Who owns the carbon? Resolving land tenure key to moving forward with REDD+ in Indonesia

BOGOR, Indonesia (5 September, 2011) _ Clarifying land tenure policies to avoid forest conflict in Indonesia- where overlapping claims to forest lands and undefined boundaries are a common problem- will require active engagement of local communities especially as the government grapples with getting REDD+ off the ground, says a new CIFOR study.
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Photo by Eko Prianto/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (5 September, 2011) _ Clarifying land tenure policies to avoid forest conflict in Indonesia- where overlapping claims to forest lands and undefined boundaries are a common problem- will require active engagement of local communities especially as the government grapples with getting REDD+ off the ground, says a recent CIFOR study.

“Tenure insecurity is at the crux of forest controversies. If left unresolved the issue will undoubtedly lead to further conflict under REDD+,” said Yurdi Yasmi, co-author of Managing Conflict Escalation in Forestry: Logging versus local community interests in Baru Pelepat village.

Disputes over land use policies related to forests often stem from weak or contested tenure, according to the study that examined the clash between a logging company and local community in the village of Baru Pelepat in Sumatra. There, as in other forests across the country, the conflict revolved around an unclear boundary between a state forest and a communal forest claimed by villagers who have lived there for generations.

“Due to the longstanding issue of tenure insecurity, people living in forests continue to claim customary rights, yet states often do not recognize or enforce these claims,” said Yasmi.

The dispute in Baru Pelepat illustrates a quandary faced by local governments and forest communities across Indonesia, where efforts to combat deforestation are underway to stem the loss of forests that are contributing to the world’s third largest carbon emissions.

The situation CIFOR researchers encountered in Baru Pelepat village in 2004 was characteristic of the transition period that followed the decentralization of forestry policies after the fall of Suharto in 1998. For the first time, local governments throughout Indonesia were given the authority to issue logging permits for up to 100 hectares of forest. At the same time, the absence of a legal framework or formal guidelines for managing the new policies left local communities with no legal rights over the forests on which they depend for their livelihoods.

In the remote village of Baru Pelepat, with about 600 inhabitants and one of the least developed in Sumatra, the local community opposed the logging company’s presence in what it considered its communal forest. The logging operations, according to village residents, was not only a denial of their rights to the forest, but also provided no economic benefits to the community. Village leaders began demanding compensation in exchange for the use of the forest.

“Only the company benefited from logging, whereas the local community received nothing and their forests were being degraded,” the study found.

The logging company, a local subsidiary of a large timber company, maintained it was logging within state forest land and insisted its operations were legalized by the logging permit it received from the district. The company refused all demands from the local community for compensation and assistance in developing village infrastructure.

As the dispute intensified, local leaders began holding protests at the logging site, wielding machetes and demanding an end to the company’s operations. When the protests failed to extract compensation from the company, villagers began intimidating the workers, threatening to burn down their camp and logging equipment.  The conflict continued to escalate, and in 2005, after months of negotiations that failed to arrive at an amicable solution between the parties, the company shut down its operations.

The case of Baru Pelepat clearly illustrates the consequences of undefined forest boundaries and overlapping land claims. “Many communal and private forests are still not formally recognized. As a result, overlapping claims to the same forest are a widespread problem,” the study found.

As Indonesia moves forward with REDD+, a scheme to compensate nations for keeping their forests intact, it seems that the key to minimizing this conflict is the prioritization of local community input.

“Who owns the trees? Who owns the carbon? Consulting local communities in the early stages of project development is key to minimizing conflict,” said Yasmi.

“While there are many potential avenues for further conflict, REDD+ can serve as an entry point for conflict resolution. By motivating discussions about forest governance, REDD+ can offer an opportunity to prevent and mitigate forest conflict.”

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