Indonesia pledges to resolve forest land conflicts

by Soumya Karlamangla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 10:52 GMT

Move represents 'a clear shift toward recognition of community land rights,' forest land tenure expert says

LONDON (AlertNet) - Indonesia’s government made some big promises Tuesday: to resolve land tenure conflicts that plague the country while also protecting the rights of people in forest-based communities.
Both of these steps could help pave the way for the country to achieve its goals of limiting deforestation and adapting to climate change, said Konturo Mangkusubroto, head of the Indonesian President’s special delivery unit, at a global forestry conference this week.

To applause from policy-makers and researchers in the audience, he said that Indonesia’s president supports protecting the land of indigenous communities and that “this is our chance to untangle our convoluted past and make a lasting difference.”

“Land tenure relationships are the convergence of social, cultural, technical, institutional, legal and political forces that push and pull, creating absolute tension,” said Mangkusubroto, who heads Indonesia’s REDD+ task force, aimed at reducing deforestation. “We recognize this tension when we observe, among others, illegal logging, conflict resulting from overlapping land permits, and exploitation of natural resources, women and vulnerable groups.”

Conflict over forest land tenure has come to a head in Indonesia in recent years, with about 33,000 villages breaking the law because the forest areas they have been settled in for centuries are actually designated preserved state land,  Mangkusubroto said.


The government will immediately begin creating a map, with input from forest dwellers and other local residents, that aims to lay the groundwork for forest decisions going forward, he said. The government will also speed up the the process for determining the status of various lands while still recognizing local rights, which should help clear up land conflicts, he said.

“These are people who live in the forest and they have a very close emotional connection with the forest, so anybody, any company who wants to make use of the forest for other economic proposals … they should have a clearance from the people who live in the forest,” Mangkusubroto told AlertNet by telephone after the conference.

Any land tenure conflicts must be settled before Indonesia can be involved in conservation programs like REDD+, a United Nations effort to award developing countries for preserving their standing forests through Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation, he said. Without a clear understanding of who owns land, receiving and distributing funds through REDD+ will be difficult, he said.

“Conflicts are a huge constraint on the economic development of the country and also the achievement of their own climate change goals,” agreed Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that encourages forest land tenure and policy reforms and helped host this week’s conference, Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise: Experiences and Opportunities for Asia in a Changing Context, in Lombok.


Mangkusubroto’s announcement came on the same day that a paper  was released at the conference  which shows Indonesia lagging behind other Asian countries, including India, South Korea and Vietnam, in granting control of forest land to local communities.

Indonesia is home to the world’s fifth largest forest area yet is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, largely through deforestation, according to White, one of the paper’s authors.

White called Indonesia an “outlier” in terms of how little has been done to conserve forest lands and empower the people that use the forests as part of their daily lives.

“That’s why this is such an important announcement for Indonesia,” he said. “Never before has there been such a high level of commitment from the government.”

White said that Indonesian officials have been making similar pledges for years, but without following through.

But this time, “it was very significant because it was a clear shift towards recognition of community land rights and it was such a fully informed, well-grounded and compelling presentation, which clearly indicated that he fully understood what he was saying and the challenges of implementation,” White said of Mangkusubroto’s speech.

“There is a significant different between the rhetoric and the reality in terms of implementation and indeed the government has made statements, pronouncements to this effect (before),” White said. “But today, part of his statement was that now we need to shift to implementation.”

Mangkusubroto told AlertNet that once new action plans are underway, land conflicts will hopefully lessen and forest management improve, which “is one of the most important steps towards fighting climate change (and reducing) emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”

“Paradigm shift is imperative, from exploitation to sustainable and responsible use of natural resources,” he said.

Soumya Karlamangla is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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