In Jokowi Era, Taking a United Stand on Biodiversity

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

Published in Jakarta Globe, October 2, 2014

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Before dawn last Friday, Indonesia experienced an incredible shock. The House of Representatives decided to pass a bill abolishing the direct elections of governors, district heads and mayors, and giving local legislatures the power to appoint regional leaders.

The move ignited popular unrest, with citizens taking to Twitter, Facebook and even the streets to demand a judicial review of the bill by the Constitutional Court. Many other reactions responded to the reality that the people has lost their right to vote.

Then a second blow came on Wednesday, when the Constitutional Court rejected a judicial review of the law on legislative bodies, known as the MD3 law, submitted by Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P. That means the PDI-P’s attempt to secure the House speaker’s seat remains shaky, because according to the decision of the court the next leader of the House will be elected by legislators, and not appointed by the party that won the most votes at the legislative election, as was the practice previously. This new condition will favor the opposition, which dominates the new House and has the chance to secure the seat.

From that recent development, it shows that politics is purely for the interests of certain group. These developments will tend to jeopardize the incoming administration of President-elect Joko Widodo, nominated by the PDI-P. The maneuvering by the opposition shows clearly that they will go head-to-head against the new president and his party, and that they have enough power to counter all government policies.

However, even though the opposition and the next government will be at loggerheads, thereby stalling the passage of key policies, it is important for the new House, as the legislative branch, and the new government, as the executive branch, to have common ground on the issue of biodiversity conservation. They have to make peace on that issue and walk side by side to support policies for biodiversity conservation and use, because at stake is the country and its people. Any mistakes in passing legislation or regulations will directly affect the people.

We have to realize that biodiversity is very important to human life. The loss of any bit of biodiversity will disrupt the balance of life on Earth.

Endang Sukara, a professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, or LIPI, has noted that 70 million years ago the rate of species extinction was just one every 1,000 years; from 1600 to 1900 it was one every four years; from 1900 to 1980 we lost one species every year; and after the year 2000 the world was losing an entire species every day.

The United Nations Environment Program has similarly estimated that species are disappearing at 50 times the natural rate. Some 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species currently face extinction.

Facing these disturbing numbers, Indonesia, as a country with immense biodiversity, should take action to prevent biodiversity loss. Moreover, Indonesia will enter the Asean Economic Community next year, with its attendant increase in demand on natural resources, so biodiversity management it will require extra caution.

We have a lot of potential in that aspect, but the wrong strategy will benefit other countries. Therefore, political will and action from the government and the House are urgent. Judicious policies regarding biodiversity preservation and use will lead to our nation prospering. The legislative and executive should get along well to produce proper policies to convert the potential from biodiversity use into something that can benefit the nation.

For example, in the context of realizing food sovereignty, data from the 2013 agricultural census show a shrinking number of Indonesians employed in farming. Between 2003 and 2013, at least five million households gave up farming, leaving just 26 million farming households as of 2013.

That diminishing number will significantly affect the food supply, and the effect will be amplified by the a projected boom in the total population of the country, from 238 million in 2010 to 305 million in 2035.

If the number of farmers goes into free fall and the population continues to swell, Indonesia will face a food crisis. One of the keys to national prosperity is ensuring a sufficient food supply. Therefore the need to use biodiversity to tackle this challenge is pressing.

One of the important keys to realizing biodiversity use for national prosperity is local communities. They are the element who benefit directly from the proper management of biodiversity use. Strong local communities will lead to a strong nation. Training and mentoring about biodiversity use management will give added value in biodiversity products, and that will have an economic impact.

One example of how local communities are capable of developing a strategy to use biodiversity potential for their needs is the local biodiversity park of Gumi Banten in Renon village in Denpasar, Bali.

The Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation, or Kehati, worked with the Denpasar administration and Udayana University to develop a biodiversity park to conserve a variety of local plants and exotic flowers, including 12 varieties of coconuts, 10 species of bamboo, and 12 varieties of bananas. Those plants and flowers are important to Hindu ceremonies. Thanks to the park, the people in Renon no longer have to import flowers or plants from elsewhere; they have a sustainable solution to meet their needs.

The biodiversity park in Gumi Banten is only a small example, and Indonesia has very big potential for biodiversity use for national prosperity. However, without serious commitment from the legislative and executive it is impossible to turn that potential into reality. Every effort by local communities for biodiversity conservation and use needs support and legal certainty to achieve a significant impact for national prosperity. Therefore, the legislative and the executive should walk together in producing policies that favor biodiversity conservation and use, so that in the long run the nation will prosper.

Rosyid Nurul Hakiim is the communications officer of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation

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