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The Business Case for One Map in Indonesia

Tree cover loss (pink) and gain (purple) in Indonesia (outlined in green) as visualized by Global Forest Watch's interactive map. | Image credit: Global Forest Watch

One of the major challenges in stopping illegal deforestation in Indonesia is the existence of numerous, conflicting concession maps, based on which level of government, or ministry, you talk to. This means for companies such as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), APRIL or Felda, the land they have been granted could also have been given to another company, or conflict with indigenous or customary community land. And that's a problem.

“One of the biggest challenges to conservation efforts is cross-licensing confusion,” Ian Lifshitz, Director of Sustainability for North America at APP, told Sustainable Brands. “Without a transparent and participatory governance system in place, corruption and illegal activities can thrive, presenting a combination of losses in revenue, potential conflict among local communities, and a lack of incentive for greater investment by the private sector.”

It gets even more complicated when you look at incidents like last year's devastating fires. The natural response – find out on whose land fires burned and hold the owners accountable. But without a proper map, that becomes nearly impossible - and one reason that, to this day, just a few have been held responsible for what happened.

While some companies, including APP, have released their concession maps to third parties, including the World Resources Institute's (WRI) Global Forest Watch platform, many have not. That makes it difficult for civil society to properly target concession-holders using illegal practices.

The solution sounds simple: a single, unified map of land ownership across all government ministries at both the national and local level - one that can be used to hold those who burn, or conduct illegal deforestation activities, accountable. But add in the fact that Indonesia has undergone decades of bad land management practices - including illegal land grabs, clearcutting, and the still-yet-to-be implemented 2013 Supreme Court decision that mandates land allocation to the country’s 20-million-strong indigenous population, and you have a verifiable mess.

That's why civil society has been pushing for the government to release a unified One Map - which would put an end to these overlapping concessions issues and make it clear on whose land deforestation, and fires, are taking place.

WRI is taking a novel approach to solving this problem, focusing first in one of Indonesia's most heavily deforested regions - Riau Province on the island of Sumatra, where APP, ARPIL, and numerous global palm oil operations have concessions. Its aim is to build a One Map for Riau collaboratively, mapping land from the ground up.

“Everyone knows that to synchronize map, you need to go down to the field,” Dr. Nirarta ‘Koni’ Samadhi, WRI's Indonesia Country Director, told SB. “You cannot do it by sitting at the national level, you need to engage with many, many stakeholders. Local governments, indigenous people, smallholders - they all have to be engaged to arrive at a true One Map.”

Moreover, corporate engagement will be crucial to the success of One Map Riau, and Samadhi would like to see their active involvement in the process.

“[Companies] need to be involved as much as [other actors],” Samadhi said. “They can offer solutions, and they can offer information that would allow other parties to understand their position.”

What Samadhi and WRI hope to come up with is a system that changes how business is conducted in Riau's forests, and with time can be used across the entire country.

“What we aspire to achieve is not simply the One Map, but a new system of government delivery, one that is fully participative,” Samadhi said. If successful, One Map Riau could point a path forward for all of Indonesia.

Having One Map at the regional and national level will enable a much better understanding of which companies are making positive progress in sustainably managing forests, and which ones are not. By allowing the truly good players to shine will hopefully bring up the entire industry to a higher, more sustainable standard.

“Once there is a clear understanding of where one concession ends and another begins, those companies that are damaging forests and peatlands will be exposed and forced to amend their destructive practices,” Lifshitz said.

As more and more exports markets and buyers become cognizant that having deforestation in their supply chain is bad business, it will also help Indonesia reach new, sustainable buyers and build more ethical supply chains. It won't be an easy process to fix decades of forest mismanagement but the sooner, the better - both for companies, local communities, and, of course, the planet.


Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges. Besides Sustainable Brands, he contributes regularly to Triple Pundit, The Diplomat, Daily Dot, Entelligent,… [Read more about Nithin Coca]