Activist group calls for incorporation of Leuser Ecosystem protection into spatial plan

(foresthints.news) - A recent update received by foresthints.news notified that the Leuser Ecosystem moratorium is in the landuse plan detailing phase at the sub-district level, which involves nearly 100 sub-districts within the Leuser Ecosystem. This process is being carried out by the Environment and Forestry Ministry since the moratorium on the expansion of palm oil and mining in the Leuser Ecosystem was declared on 19 April 2016.

It is taking place in order to formulate appropriate steps towards strengthening the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem and improving the welfare of communities residing in the ecosystem in the long term.

I think the recently announced moratorium on oil palm and mining in the Leuser Ecosystem is a good step in the right direction. However, we do need to monitor the implementation of the moratorium as well as to improve policy through the improvement of the spatial plan.

This was the guardedly optimistic view expressed by Farwiza Farhan, chairperson of HAkA, or the Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh, in an interview with foresthints.news in Jakarta on last Friday (Jun 3).

The Leuser Ecosystem itself is not acknowleged in the Aceh Spatial Plan, and we all understand that the moratorium is something temporary. Therefore, no matter what, if we want to focus on protecting the Leuser Ecosystem for the livelihood of the people, we need to place its protection in a permanent regulation like the Aceh Spatial Plan.

Farwiza went on to explain the part that her organization would like to play, especially with respect to supporting the recently announced moratorium and MoEF efforts to perform a detailed analysis of land use in the Leuser Ecosystem to ensure its effective implementation.

HAkA is an organisation that focuses on policy improvement. We focus on the protection and conservation of the Leuser Ecosystem, so we would like to support the government in monitoring and implementing this regulation and we would also very much like to be involved in the drafting of this regulation. We think the role of civil society is to strengthen government policy and to strengthen its implementation on the ground.

We would be able to offer not only policy analysis but also expertise as well as troops on the ground - people that could check and monitor whats going on.

The HAkA chairperson emphasized that a consensus as to the functions of the Leuser Ecosystem is vital and reiterated her opinion that the moratorium represents a good initial move which gives greater scope for her organization to improve its oversight and measures in the area.

First we need to share the same understanding that the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem is essential, not only for biodiversity but also for the livelihood of the people. The moratorium itself is a step in the right direction in order for us to review the policy, review the existing concessions within the Leuser Ecosystem and beyond, and for us to be able to create better policy going forward.

Farwiza sought to underline the huge importance of incorporating the Leuser Ecosystem into the Aceh Spatial Plan as a means of safeguarding this unique and fragile region.

The acknowledgement of the Leuser Ecosystem in the Aceh Spatial Plan is essential and should not only be an acknowledgement in itself, but also an acknowledgement of the Leuser Ecosystem as a national strategic area for the environmental protection function, as outlined in the national spatial plan regulation.

She also spoke about the role the region has to play in looking after the Leuser Ecosystem.

On top of that, Aceh has a crucial mandate to manage the Leuser Ecosystem in the form of protection, conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable utilization. (As to) the steps to protect the Leuser Ecosystem by executing this mandate, we need to monitor the forest from above and we need to monitor the forest on the ground.

The environmental activist pointed out that it is critical for a balance to be found between attempts at preserving the Leuser Ecosystem and the welfare of its inhabitants.

But at the same time, we also need to create livelihoods for the people, we need to make sure that people are given access, people are given availability and options, so they can have jobs and can have income without destroying the forest.

She then described the extent to which the areas residents were participating in endeavors aimed at securing the future of the Leuser Ecosystem.

At the moment, the people of Aceh are trying to push for the improvement of policy and for the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem as part of the Aceh Spatial Plan. We are currently doing this through a movement called GERAM, which is short for Gerakan Rakyat Aceh Menggugat or the Aceh Citizen Lawsuit Movement.

This movement is encouraging communities to be involved in the development of spatial planning, encouraging communities to stand up for their rights because they do want to have the Leuser Ecosystem protected, she continued.

Farwiza appealed for certain stakeholders to overcome their self-interests and take more responsibility for their actions.

We understand that some parties think that the Leuser Ecosystem might serve as a barrier, as an obstacle, to their interests. But the next logical step that we need to take is the actual creation of a spatial plan for the Leuser Ecosystem, so we know exactly what kind of activity could be conducted where, and in this case, every decision and every piece of paper that our policymakers sign will have a huge implication for the people on the ground.

The HAkA chairperson concluded the interview with foresthints.news on a note of caution. It might be just one signature out of one regulation, but the implication is that it could destroy thousands of hectares of forest and thousands of livelihoods could be lost and our policymakers, and our decision makers, need to know and understand this - the burden is on them for the lives of the people on the ground.

Judicial review rejected

On October 1, 2013, WALHI (Indonesian Friends of the Earth) appealed for the Supreme Court to conduct a judicial review with respect to the Aceh Spatial Plan. One of the reasons that this appeal for a judicial review was made was that the Aceh Spatial Plan allegedly does not incorporate a set of Indonesian laws and regulations relating to the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem.

The judicial review was rejected by the Supreme Court through a decision made on December 11, 2014. The decision, among other things, mentioned that the Aceh Spatial Plan is not in conflict with any Indonesian laws and regulations, such as the Aceh Governance law, the government regulation designating the Leuser Ecosystem as a national strategic area for the environmental protection function and the Forestry Minister decree on the boundaries of the Leuser Ecosystem.