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The invisible rights of indigenous people in Indonesia have suddenly appeared

Indigenous people in Indonesia have, until recently, been invisible in the debate over land rights. But the situation is starting to change, says Masayu Vinanda

 

 

Community carbon measurement in Merauke, Papua province, Indonesia

Community carbon measurement in Merauke, Papua province, Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Degi Harja

Over the past few decades, although much of the forest land in Indonesia has been converted to other uses or severely degraded, some indigenous communities with their local wisdom still continue to manage forests in a sustainable manner.

However, these communities have long been excluded from the political decisions over the utilization of, and access to, land and resources. Meanwhile, other groups have successfully used the resources for large-scale commercial purposes, such as mining, timber and crop plantations.

In this process, indigenous people were forced to leave their land, causing them to lose their source of livelihoods and their cultural identification with it. What they saw as the violation of their claimed rights over land and resources provoked them to resist, which has resulted in hundreds of conflicts throughout the archipelago.

Radical reforms to the land-tenure system, which embrace clarity and equity in land and resource utilization, was key, according to three panelists discussing Governing Access and Securing Rights to Land and Resources at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday 5 May 2014. The session was moderated by the Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre, Dr Ujjwal Pradhan.

‘Recognition of local rights over land use and resources is one important aspect that needs to be strengthened to reduce conflicts’, said Ganga Ram Dahal from the Rights and Resources Initiative.

Presenting an overview of land-tenure reform in Asia from 2002 to 2013, he cited India as an example of what tenure reform could look like. According to his research, during the period there was a significant increase in the recognition of local rights over land and forests in major parts of the sub-continent. In some places in the north of India, he said, the customary area was legally owned by the tribal community, creating a conflict-free environment. Not only was conflict mitigated but also environmental services were well preserved within the tribal domain.

In China, Nepal, and the Philippines, the study also revealed a positive direction towards better recognition of local rights over competing political processes for land and resources utilization. However, in Indonesia, the increasing recognition of local rights over resources did not appear.

Across the vast spread of islands that make up the nation, only 270,000 hectares of forest land, less than 1% of the total of state-owned forest, was owned by indigenous people and local communities, according to a study conducted by Senior Researcher Zahrul Muttaqin from the Forestry Research and Development Agency of the Ministry of Forestry.

Although initiatives to promote local rights over forest, land and other natural resources have been undertaken by some local governments in several districts in Indonesia, the legal framework to ensure implementation has not yet been put in place. The limited access to natural resources threatens the livelihoods of communities living in, or around, state-owned forests, often forcing them to move to other areas and clear new land. This can have other consequences, such as conflicts and contested claims over land.

The inequality over the rights to land and resources is the root cause of indigenous people’s movements in some parts of Indonesia trying to win land ownership, according to Noer Fauzi Rachman, Executive Director of the Sajogyo Institute for Indonesian Agrarian Studies. He emphasised that the Indonesian forestry law does not favour local community rights over land, forests and other natural resources. Even the recent Constitutional Court ruling that customary forests must be excluded from state-owned lands has yet to be implemented in practice, leaving a huge urge for reform waiting to be satisfied.

As well as reforming legal instruments, ensuring visibility of customary territories is also important. Providing comprehensive and valid sets of data that clarify the boundaries and claims of customary areas has become problematic. Customary territory is usually based on local knowledge passed down through many generations without any written documents that can support its existence.

Promoting better recognition of local rights over land and resources has also become one of the primary aspects embraced in the European Union-funded Participatory Monitoring by Civil Society of Land-use Planning for Low-emissions Development Strategies project implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre in three districts of Papua province: Jayapura, Jayawijaya and Merauke. The project aims to empower local communities to plan, monitor and evaluate the land-use planning process.

Working groups made up of people from all walks of life have been established in each district to develop land-use plans for low-emissions development and build a participatory monitoring and evaluation system. Through a series of capacity-building activities, civil society groups will be able to document environmental services in their area. They will learn how to measure carbon stocks, monitor water conditions and identify biodiversity assets. With more advanced technical capacity being built in these groups, they will be able to provide scientific data that can help articulate the important values of their customary area. This science-based local knowledge can be used as a negotiation tool by the local communities to help them gain legal recognition of rights over land and resources.

 

 

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The Summit is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

 

Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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