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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

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