Breaking ground: Stakeholders in Aceh Tamiang meet for the first time to discuss the future of one of Indonesia’s most threatened forest regions

In April of this year, TFT brought together 50 participants from NGOs, companies, local communities and the local government in Aceh Tamiang province, Indonesia, to find solutions to land planning issues.

Aceh province, Indonesia, is a place with exceptionally high levels of biodiversity. The province covers large parts of the Leuser ecosystem – the only place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses coexist. Aceh’s wealth of natural resources are vital to the livelihoods of local people and the region’s economic development. However, like many places across Indonesia, its forests are being rapidly cleared to produce globally traded commodities, including palm oil, rubber, and cellulose (pulp). Finding a way for a broad range of local stakeholders to discuss the changes that expanding commodity production is bringing to people and nature is of the utmost urgency.

This April, TFT took on this challenge in Aceh Tamiang by hosting a three-day interactive meeting of 50 people from diverse sectors in coordination with the District Government of Aceh Tamiang. Representatives of communities, companies, government, and NGOs – sectors that rarely work together in the region – came together to learn about multi-stakeholder approaches to land-use planning and exchange their perspectives on their challenges and aspirations, led by TFT’s social training initiative, the Centre of Social Excellence (CSE).

This unique meeting was part of TFT’s Landscapes programme’s work in the region. Landscapes aims to engage with different stakeholders in priority areas of Indonesia to address deforestation and social challenges by supporting the development of effective land-use planning. In 2017, Landscapes drew up basemaps of Aceh Tamiang province, noting the various land uses and highlighting deforestation hotspots. Fostering discussion between the main stakeholders was the essential next step in developing viable solutions in Aceh.

Representatives of communities, companies, government, and NGOs came together for the first time to learn about multi-stakeholder approaches to land-use planning and exchange their perspectives on their challenges and aspirations

The workshop was also a timely opportunity for stakeholders to provide input to the current government-led development and land use planning process in Aceh Tamiang. These governmental plans, and the specific guidance they give on concessions and other land use decisions, can potentially positively complement on-the-ground activities TFT is developing to strengthen livelihoods and protect forests in Aceh Tamiang District. Following the meeting, TFT’s Landscapes team is now assisting the Government’s advisors to obtain environmental data from different civil society institutions and organisations in order to broaden the technical information available to them for their analyses.

One of the challenges the event aimed to tackle was the lack of connections between stakeholders. Some participants at the event, such as Wahyu Wigati, a representative of a local palm oil company, were surprised the event happened at all. Previously, finding a safe space for palm oil companies, which should be involved in all local land use planning, to meet other local actors like NGOs and government staff to share ideas and aspirations was difficult and uncommon.

TFT’s workshop brought together diverse stakeholders to discuss ways to protect Aceh Tamiang’s diverse natural areas and to ensure development for local people.

In this sense, new ground was broken in April. The event successfully forged links between key local parties which had been non-existent beforehand.

Similarly, in order for stakeholders in Aceh Tamiang to participate in the land use planning process, they need to understand the goals behind it, the main methodologies used, and the potential roles of the different key actors. Unsurprisingly, however, knowledge of land use planning concepts and related technical information is uneven between different stakeholder groups.

For instance, Musto, a smallholder farmer who participated in the workshop, knew nothing about collaborative natural resource management, nor the importance of working with other stakeholders in the region. But by dedicating time at the workshop to discussing the process, this knowledge gap was lessened. “We now realise that there are other stakeholders who can help and guide us in managing natural resources collaboratively,” Musto explained after the event.

Above all, the April meeting in Aceh Tamiang set out to foster a mindset that favours collaboration. “Looking at the commitments made at this workshop by each stakeholder (companies and others), we see that all of them have good intentions” said Izuddin, who represented a local NGO at the meeting.

“We now realise that there are other stakeholders who can help and guide us in managing natural resources collaboratively,” Musto, a smallholder farmer, said after the event.

The April workshop was one of TFT’s first steps in Aceh Tamiang to help local actors to collaborate more effectively in developing land use planning solutions.  In the future, more workshops and support will be needed to support the work of the Government and others.

We hope that the success of the first workshop, and Izuddin’s and other participants’ personal change over the three days, heralds  the coming of broader commitments and participation of civil society, companies, communities, and government during the hard work ahead.

Support from TFT member Colgate-Palmolive made the workshop possible. More information about Colgate-Palmolive’s palm oil policy and their work to end deforestation in palm oil supply chains can be found on their website.

Watch a short documentary about the April 2018 meeting in Aceh Tamiang here.