Social Forestry and Agrarian Reforms in Indonesia

Jan 20, 2020

Indonesia is home to a diverse collective of traditional societies and an estimated 50 to 70 million members of indigenous or traditional communities. Many of these communities still maintain their respective traditional governance structures. Community members often remain committed to the application of customary laws in their daily lives, including those which pertain to the management of land and natural resources. Palm oil plantations, timber tree plantations, logging, mining and infrastructure construction threaten community land rights. These export-oriented industries are plagued by land grabs, deforestation and environmental destruction.

Legislative Framework

The legislative framework of Indonesia sufficiently recognises the customary land rights of its indigenous and traditional communities. The rights are constitutionally enshrined and recognised as ulayat rights by its main land law enacted in 1960. However, the recognition of customary land rights of indigenous and traditional communities by national laws, can only be fully implemented and realised under the discretion of local governments. This effectively creates an institutional gap within the legislative and regulatory framework, to the detriment of the communities. Until the indigenous and traditional customary territories are given the highest form of executive protection by the local governments, they will always remain vulnerable to land grabs. 

Political Repression and Militarisation

Indonesia has had a long history of political repression. During the three decades of dictatorship, the country was subjected to an authoritarian regime and increased militarisation. Under this regime, policies and laws were enacted to proclaim that all land without any form of ownership registration to be deemed as property of the state. This gave the state the absolute authority to control such land and therefore, the ability to license out the exploitation rights of such land to corporations for various resource extractive, land and infrastructure development activities. All of these activities could be carried out by the state through a repressive approach, including seizures of community land and eviction of affected communities. Although today indigenous and traditional communities may have more opportunities to improve their land tenure security, there is no guarantee in the law which can protect their land from being acquired by the state for a host of commercial and development purposes. 

Social Forestry and Agrarian Reforms

Since the 1990s, WALHI has been working to promote community-based forestry management and agroecology practices in provinces located in Kalimantan, Sumatera, Java and Nusa Tenggara. Such efforts have paid off significantly. During the previous presidential elections, the current president paid a visit to WALHI in an effort to learn about various structural governance matters related to natural resource management. This included viable strategies to halt natural resource-based conflicts which had violated the rights of numerous communities.

Today, the proposals recommended by WALHI have been adopted by the Indonesian presidential office. This has resulted in the launch of a social forestry program and a series of agrarian reforms. However, the implementation of the programs is not free from enormous challenges. Their successful implementation will certainly entail the reduction in the concession areas licensed out to the corporate sector. The corporate lobby has naturally not remained silent at the national and provincial levels in its effort to ensure that national and provincial policies, legislation and law enforcement will continue to work in its favour. As long as such community-centred initiatives fail to reach their optimal potential, communities will continue to be exposed to various threats of land grabs, including those that are posed by infrastructure development.

Therefore, continued political pressure needs to be asserted to support a systematic paradigm shift in the development model of the nation. Effective law enforcement, the revocation of operational permits which violate community land rights and their territories and the reduction in areas under corporate control must continue to be promoted. All such efforts must be done with the participation of local communities and even engagement in electoral spaces at both the central and provincial levels. There needs to be continued efforts to strengthen communities and campaigns, lobbies and dialogues on policy and legislation, as well as grassroots mobilisation to continue demanding the rights of the people.

Supporting the Leadership of Women 

In promoting community-based forestry and natural resource management, WALHI makes its best effort to promote the participation of women with its community partners. Women are not only the direct experienced holders of traditional knowledge, they also suffer from specific impacts when community living spaces are destroyed. WALHI continues to provide support to the many women who are on the front lines, defending their living spaces and territories and those who suffer from various violations and even criminalisation for their courage.

WALHI Recommendations 

The following are the transformative political and legislative measures that can ensure greater protection of community land rights, the prevention of land grabs and human rights violations and the sustainable management of natural resources in Indonesia:

1. The strict enforcement of the law with respect to the management of natural resources and the protection of the environment,

2. The acceleration of the fulfillment of the presidential pledge to recognise and protect customary territories through social forestry and agrarian reform programs, including those for indigenous peoples and traditional communities,

3.The institution of an effective and meaningful free, prior and informed consent process for indigenous and traditional societies. This would allow affected communities to freely reject decisions that may affect their well-being, livelihoods and rights, including on matters pertaining to the management of natural resources,
4.The establishment of a moratorium on the issuance of oil palm plantations and mining licences, for the purpose of introducing improvements in natural resource governance,

5.The halting of violence and criminalisation against indigenous peoples, local communities, farmers, fishers and women, who are fighting for the rights over their lands and livelihoods.

Read WALHI’s full story in our new publication ‘The Laws of Land Grabs in Asia Pacific’.

For more information contract:
Emma Harvey
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific, Communications Coordinator