The reasons why the richest benefit from community-based forest management

Why are the wealthiest farmers and a state-owned company benefiting the most from a scheme intended to help the poorest? Further study has revealed a complex web of migration, skills, capital, extra-curricular payments, evasive action and a lack of monitoring.


In an earlier story, we described the situation on the slopes of Mt Sawal in the district of Ciamis, West Java province, Indonesia, where 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. This post digs deeper into the complexities.

Most of the farmers in Purwaraja village in the Rajadesa sub-district in West Java, Indonesia who are involved in the Pengelolaan Hutan Bersama Masyarakat (PHBM/Community-based Forest Management) program on the slopes of Mt Sawal are actually renting their use rights from villagers in the neighbouring sub-district of Panjalu.

Coffee mixed with Albizia

Coffee mixed with Albizia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Sébastien de Royer

The program was initially meant for villagers in the surrounding villages, such as Kertamandala, but in the early stages many of the use rights were transferred from the villagers in Panjalu to wealthier farmers in Rajadesa.

During field research, we found that more than 60% of the farmers we interviewed in Purwaraja who were growing coffee in the area admitted to leasing the use rights from somebody else in Panjalu. They usually paid the original right-holder a certain amount of money once they had decided to enter into an agreement. The money received was generally perceived as compensating for the money and time originally invested in the coffee garden.

The main reasons why people in Panjalu sold their use rights were lack of financial capital, a shortage of skills needed to maintain the coffee gardens and the desire to get cash money for the sale of the use rights.

Although the PHBM rules do not officially recognize nor permit the transfer of rights of use, it seems that control over same is very weak and that Perhutani (the state-owned company that runs the program) prefers to have the land under coffee under any circumstances rather than leaving it unused and degraded.

The reasons villagers from Purwaraja purchased the use rights are manifold. First, most of them only own small plots of land that are often neither highly productive nor large enough to make a decent living from; they mainly practise subsistence farming. Some of the people also grow coffee on their private plots, often combined with trees such as Albizia and other crops, such as cardamom. Being involved in the PHBM program is a great opportunity for them to access more land, expand their production and increase their revenue from coffee.

Coffee, Albizia, Ciamis, PHBM

Old mixed-tree gardens have been replaced with coffee planted in combination with Albizia trees. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Sébastien de Royer

What differentiates them from the people in Panjalu is the capital they have accumulated throughout the years and their strong knowledge of, and skills in, coffee cultivation. Indeed, during the 1970s and 1980s, many people from Rajadesa had migrated to Lampung province on the island of Sumatra where they had worked as coffee growers. From our field survey, we found that 90% of the farmers involved in the PHBM program in Panjalu also used to be, or were still, growing coffee in Lampung. Since 2000, a lot of people had returned to their villages of origin, such as Purwaraja. Many of these people had accumulated considerable capital and were reinvesting in their villages in West Java. Some had sold their land in Lampung while others had left it under the management of others and received 50% of annual production, providing them with regular income.

While there seems to be no clear correlation between the beginning of the PHBM program in 2008 and the mass return of migrants it is, however, clear that the program has been perceived by them as a great opportunity to make money from the skills they obtained in Lampung while re-establishing themselves in West Java. The Mt Sawal region has since developed into the coffee hub of West Java with a very well developed market. Here we can see a clear link between the return of migrants and the rapid expansion of land under coffee cultivation during the last two decades. People converted their mixed tree gardens into coffee gardens; those who weren’t migrants learned from those who were.

Who benefits?

This extra study clearly shows that farmers from Rajadesa who are involved in the PHBM scheme in Panjalu are the wealthiest community members, having accumulated capital through migration to Lampung that enabled them to buy use rights from poorer community members.

What also makes access to land easier are the strong ties within farmers’ groups. Indeed, when Perhutani makes state-owned land available for cultivation those who get the information first are usually the leaders of the farmers’ groups, who will talk about it with their members, forming a closed circle were information about land availability is not given to everyone. If a member of a farmers’ group wants to exploit a new piece of land he can also count on collective support from the other members who will help him to clear it. During our field research, we discovered that in some hamlets in the village of Purwaraja almost everyone was involved in the scheme while in others people barely knew about it because they were not connected to a farmers’ group.

Officially, farmers involved in the PHBM scheme are granted a use right (‘hak guna’) in return for which they are committed to provide a share of 25% of their annual production. Twenty percent (20%) is meant to return to Perhutani while the other 5% is supposed to be distributed among farmers’ groups and the village administration. However, according to interviews with people in the scheme it seems that the official benefit-sharing mechanism was not strictly followed and Perhutani wasn’t monitoring it. People often complained that they needed to pay a range of others along the way, including extra village institutions and individuals.

Furthermore, the interviewees also complained that the amount they had to pay to Perhutani was too high and was profiting a lot of others, not the farmers themselves. From the 75% of production income that the farmers kept, they needed to reinvest at least 50% to maintain the system, including buying fertilizers. As a result, there were admissions that they were not declaring the full amount of their yields even though they usually agreed that it was appropriate that they pay rent for the land.

While the farmers were often asked to join meetings organized by Perhutani, the discussions were usually only related to benefit-sharing and book-keeping issues and how to manage the pine trees that were also under the ownership of Perhutani.



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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry'

Sebastien de Royer

Sébastien de Royer is a junior scientist based at the South East Asia Regional office in Bogor. He is focusing on human and social dimensions of climate change and agroforestry systems. He has been working actively in Indonesia in the field of social forestry and climate change interventions. Contact details:

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