Indonesia: reforms should first deal with historical land rights conflicts

Burning of peatlands in Indonesia: Photo credit: ICRAF/Rizki Pandu PermanaIndonesia reforms should provide clarity, simplify procedures and conclusively deal with unresolved property rights whose complex nature continues to stifle progress across the forest margins of Indonesia.


At a recent international conference on forest tenure and governance, the Indonesian government indicated that the country’s policy reforms will focus on giving communities more use rights and control over natural resources in a bid to reduce high carbon emission levels while promoting the livelihoods of community members.  

The hope is that these reforms will provide clarity, simplify procedures and conclusively deal with unresolved property rights whose complex nature continues to stifle progress across the forest margins of Indonesia. One of these landscapes is the forest peatland in the Central Kalimantan Ex-Mega-Rice Project Area where conflicts have a long history of shifting policies that have resulted in overlapping land rights, and a clash between the central and local government on land use in the area.

The potential to reduce carbon emissions from  peatland drainage and conversion in Indonesia is high with annual emissions of 40 t CO2e per hectare per year. The government identified the peat domes of the Central Kalimantan Ex-Mega-Rice Project Area as a priority for international cooperation in emission reduction with Australian support. It is, however, not yet a priority on the tenure reform agenda.

The problem

Different regimes have meant different land use rights and regulations in Central Kalimantan, causing confusion and conflicts as several parties legally lay claim to the same land. Conflicts revolve around land rights that were granted through A) the traditional adat systems or rules which the local communities still hold on to, B) logging concession permits granted under the national forestry law which did not acknowledge adat rights of local communities, and property rights allocated during and after the Mega Rice settlement project.

The situation is made worse by a difference of interpretation  between the local and central government on ownership and land use management where the local government quotes existing research and policy to justify exploitation of the area for oil palm and mining concessions. This is against the directives of the central government that no such concessions should be granted so as to protect the area’s biodiversity. Negotiations between the two state entities need to be informed by the area’s potential in environmental conservation and in the interest of the local community.

With such complexities already surrounding land right use and management, the expectation of REDD+ income increased the stakes. Clarity on  land rights as part of a broader carbon rights concept is needed in Central Kalimantan and other similar landscapes in Indonesia.

Searching for a  solution

 Scientists at the Worldagroforestry Center based in Indonesia have conducted a study in Central Kalimantan to investigate the root causes of conflicts in the area and based on this provided possible resolutions to ending the problem. “Changing the local course of history requires changes in the balance of power,” they explain in one of the latest ASB Partnership briefs. Specifically, the brief carries three main points of consideration.

-         It calls for negotiated cooperation among stakeholders as opposed to authority by one single legal entity; the fairness dimension of respect and recognition has been underestimated in importance

-         It identifies resolution of property rights as the key step to be taken for  successful REDD+ implementation

-         It concludes that a co-investment paradigm of REDD+ can contribute to resolving disputes on property rights and seek more transparent use of state authority and power

Download full ASB Policy brief 21: Hot spots of confusion: contested policies and competing carbon claims in the peatlands of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

End of an Era: In Memoriam - Dr. Ir. H. Soetjipto Partohardjono

The ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins and the entire World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) family are saddened by the demise of a long time friend and colleague.

Dr. Ir. H. Soetjipto Partohardjono passed away on July 17, 2011, in the Sentra Medika hospital in Cibinong Bogor, Indonesia. Until around 1999 with fond memories we remember his many contributions and deep friendship.

“I first met Pak Soetjipto way back in 1974 when I worked at International Rice Research Institute on farming systems. He was one of the pioneer Indonesian scientists in this field. He was always such a positive and supportive person,” remembers Dennis Garrity, Director General, ICRAF.

“He was one of the driving forces of the early steps of ASB Indonesia, so we have many good memories of a committed, broad-minded scientist and pleasant colleague, in the field as well as in the office,” says Meine van Noordwijk (ICRAF, Bogor).

Dr. Ir. H Soetjipto Partohardjono joined the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD), Ministry of Agriculture, Indonesia in 1962 as junior researcher and obtainned his Agricultural Engineer title at Bogor Agricultural Institute (Institut Pertanian Bogor/IPB) in 1973, followed by a PhD at Hokkaido University in Japan in 1990. After various reorganizations he became one of the leading scientists of the Centre for Food Crops Research in Indonesia. He was honoured as Accomplished Son of the Region by the Governor of South Sulawesi in 1996 and with the Satya Lancana Wira Karya medal by the President of Indonesia in 1998. 

ICRAF and the ASB team lost one of its pioneers and godfathers in Indonesia and we value the time and memories we had with Pak Soetjipto.

Former ASB Global Coordinator, Tom Tomich notes, “I certainly have many very fond memories of our colleague Pak Soetjipto. We met soon after I joined ICRAF in 1994.  I recall that several of us were serving on a committee to award ASB Indonesia research grants. Quality of proposals varied and I believe it was Pak Tjip who said ‘we have to have the guts to make the tough choices!’ It always was a pleasure for me to travel with him. I remember well that he was an avid orchid collector and seemed to find new types on any forest visit in Sumatra. He was a great leader for ASB and also a very good friend. His passing is sad news indeed.”

Dr. Ir. H. Soetjipto Partohardjono was born in 1939 and is survived by his wife, N. Wulijarni-Soetjipto of Puslitbang Biologi-LIPI/Plant Resources of South-East Asia (PROSEA), his two children Adrianto and Dini Astriani, and his grandson M. S. Rheza.

A key resource: manual on estimating opportunity costs of REDD+

A recent version II of the manual titled Estimating Opportunity Costs of REDD+ can be found

Stewardship Agreements for REDD in Indonesia

Resolving the issue of who owns the forest is probably the biggest hurdle in the implementation of REDD+ in most countries and to succeed, legal structures and policy frameworks should promote ownership of the process by forest dependent communities. This is important because forest management initiatives must have the objectives of promoting both the wellbeing of forests and that of communities who rely on the forests as a source of livelihood.

To reconcile this, Indonesia has started to implement the Hutan Desa regulation which aims to resolve tenure conflicts through the provision of village forests. The agreement allows villages living in forest margins to become active forest management units. Although Hutan Desa is currently being applied in only one community in Indonesia, it offers lesson points for the large-scale application of the law to other communities.

Some of the points are analyzed in ASB’s latest policy brief 18 on "Stewardship Agreements to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) in Indonesia”. The brief highlights the need to reduce transaction costs and streamlining of rules for wider application of the law; international support in dealing with bottlenecks such as tenure conflicts; informal social networks comprising of key stakeholders such as government officials, NGO’s, and researchers are also important in the process though they can take a long time to develop. Read full policy brief

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