Not everyone benefits from community forest management

On the slopes of Mt Sawal in the district of Ciamis, Indonesia, farmers have small plots of land that don’t produce enough to meet their needs. A community-based forest management scheme was supposed to solve that problem but ended up benefiting the wealthiest and the state-owned company that runs the scheme


By Sébastien de Royer


Available land for agriculture is scarce on the island of Java in Indonesia and more than 50% of its forests are controlled by the state-owned forest company, known as Perhutani. In 2001, Perhutani developed a joint forest management system with communities living adjacent to forests, called Pengelolaan Hutan Bersama Masyarakat (PHBM/Community-based Forest Management), to improve communities’ economic and social conditions. However, at one place in West Java it seems that that not everyone is enjoying the benefits of PHBM: only the wealthiest are profiting.

In 2008, Perhutani approached the residents of Kertamandala village with an offer to join a PHBM program that aimed to make degraded uplands, previously dominated by pine trees, available for coffee cultivation with the background intention of increasing forest productivity, decreasing soil erosion and forming a forest resource management group that suited the social dynamics of the local community.

coffee, pine, Kertamandala, Indonesia

Coffee with young pines in Kertamandala. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Sébastien de Royer

As much as 180 hectares of fertile uplands were made available for coffee cultivation under a 35-year, right-of-use agreement. However, very few farmers in Kertamandala responded positively to Perhutani’s request and less than a dozen of the more than 100 farmers participating in the program are from Kertamandala.

This came about for a number of reasons. Foremost was that at the start of the program, farmers from the neighbouring village of Raja Desa, who had left to work in South Sumatra as coffee growers in state-owned plantations, returned after they were told about Perhutani’s plans. They could see the opportunity and had accumulated the capital and knowledge needed to succeed.

Growing coffee requires a lot of investment because the land needs to be cleared, planted, fertilized and weeded, all of which takes time and cash. And the first harvest and subsequent income is at least three years after planting. The villagers of Kertamandala had neither time nor spare cash for such an investment; they were too busy working their own small plots and at off-farm jobs away from the village. Further, the women who were left behind while the men were away at work were not sufficiently engaged by Perhutani in the explanations of the scheme and had little understanding of what was involved, especially since coffee was not part of the village’s traditional agricultural practice.

Perhutani provided neither sufficient financial support nor training in coffee cultivation whereas the returned coffee growers of Raja Desa had both. They are also more motivated to focus entirely on production, working in their coffee gardens for longer periods and staying overnight during harvests. They knew from experience that they would be successful if they deployed the knowledge they had through hard work whereas the farmers of Kertamandala, who relied on wage labour, did not dare to invest in a practice about which they knew little.

Farmers, coffee, Kertamandala, Indonesia

Farmers in a coffee garden in Kertamandala. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Sébastien de Royer

But after six years, some in Kertamandala can see the success of their neighbours and are converting their private, timber-based systems into small coffee plots since Perhutani’s land is no longer available. Others, however, even though they are now more knowledgeable remain unenthusiastic, arguing that coffee can only be harvested once a year and they want more steady income. They would have preferred to be able to use the Perhutani land for vegetables or fast-growing crops, such as bamboo.

So, apart from the farmers of Raja Desa, who is benefiting from the PHBM program? It seems that Perhutani is. Farmers in the program assist with managing the remaining forests; they agree not to cut trees or take seedlings; nor plant any coffee 50 metres either side of streams and springs; and they rehabilitate riverbanks and adjacent areas with seedlings provided by Perhutani; many of which enjoy the benefits provided by the farmers’ fertilization of their coffee trees. Perhutani is enjoying enhanced forest productivity and a 20% share of the yearly coffee harvest.

The biggest losers are the people the program was originally intended to benefit: the villagers of Kertamandala. The best they can hope for is to sometimes work during harvest as hired labour for their richer neighbours.


These findings are based on a recent study conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre in partnership with Balai Penelitian Teknologi Agroforestry (BPTA/Indonesian Agroforestry Research Centre).


Edited by Robert Finlayson



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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforests




Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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