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 – 20: 2 October 2019

Marine & Fisheries

New fishery improvement projects in Indonesia cover tuna, snapper, and grouper
—  Aaron Orlowski, Seafood Source, 1 October 2019
Two new fishery improvement projects (FIPs) in Indonesia seek to make significant portions of the country’s valuable tuna and groundfish fisheries more sustainable. The first, a national, industry-led longline tuna FIP was recently announced by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). The work plan for the FIP is currently being developed and will address the principles required for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for five tuna fisheries: Indian Ocean bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore, as well as Pacific Ocean yellowfin and bigeye. The second new FIP in Indonesia, for the groundfish fishery, will help reduce the overharvesting of the juvenile fish that are necessary to keep the fishery producing at maximum sustainable yield.  Around the world, plate-sized snapper and grouper are popular among restaurateurs and diners, but those smaller fish also tend to be juveniles. Overharvesting the young fish is causing a sustainability problem that the new FIP seeks to address. Under the new FIP, companies will share data about catch origin and fish size with the Indonesia government, enabling it to make more informed management decisions.

How fishers abandon destructive fishing
—  Ali Yansyah Abdurrahim, The Conversation, 1 October 2019
The island nation of Indonesia, where waters teem with coral fish, banned the use of bombs and cyanide for fishing in 2004. However, weak enforcement means some fishers in Indonesia still bomb reefs and poison sea creatures. But protecting Indonesia’s marine ecosystems and ceasing to use these destructive methods is, in fact, in the best interests of the country’s fisher communities. I study human ecology. Between 2016 and 2018 I took part in research in Selayar, in South Sulawesi to learn why and how fishing communities in Indonesia stopped using bombs and cyanide to fish. The study found that some individuals who previously participated in destructive fishing transformed into inspiring leaders and influenced others to protect coral reefs. We’ve collected stories of 15 sustainable fishing champions. These individuals undergo their transformation in different ways. But, almost all of them began to change their ways after being exposed to a government program called COREMAP (Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program) implementation of which ended in 2017. Here are four of their stories.

Fisheries business actors should capitalize on US-China trade war
—  M. Razi Rahman and Yashinta Difa P, Antara News, 23 September 2019
Business actors in the fisheries sector from various Indonesian provinces should capitalize on the momentum of the trade war by supplying fishery commodities to the United States that were previously supplied from China. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, in a statement, Monday, admitted to encouraging Indonesian businessmen to derive maximum benefits from this trade war by boosting exports of fishery products to the US. As part of the ongoing trade war, the US is currently imposing a 250% import tariff on Chinese products, resulting in 14 thousand metric tons of tuna loin from China disappearing from the US market. "The supply should be replaced by Indonesian fish," Pudjiastuti noted. Chairman of the Expert Team of the Vice President and Chairman of the Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo) Sofjan Wanandi noted, "we are replacing the role of China in part. That is huge. We want to replace its role, so (the US) buys from our companies."

For one Indonesian village, mangrove restoration has been all upside
—  Fathul Rakhman, Mongabay, 24 September 2019
Until relatively recently, the Paremas coastline, on the southeast coast of Lombok, was shielded from storm surges and deposits of plastic trash by a large mangrove forest. But demand for firewood in the community meant the Paremas mangrove was slowly depleted. This then created new pressures on food security, and increased the risks of coastal erosion during storms. Around a decade ago, the local government and environmental NGOs began work on building a consensus in the community: that the mangrove needed restoring. Everyone came around to the idea; then they got to work replanting the Paremas mangrove. The result has brought surprising changes. Today, the tidal pools on the coast provide food that can both sustain the locals and provide an income, allowing families to be less dependent on the remittances sent home by mothers and fathers working arduous jobs overseas. In addition to protecting biodiversity, the mangroves also absorb energy from large ocean swells and stop garbage from piling up in foul-smelling sumps on the beach.

Forestry & Land Use

Indonesia: Indigenous peoples losing their forests
—  Human Rights Watch, 22 September 2019
The Indonesian government is failing to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples who have lost their traditional forests and livelihoods to oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan and Jambi provinces, Human Rights Watch said in a recently released report. Loss of forest occurs on a massive scale and not only harms local indigenous peoples, but is also associated with global climate change. The 89-page report, “‘When We Lost the Forest, We Lost Everything’: Oil Palm Plantations and Rights Violations in Indonesia,” examines how a patchwork of weak laws, exacerbated by poor government oversight, and the failure of oil palm plantation companies to fulfill their human rights responsibilities have adversely affected Indigenous peoples’ rights to their forests, livelihood, food, water, and culture in Bengkayang regency, West Kalimantan, and Sarolangun regency, Jambi. The report, based on interviews with over 100 people and extensive field research, highlights the distinct challenges Indigenous people, particularly women, face as a result.

Restoring Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, one small farm at a time
—  Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay, 30 September 2019
An initiative in Indonesia’s Aceh province is engaging local farmers in restoring parts of the biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem by allowing them to farm and reforest tracts of land previously used for illegal oil palm plantations. The forest is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers all still exist in the wild, but is being lost to encroachment for illegal plantations. The Leuser forest is protected by law, but today only 18,000 square kilometers of the total ecosystem is still forested due to illegal encroachment, according to data from the NGO Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh (HAKA). Under the initiative, farmers are trained to plant tropical hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetable crops from which they can make a sustainable living. Farmers are given incentives to play by the rules. Management licenses expire after 10 years. Using fire to clear land is forbidden, as is the growing of cocoa, oil palm, and rubber trees.

Fires leave a million Indonesians gasping
—  Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, The New York Times, 25 September 2019
Nearly 2,000 wildfires are burning across Indonesia, turning the sky blood red over central Sumatra and creating dense clouds of smoke that have caused respiratory problems for nearly a million people. Dense white smoke filled the air across Sumatra and Kalimantan, the two areas that were hardest hit. Many of the fires were set deliberately to clear land for plantations that produce palm oil and wood pulp for making paper, the authorities said. The blazes, which tore through sensitive rain forests where dozens of endangered species live, have drawn comparisons to the wildfires in the Amazon basin that have destroyed more than 2 million acres. The fires are an annual phenomenon as large plantations and small farmers use the age-old slash-and-burn method during the dry season to open new land for planting. Neighboring Singapore and Malaysia have complained for decades about the smoke that drifts over from Sumatra and Kalimantan and chokes the region every year at this time. This year’s fires are the worst in Indonesia since 2015. Officials estimate that the fires have burned more than 800,000 acres.

Indonesia government considering harsher punishments for forest burners
—  Channel News Asia, 23 September 2019
Indonesian authorities are studying a plan to mete out harsher penalties to companies found burning forest and peat land, an environment ministry official said, as the country faces its worst forest fires and haze problems since 2015. The country has spent months battling fires, often caused by slash-and-burn farming practices, as the El Nino weather pattern exacerbates the annual dry season and helps create a choking haze across the region. Among the stricter punishments the government is considering is the use of an anti-money laundering law against those burning down forest areas, Rasio Ridho Sani, director general of law enforcement at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, told reporters. The rules will allow the seizure of profits from companies or individuals who have benefited financially from the intentional burning of land, he added. The government has sealed off burned areas within concessions controlled by 52 companies, Sani said, and the authorities are investigating five companies for suspicion of starting fires or being negligent in containing fires within their area.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution

Indonesia receives funding of $278m for efforts to de-risk geothermal development
—  Alexander Richter, Think Geoenergy, 27 September 2019
The World Bank has granted a $150m loan to the Indonesian government to scale up investments in geothermal energy by reducing the risks of early-stage exploration. The loan is accompanied by a $127.5m grant from the Green Climate Fund and the Clean Technology Fund. Geothermal energy is expected to play a significant role in reducing Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions reducing the country’s dependence on coal-fired power and other fossil fuels. If geothermal resources can be accessed easily, costs are competitive with coal and natural gas. Under the Indonesia Geothermal Resource Risk Mitigation (GREM) project, the financing will help public and private sector developers to mitigate risks in exploration of geothermal resources, including covering a part of the cost in case of unsuccessful exploration. The project will also finance technical assistance and capacity building of key stakeholders in the geothermal sector. Indonesia is currently a net importer of oil and continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels for power generation.

EU palm oil ban more than environmental issue
—  Ketut DP Yoga, Asia Times, 30 September 2019
Recently, Indonesia was faced with a problematic issue relating to the crude-palm-oil (CPO) industry as the European Union announced plans to ban the importation of the commodity. The EU claimed that environmental concerns were a strong reason for the ban, but a closer look suggests that European domestic interests were also a major incentive. According to the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI), CPO provides a very high contribution to EU vegetable-oil consumption, accounting for 80% of total imports of such products. Furthermore, in the period 2011-2016, Indonesia’s average CPO export to the EU was around 60% per year, with Malaysia accounting for the rest. However, the EU wants to increase the growth of domestic vegetable-oil production, specifically rapeseed, sunflower oil and soybean oil. It is widely believed within the palm-oil industry that the EU ban constitutes political and economic protectionism, with the EU using environmental issues for its own interests rather than making science-based decisions. What is needed now is an intensive dialogue on how to cooperate on finding ways to save our planet without ruining international relationships.

AEPW to tackle plastic waste in Indonesia
—  Megan Smalley, Recycling Today, 24 September 2019
The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) has entered a partnership with Project STOP to further scale up the development of more sustainable and circular waste management systems in Indonesia. Through Project STOP, AEPW aims to dramatically improve waste collection, bring collection services for the first time to households, create permanent local jobs in the waste management industry and clean up areas littered with plastic pollution. The project will focus on the regency of Jembrana, located on the northwest coast of Bali. AEPW will support a feasibility study to achieve a future free of unmanaged plastic waste throughout the island and to assess how to extend the approach as well as provide financial support and technical expertise. The project is designed to be economically self-sufficient within three years, so the system can be operated by the local municipality and community, both of which will be closely consulted and involved throughout the project.

Conservation & Protected Areas

Minister of Environment: No need to close Komodo Island to tourism
—  Bernadette Christina Munthe and Tabita Diela, Reuters, 30 September 2019
There is no need to close Komodo island to the public because the population of rare and endangered Komodo dragons is stable and not under threat, Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on 30 September. In July, Viktor B. Laiskodat, a spokesperson for the East Nusa Tenggara regency, had suggested that the island needed to be closed to the public to keep tourists from interfering with the dragons and reduce the risk of poaching their prey which include deer, buffalo, and wild boar. However, like all national parks, Komodo National Park is operated under the authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Bakar, however, added that the ministry would work together with the provincial government to revamp tourism destinations, improve the training of rangers, and provide better equipment for patrols. Komodo National Park recorded over 176,000 visitors in 2019, many of whom came just to see the dragons. An estimated 1,727 dragons live on Komodo Island, with another 1,049 on Rinca, another island in the national park.

Palm oil from conserved rainforest sold to major brands, says forest group
—  Channel News Asia, 30 September 2019
Palm oil from an illegal plantation inside an Indonesian rainforest home to endangered orangutans has found its way into the supply chains of major consumer brands including Unilever and Nestle, according to a US-based environmental group. A Rainforest Action Network (RAN) investigation showed Asia-based palm oil traders Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Musim Mas Group bought oil from two mills that sourced palm fruit from a small, privately-owned plantation on Sumatra island. The plantation is inside the protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, in a high-priority conservation area and critical wildlife habitat, dubbed the "orangutan capital of the world." Palm oil is the world's most widely used edible oil, found in everything from margarine to soap, but has faced scrutiny in recent years from green activists and consumers, who have blamed its production for forest loss, fires and worker exploitation. Singapore-listed GAR and Indonesia's Musim Mas supply - either directly, or indirectly - to a list of brands including Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo, Mondelez International, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars and the Hershey, RAN said.


Improving Indonesia’s tsunami warning system
—  Nithin Coca, Devex, 26 September 2019
On 28 September 2018, a 7.5 magnitude quake triggered a large tsunami that hit the Central Sulawesi city of Palu in Indonesia. It was the first of two massive tsunamis to hit the country this past year. Less than two months later, on 22 December, an unusual volcanic landslide triggered a tsunami in the Sunda Strait despite no recent earthquake in the region. Together, they left thousands dead and homeless, and in both instances, there was no warning, leaving many to blame the high human toll partly on malfunctioning tsunami warning systems. The reality is likely that design shortfalls, the uniqueness of both tsunamis, and existing challenges with last-kilometer ground alerts all played a role in the system’s failure and inability to warn residents. Nevertheless, in the months since last year's disasters, there has been a renewed push to improve Indonesia’s warning system through the use of new technology, and there is a key role for the development community to play in this.

Indonesia protests endanger president’s pledge of tough reforms
—  Gayatri Suroyo and Maikel Jefriando, Reuters, 1 October 2019
Indonesia’s biggest student demonstrations in decades will test President Joko Widodo’s pledge to go all out in his second term to boost growth in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, a former finance minister and a government adviser say. Tens of thousands of students have hit the streets in recent weeks to protest against a new law that critics say undermines the fight against corruption, alongside controversial plans to revise the criminal code and several other issues. Widodo has vowed tough reforms, such as overhauling restrictive labor laws and freeing up foreign ownership in more areas, to reinvigorate an economy battling weak commodity prices and fallout from the U.S.-China trade war. But protests risk making it harder to drive through reforms, by sapping not just the president’s popularity but also that of the political parties that back him, said Chatib Basri, the finance minister in 2013 and 2014 under Widodo’s predecessor. Widodo has also been besieged by “extremely intense” jockeying for posts as he tries to build a cabinet of technocratic ministers, a presidential adviser said.

Indonesia defers legislation seen as harming the environment – for now
—  Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 1 October 2019
Indonesian lawmakers have chosen not to pass a raft of controversial legislation that critics say would dismantle environmental and social protections, in the face of massive student-led protests. The legislators had signaled they would pass the bills, including one on mining and one on land reform, on the final day of their term in office on Sept. 30. Both of those bills have been heavily criticized for favoring the interest of companies in the extractives sector over those of the environment and vulnerable rural communities, including indigenous groups struggling to maintain already tenuous land rights. None of the bills were passed, however, amid protests in Jakarta and other cities across the nation led by university students incensed at the earlier passage of a bill widely seen as gutting the much-lauded national anti-corruption agency. At least two students were killed in the protests, the latest of which took place outside parliament on 30 September as legislators ended their term. The protests had prompted President Joko Widodo to earlier ask parliament to suspend deliberations of the contentious bills.

Moving the capital: a future in Kalimantan?
—  Laurens Bakker, New Mandala, 18 September 2019
On 26 August President Joko Widodo announced that the nation’s capital would be relocated to the province of East Kalimantan. In the weeks preceding the announcement, it had already become clear that the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo would be selected as the new location, but the specific spot still surprised many. The location, which encompasses land in the districts of Penajam Paser Utara and Kutai Kartanegara, is rather out-of-the-way and undeveloped. It sits roughly behind and around the coastal city of Balikpapan—East Kalimantan’s center of business and commerce—and is presently in use by plantation companies catering to the plywood and building materials industry. It is by now quite likely that the capital is going to be moved. Whether that is really necessary, however, and, if so, whether East Kalimantan is the best location, are still being questioned. Also, little attention is being given to the manner in which the intended move fits in with regional politics and desires, on which people in East Kalimantan have quite diverse views.


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