After decades of rampant illegal logging, Indonesia now has a system for verifying the legality of timber products. This has only been possible because of an unprecedented process that has engaged diverse stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society – both in Indonesia and one of its main timber markets, the EU.
Unity from diversity
Stakeholder participation in Indonesia's fight against illegal logging
Winds of change
Back in 2001, Indonesia hosted a conference that helped put illegal logging on the global agenda. The meeting showed illegal logging was not just a problem for producer countries: consumer markets also had to act. Two years later, the EU adopted its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to tackle illegal logging, inspired in part by Indonesian action.
Meanwhile in Indonesia, civil society organisations – later joined by government and private sector stakeholders – began to develop a practical definition of timber legality, an essential first step in tackling the problem. The legality definition would form the basis of a timber legality assurance system called SVLK.
It was not easy. The government and private sector had long viewed civil society organisations as adversaries. Mardi Minangsari of EIA/Telapak says one of the main challenges was “to get the other stakeholders to understand us and to really see that what we are trying to do is to help them really… to work with them to change things in our country.”
FLEGT Week 2013: Interview with Mardi Minangsari, senior forest programme coordinator at Telapak
Mardi Minangsari shares her experience on VPA negotiations, from the perspective of civil society
A multistakeholder group was tasked with developing the SVLK. To be credible both at home and to the market, the system had to satisfy all stakeholders. The process therefore involved much consultation, negotiation and compromise, even within groups such as civil society platforms or industry associations.
“This was a long, bloody history because there were so many interests involved,” said Edi Nugroho, co-director on Indonesia’s Multistakeholder Forestry Programme. “The challenge was incredible.”
Stakeholders across the country scrutinised each aspect of the SVLK. “When we, for example, developed a principle, an indicator or a verifier, we didn’t only talk about that in Jakarta,” said Diah Raharjo of the Multistakeholder Forestry Programme. “We talked with actors in all units of forestry management and industries. And it required a long process.”
But as the process went on, engagement only deepened. New stakeholders joined – such as representatives of cultural communities and the Forestry Industry Revitalization Agency.
Selective harvesting in a forest concession in East Kalimantan
Source: EU FLEGT Facility
A parallel process
2007 was a milestone year. The multistakeholder task force submitted its proposed SVLK to the Ministry of Forestry. Meanwhile, Indonesia and the EU started negotiating a trade deal called a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to ensure that only legal timber products from Indonesia reach the EU. VPAs are among the main actions envisaged by the EU FLEGT Action Plan to address illegal logging.
Indonesia consulted stakeholders before deciding to start VPA negotiations, and gave civil society and private sector representatives seats in the national negotiating team – an unprecedented level of participation in a trade deal.
The VPA process helped address the needs of different stakeholders including many who had never before had a voice in decision-making. During negotiations, for instance, civil society representatives requested that the VPA ensures that they have access to data that enables meaningful independent observation.
SVLK is born... and updated
In 2009, VPA negotiations continued and the SVLK entered into law. The SVLK gives civil society organisations, individuals and communities a role as independent monitors. This gives civil society unprecedented oversight of private sector and government performance.
The VPA process provided significant opportunities to improve the system. Since 2009, Indonesia has revised the SVLK Regulation five times with input from stakeholders.
“Nongovernmental organisations used to be outside the circle, but now are part of the verification system,” said Dr Dwi Sudharto, Director for Forest Product Processing and Marketing. “This ensures the timber legality verification system is credible.”
Other changes benefit the private sector, such as new rules that mean small businesses and community forests can trade in legal timber and obtain export licenses more easily.
Nongovernmental organisations used to be outside the circle, but now are part of the verification system This ensures the timber legality verification system is credible.
— Dr Dwi Sudharto, Director for Forest Product Processing and Marketing, Ministry of Environment and Forestry
In 2015, Indonesia launched a programme to accelerate SVLK certification for small and medium sized furniture exporters and other groups.
Knowledge and capactiy
“The system is truly Indonesian, because we created a system that can be accepted by all stakeholders: non-governmental organizations, the government, business players,” said M. Haris Witjaksono, of surveying company PT Sucofindo.
But for SVLK to work, everyone in Indonesia’s forest sector must know about and understand it. The government therefore undertook activities to promote the SVLK to forestry businesses, law enforcers, NGOs, regional forestry agencies and regional administrations all around Indonesia. At the local level, community foundations and civil society organisations promoted the SLVK among local administrations, district forestry agencies and grass-root NGOs.
Indonesia also built capacity among groups involved in implementing the SVLK such as management units, assessment bodies and independent observers. To date, training has been provided to nearly 15,000 local government supervisors, sustainable forest management technicians, staff at regional forests management offices and heads of villages. And the main independent monitoring network now gathers more than 400 members operating all over the country.
In addition, support organisations have worked with small and medium-scale enterprises to help them understand the SVLK and the demands of the EU market regarding legal timber.
Transporting processed timber from a community forest in Java, Indonesia.
Source: EU FLEGT Facility
Toward FLEGT licences
The VPA entered into force in May 2014 and the two Parties to the agreement have been making significant progress to ensure that the FLEGT licensing scheme is operationalised as soon as possible. A joint implementation committee involving all concerned stakeholders oversees implementation of the VPA and monitor its social, environment and economic impacts. Through this body, the EU and Indonesia will jointly decide when the SVLK fully meets the terms of the VPA. Only then will the system be able to issue verified legal timber products with FLEGT licences that expedite their entry to the EU market.
That day will mark the culmination of the long process through which thousands of forest stakeholders from government, civil society and private sector overcame long-held differences and worked together as effective partners. Their shared goal: to ensure a more effective governance and legal framework that supports legality in Indonesia’s forestry sector and contributes to the sustainable management of its forests.
**Update (15 September 2016): Today, the EU and Indonesia announced that Indonesia would begin issuing FLEGT licences on 15 November 2016.
Official documents from the Indonesia-EU VPA process
- Indonesia-EU VPA text and annexes [PDF]
- Indonesia-EU VPA Joint Implementation Committee. 2015. Summary of Indonesia-EU Action Plan on the Advancement of VPA Implementation [PDF]
- Indonesia-EU VPA Joint Implementation Committee. 2015. Record of discussion of the second Joint Implementation Committee meeting, 12 February 2015 [PDF]
- Indonesia-EU VPA Joint Implementation Committee. 2014. Results of the second stage of the joint assessment of Indonesia's timber legality assurance system: Public summary [PDF]