Indigenous communities seek greater forest rights

Tanjung Gusta – Indigenous communities in Indonesia on Friday urged President Joko Widodo to grant them greater rights to forest management, saying they are the best protectors of forests.

The call was made at the Archipelago Indigenous Peoples Congress attended by hundreds of representatives from dozens of Indonesia’s indigenous communities at Tanjung Gusta in North Sumatra province.

“We’ll fight for our rights to the last drop of our blood,” said the secretary general of the Archipelago Indigenous Peoples Alliance (AMAN), Abdon Nababan, to the cheers of those attending.

“We’ve been engaging in dialogue with little result, but we still believe Mr Jokowi will make good on his promises, at least for now,” he said, using the president’s popular nickname.

Joko cancelled his scheduled attendance at the congress and instead sent Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

AMAN says more than 8.2 million hectares of forest belongs to the nation’s myriad indigenous groups, but Joko’s government has so far only granted a total of 13,122 hectares to nine customary communities.

Bakar said the government was in the process of verifying other claims.

“There should be no doubt that the government is taking real action with respect to this important subject,” she said.

“This government is a government that is providing solutions and can be trusted to support the struggle of indigenous peoples.”

Studies to be presented at the World Bank’s 18th Annual Land and Poverty Conference in Washington next week confirm indigenous leaders’ claims that local communities are best-equipped to protect forests around the globe, the indigenous congress’ organizers said.

One study suggests that carbon-rich peatlands that have been ravaged by annual forest fires in Indonesia could be saved if the government gives greater forest rights to local communities.

“The findings suggest that granting communal land rights to indigenous inhabitants of tropical forests is among the most underused and effective solutions to combating violence, poverty and the illegal deforestation that fuels climate change,” they said in a statement.

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