The Polemic of Indonesian Deforestation

Deforestation caused by mining activity in Aceh Province

The word “deforestation” has become a word that is often discussed lately, along with what was conveyed by the President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo and the tweet of the Minister of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

Deforestation or clearing forest cover in the Claim has decreased drastically over the last 20 years. Likewise, the rehabilitation of crisis land (reforestation) is also claimed to have reached 3 million hectares in the last 10 years. FWI tries to explore and convey facts related to deforestation in Indonesia. The following are fact points about deforestation in Indonesia:

Forest cover (FWI data for 2000, 2009, 2013, 2017)

The area of natural forests in Indonesia continues to decline from year to year. In 2000, Indonesia still had 106 million hectares of natural forest. This number was reduced to 93 million ha in 2009, 88 million ha in 2013, and 82 million ha in 2017. It is these natural forests that are lost from year to year that FWI called as deforestation.

Table 1. Indonesian Forest Cover 2000, 2009, 2013, 2017 (Source: FWI forest cover data 2000, 2009, 2013, 2017)

Figure 1. Forest Cover in Indonesia (Source: FWI forest cover data 2000, 2009, 2013, 2017)

Deforestation in 2000-2017

From the data above, it can be concluded that for the past 17 years (2000-2017) Indonesia has lost about 23 million ha of forest, It is equivalent to 75 times the area of Yogyakarta Province. This number is very far when compared to the claim of 3 million hectares of successful forest and critical land rehabilitation.

Indonesian deforestation rate in 2000-2009 was 1.4 million ha/year. In the next period (2009-2013) it was reduced to 1.1 million ha/year. The deforestation rate in Indonesia increased again in the next period (2013-2017) to 1.4 million ha/year. If illustrated, the rate of forest loss in Indonesia is equivalent to 4 times the size of a football field every minute.

Practically, from 2000 to 2017 there was no significant change in the rate of forest loss. Although it had decreased by around 350 thousand ha/year in the second period (2009-2013), the rate of deforestation increased again in the next period (2013-2017).

Table 2. Deforestation in Indonesia in The Year Of 2000-2009, 2009-2013, 2013-2017. (Source: FWI forest cover data 2000, 2014, 2017)

The table above shows the deforestation and the rate that occurred in every region in Indonesia from 2000 – 2017. There are several areas that experienced a decreasing number of deforestations, but there are also some areas that experienced a significant increase in deforestation. The regions that experienced a decline were Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan. Meanwhile, Bali Nusa, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua experienced an increase. Even for the Maluku region there is an almost 2-fold increase in deforestation and in Papua there is an almost 3-fold increase.

From this, it can be interpreted that deforestation in Indonesia continues to move from the west to the east part of Indonesia. So that the claim of Indonesia’s success in reducing the rate of deforestation over the last 20 years is questionable, The cause of the declination of the deforestation rate in some areas is none other than the factor of depleting forest resources, where the remaining forests in these region are located in areas that are difficult to access and in the , causing the disproportionate economic calculations and also in the conservation areas which are legally difficult to convert.

The shifting of deforestation in Indonesia from the west to east is also seen from the policy direction. In the directive map for the use of production forests issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry between 2017-2020, it shows that the proportion of production forest areas that will be utilized continues to decrease on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Meanwhile, for the regions of Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua, the proportion continues to increase.


Figure 2 Area and The Proportion of Directions for Utilization of Production Forests in 2017-2020. (Source: FWI 2020, Indonesia’s Deforestation Road. Compilation results in the directive document for the use of production forests, KLHK).

If referring to the data produced by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, in 2020 deforestation in Indonesia is decreasing to 115 thousand hectares. This is the lowest deforestation rate of all deforestation data ever submitted by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. On the other hand, the analysis conducted by FWI by combining FWI 2017 forest cover data with Hansen (University of Maryland) forest loss data in 2018, 2019, and 2020, shows that there are around 680 thousand ha of forest lost in these periods or at an average rate of 227 thousand ha/year.


President Joko Widodo, claimed success in reforestation or forest and land rehabilitation of 3 million hectares in the last 10 years. However, data compiled by FWI in KLHK reports from 2011-2020 shows that the rate of reforestation in Indonesia has only reached 1 million hectares. This Numbers is the sum of reforestation that occurs in primary forest, secondary forest, and plantation forest. In the Plantation forests this also include planting for industrial forest plantations and reforestation/reforestation. Even then, the 1-million-hectare figure cannot be tested by the public regarding the validation of the data.

Figure 3. Reforestation in Indonesia in 2011-2020. Source: KLHK 2011-2020 reforestation data recapitulation

Forest and Land Fires in Indonesia

President Joko Widodo in his speech at COP26 said that if Indonesia succeeded in reducing the number of forest and land fires by up to 82% in 2020. If you look at the area of forest and land fires in Indonesia available in the karhutla (Forest and land fire) monitoring system (sipongi), there is a decrease in the area of forest and land fires by 82% compared to the previous year in 2019. This figure is exactly what Joko Widodo said in his speech. However, it must be remembered that in 2019, there was an climate variability called El Nino which further exacerbated forest fires in Indonesia.

Likewise, the situation in 2020 which can be included as wet year. So that the claims of success in suppressing forest and land fires conveyed by Joko Widodo are still being questioned. Forest and land fires actually also show a portrait of the failure of forest management by corporations. In 2019, for example, where 1.6 million ha of forest and land were burned, 1.3 million ha (82%) occurred on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Ironically, on the two islands, extractive industry permits control forests and customary areas. In Kalimantan, for example, 80.9 million ha (71%) of land has been controlled by extractive industry permits. Likewise in Sumatra, there are about 55.5 million ha (41%) of the land also experiencing the same thing.

Table 3. The area of forest fires in Indonesia. (Source: Sipongi KLHK,

FoLU net sink vs Deforestation

There is a shifting approach taken by Indonesia in completing the emission reduction commitments. From what was previously committed to reducing deforestation rates, now it looks like it will change to the term of FoLU (Forest and other Land Use) net sinks which are targeted to be achieved by 2030. FoLU net sinks are the balance point resulting from the process of releasing carbon emissions compared to sequestration or bigger.

This approach will have serious implications for actual deforestation in Indonesia. Where the carbon released from deforestation activities is tolerated as long as it is accompanied by the same carbon absorption from forest rehabilitation/reforestation activities. So, it can be said that deforestation will continue to occur even with a larger area. It will be even more ironic later, if the rehabilitation programs are directed at social forestry permits and community-proposed programs (CSOs), while large corporations are still free to cut forests in other areas.

This approach has the potential to be full of deception in the future, considering that the amount of carbon released from deforestation is not proportional to the amount of carbon absorbed from reforestation, even with the same area of deforestation and reforestation. So, to achieve the FoLU net sink, the reforestation rate must be much greater than the deforestation rate.

The question is, what about the realization of reforestation so far? President Joko Widodo’s claim of successful rehabilitation of an area of 3 million hectares has initiated the use of a new approach (FoLU net sink) based on invalid information. Where the KLHK data itself shows that reforestation in Indonesia has only reached 1 million hectares from 2011-2020. Even then the data cannot be tested by the public.

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