest for almost two weeks. Thousands of people across the vast, resource-rich region have joined rallies protesting against perceived racial discrimination and the government. Some protesters are demanding an independence vote. Grievances have been further inflamed by persistent accounts of human rights abuses and concerns that the region’s mineral and forest wealth has largely benefited Indonesians from outside Papua. On 17 August, a group of Papuan students in the East Java city of Surabaya were taunted and attacked by a mob chanting racist epithets. Police and military personnel were summoned and 43 Papuan students were detained, but later released without charges. Mass demonstrations in Papua started two days later. Indonesian President Joko Widodo condemned the attacks on the students in Surabaya but called for aggrieved Papuans “to be forgiving.” His government has blocked internet access across Papua, a step criticized by rights group and journalists.

‘Green Islam’: Islamic environmentalism in Indonesia
—  Kristina Grossmann, New Mandala, 28 August 2019
Environmental awareness amongst Muslim authorities and Islamic organizations in Indonesia has been rising in recent years as people increasingly recognize and articulate an Islamic environmental ethic and seek to mitigate environmental problems. In their environmental efforts to counter socio-ecological degradation and global warming, Islamic scholars have developed an ethical commitment based on the Qur’an and the Hadiths in order to protect the environment and act more sustainably. In the 2010s, the government and Islamic organizations established dozens of so called eco-pesantren in order to address environmental destruction. To do so, they approached local religious leaders of Islamic mass organizations, drawing on their broad networks of Islamic boarding schools and influential position in society to disseminate information and implement projects. As ties between Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and government institutions are strong, Muslim scholars collaborated with government officials to develop Islamic eco-theology and implemented programs such as waste management and organic farming.

Widodo names Penajam Paser Utara as new capital city
—  Ani Nursalikah, Republika, 26 August 2019
President Joko Widodo has selected Penajam Paser Utara and Kutai Kertanegara in East Kalimantan Province as the sites of the new capital city. "We have concluded that the most ideal location for the new capital city is partly in Penajam Paser Utara District and partly in Kutai Kertanegara District," Widodo said, noting that the government had conducted multiple studies on candidates to replace Jakarta as the country’s capital. The president explained that East Kalimantan met the requirements that the new capital city entail minimum risk of natural disaster and be located at the heart of Indonesia. The proposed sites are also close to big cities, such as Balikpapan and Samarinda, and already have 180,000 hectares of government-owned land. According to the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), development of the new capital city will begin in 2021, and the construction of government buildings is targeted for completion in 2024.

Indonesia millennials’ coffee craze may spur record consumption
—  Business Times, 28 August 2019
An irrepressible thirst for caffeine among Indonesia's millennials is set to drive domestic coffee demand to historic highs, potentially tightening global supplies. Demand may surge almost 36% from a year earlier to 5.3 million 60-kg bags in 2019, said Moelyono Soesilo, head of specialty coffee and industry at the Association of Indonesian Coffee Exporters and Industries. That represents about half of the country's estimated output of 11.5 million to 12 million bags. Coffee consumption in Indonesia has more than doubled in the past decade as urban lifestyles increasingly revolve around cafes, leading coffee outlets to sprout up in most shopping centers, transportation hubs and office complexes. Demand for ready-to-drink and higher-value beverages has also grown in recent years, leading Indonesia, which is the world's third-largest grower of Robusta variety coffee, to target boosting higher-value Arabica production to 40% of its total crops from 15% now. The boom has prompted venture capitalists to take advantage of the growing trend.


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