WRI Vice President for Communications Lawrence Macdonald recently visited Indonesia to learn about the interplay between land rights and deforestation. This is the third of three posts about the farmers, companies, officials and researchers working towards One Map.

What happens when government agencies, companies, and citizens clash over land rights--and each has a legal document to back its claim? WRI Indonesia is supporting implementation of the national government’s One Map Policy, an innovative approach to solving such disputes. The WRI Indonesia team is working with communities in four provinces—Riau, South Sumatra, Papua and South Papua—to help compile unified maps and bring competing stakeholders together to forge solutions.

Lawrence MacDonald discussed the One Map Policy and WRI’s role with Adi Pradana, One Map Initiative Governance Manager, and Gita Syahrani, Sustainable Commodities and Business Manager, in a WRI Podcast following a recent visit to a sub-district in South Sumatra that is struggling with just these problems. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: Can you give an example of how Indonesia’s current maps lead to misunderstanding?

Gita: During our recent trip to South Sumatra, we met a community fighting over boundaries with a palm oil plantation. The company feels that it has rights over that land, because they have a legal document. But the community feels they weren't consulted, and their legal papers contradict the company's claims. Things like that are common when you don't have a proper One Map.

Adi: In Indonesia, the government manages most forests, and it can give away licenses. But we are talking about 120 million acres. There are limits to the government's capacity to monitor and manage this land. With hundreds of thousands of forest villages, you cannot just give the land to companies without letting communities participate in management. Of course the villagers want access. That's where the conflict arises. And it's not only about clearing the forest, it's about getting access to other forest resources as well. It could be medicine...

Gita: It could be rivers and streams, it could be honey, it could be a lot of other forms of livelihood.

Q: The power is very unequal. When you set up these multi-stakeholder discussions, what’s in it for the plantation owners? Why would they participate?

Adi: There are costs to conflicts. If you don't have clear boundaries between concessions and communities – and people encroach into the plantation – it costs the company to manage that. Companies may lose income because staff spend time dealing with conflicts instead of focusing on maintenance and operations, or they may suffer loses because of reputational risks and damage to property.

Gita: Certainty is very valuable to the private sector. The cost of conflict and the cost of always being worried about what might happen must reflected in company books. One company in Central Kalimantan had to pay 31 times for one piece of land because the recipients didn’t feel that the payments were fair and kept pressing for more.

Adi: Interestingly, it’s not always the weaker party that needs our help in strengthening its power or leverage. The One Map process also involves working with the powerful to help them strengthen their powers of empathy and cooperation.

Why did you choose Papua as an area to work in?

Gita: That’s the last frontier. If you want to protect primary forests, then Papua is the place to go. It's where the majority of the remaining forest of Indonesia is located. Papua is under a lot of threats. The deforestation rate is actually rising significantly. So, we need to go in now.

<p>Farmers listen in on a discussion of land disputes at the Musi Banuasin sub-district office in South Sumatra. Photo by WRI</p>

Farmers listen in on a discussion of land disputes at the Musi Banuasin sub-district office in South Sumatra. Photo by WRI

Do you anticipate working with indigenous communities in Papua?

Adi: They’re going to lead our work there. Because the region has a long history of conflict, we need to work in a very inclusive way. We plan to collaborate with local NGOs and work with our partners, not to reinvent the wheel, but to support their efforts and build on their results.

Gita: The national government is showing signs of progress on these issues. The newly combined Ministry of Environment and Forestry has established a Directorate of Social Forestry, which focuses on people. This is a first for Indonesia – to acknowledge that not only do people matter, but that indigenous people matter. Our Constitutional Court issued a decision recently that indigenous forests are now excluded from state forests. Under the decision, indigenous communities already have title to the land.

Will these lessons from the work in Indonesia be of interest to other countries?

Gita: Definitely. A lot of the things we are doing resonate with our colleagues in Brazil and in the Congo Basin. Countries all over the world – Myanmar, Cameroon, Kenya – have similar initiatives, many of them inspired by Indonesia. We see One Map as a viable solution in addressing land conflicts in many contexts. Connecting the dots in these places could help a lot of people, including us. We are still learning.