Rural landscapes in Southeast Asia have been subject to tremendous development pressures over the past few decades. This has resulted in loss and degradation of vast tracts of natural forests, drainage of peat swamps, persistent fire outbreak, and dramatic changes in land ownership. NDPE policies and government interventions helped reduce deforestation for some commodities before all was lost. It remains crucially important, however, to engage all stakeholders whilst land use begins to consolidate. A sustainable future requires diversified landscapes.
Productivity is essential to our economy, and taking large areas of land into a single use is definitely cost-effective. Following this logic, significant parts of Indonesia and Malaysia have been converted into vast plantation monocultures where one or two commodities are produced, leaving very little land left for other economic activities. This brings about great vulnerabilities. If workers have no place left to recreate, where would they spend their mid-level income? If groundwater levels in peat continue to be drained below a certain level across whole peat domes, how will persistent flooding be prevented on the longer run? When global commodity prices are slumping and local communities have no alternative livelihood sources left, are they not most likely to turn to companies insisting that their produce is bought even when the mill may have no demand for it?
Although some government policies pursue greater diversity in our landscapes in Southeast Asia, these still tend to lose out against exploitative economic activity. This is why Earthqualizer works with the few policies that are available. After all, it must be shown that these deliver impact before broader - essential - policies have any chance of success.
As the years of near uncontrolled corporate-controlled landbank expansion for tree and oil palm plantations are being left behind, the Indonesian government acknowledged the need to grant local communities more rights to land.
Social forestry and land reform
This included a commitment to allocate a significant part of the forest domain to local communities wishing to practice social forestry. It also included a policy that allows villagers - including millions of palm oil smallholders - to apply for land rights under the land reform program (TORA). Whilst still overly restricted, these two government policies help create somewhat more social justice in plantation-dominated landscapes.
Conservation set-asides and recovery
Another development was the government's recognition of corporate efforts to set-aside parts of their land banks for conservation purposes such as High Conservation Value (HCV) forests. Whilst implementation remains somewhat inconsistent, this policy too helps retain diversity in our landscapes. In efforts to compensate for past harm, several plantation companies are taking up calls to care for larger areas of remaining forest and peat, be it through conservation, reforestation or social forestry support. This is also known as recovery.
Land use planning
Regional spatial planning is a crucially important pathway to secure more diversity. Public participation in this process varies per country and region, and Earthqualizer encourages all stakeholders to engage in this process. This is especially important in regions where land use is still being consolidated, i.e. where plantation "greenfields" with forests and peatlands remain undeveloped ("stranded land") because their development would result in non-compliance with NDPE policy. influencing of land use planning is also critically important in landscapes dominated by smallholders.
Co-Management Agreements (CMA)
Few of our remaining forests and other natural ecosystems are effectively managed by a single stakeholder. In nearly all cases, nature serves different functions for different stakeholders at the same time. These stakeholders depend on each other and they can mutually enforce each other. This is why we encourage companies and other stakeholders to enter into Co-Management Agreements (CMAs) with other parties. CMAs set the rules for sharing benefits and costs, and regulate what happens in the event problems emerge.
Fair contributions to society
Companies operating in remote, rural areas are expected to (financially) contribute to socio-economic and cultural development, other than through generating employment. Indeed, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets have covered numerous expenses - such as health care, schooling, infrastructure, that are commonly financed by governments through taxation in most countries. These CSR expenditures, however, do not replace the obligatory payment land and building taxes which remain unpaid in too many instances. Earthqualizer favours a trajectory that encourages and enables (local) governments to fulfil their public responsibilities whilst the private sector increasingly focuses on its own core business.
Community business units
Secure tenure rights make investment in land and forests worthwhile. Securing land rights for pure conservation goals is sometimes necessary, but most time it is a precondition for the creation of a legal, sustainable and accountable community-based business operation.
We collaborate with communities to improve their entrepreneurial skills to produce and market "community-based commodities" whilst ensuring sustainable use of the forest. Considerations in building businesses include:
Natural products: focus on the sustainable production and marketing of non-timber forest products that are already being harvested in the region.
Product sustainability: assessing the socio-ecological impact of production in consultation with the community and setting of common rules agreed by consensus; furthermore the usage of quality, biodegradable packaging for village-produced products.
Marketing and trading: focus on local markets first, online marketing second and engagement of private entrepreneurs where opportune. Equitable sharing of benefits at village level.
Monitoring and traceability: keep track of product sources and destinies, to back up sustainability claims and impact reports.
Earthqualizer Foundation believes that the private sector - with increasing support from governments - should undertake projects to diversify the landscapes in which their companies operate. This is often in their own interest, to create more resilient local communities and ecosystems, to back up sustainability claims in the market place or both. In the years to come, Earthqualizer's implementation partner - PT Inovasi Digital - will provide services to the private sector to fulfil these objectives.
Many communities and landscapes remain where no private actor is willing to invest in their landscape. These are the target areas of Earthqualizer, at least for the first three to five years, where the foundations are laid for long-term fund raising, locally or externally.
Implementation of recovery plan in partnership with stakeholders
Investment in finance, technology, and marketing, locally and internationally
Implementation of NDPE reflected at plantation
Catalysation collaborating between stakeholders
Provide push for government to regulate sustainability aspectes in the palm oil sector
Marketing of Recovery Plan and creating positive stories
Development of enabling regulations and policies, including endorce implementation of policies
Collaborating with stakeholders, we support sustainable landscape management by implementing the Production-Protection-Inclusion (PPI) schemes in the following landscapes:
We are targeting opportunities for developing landscape-based programmes with ecological and economic recovery models, and have identified several potential interventions based on following aspects:
Potential areas for social forestry
Extent of private sector recovery obligations
Company commitment to building collaboration and supporting the sustainable business sector
Positive commitment from local stakeholders
Community willingness to effect change.
Market access opportunities for commodities.
Existing programmes can be replicated or scaled up through communication and engagement and by mapping the roles of stakeholders with interests in the landscapes.
Working in partnership with companies and donors, Earthqualizer is supporting communities in various landscapes through recovery programmes that combine:
Social forestry support
Reforestation and peat rewetting
Through collaborative action, our aim is to achieve forest management rights for local people, balancing environmental protection with social justice. We ultimately want a fairer, more sustainable deal for people and nature. Here is a closer look at some success stories so far: