For centuries, communities in Maluku, in eastern Indonesia, tapped wealth from their forests without any kind of restrictions beyond adat, or customary rules. From the forests, they collected timber for their houses, harvested sago and palm sugar, hunted wild pigs, and picked up fuelwood for cooking.

Throughout multiple changes in Indonesian forestry law from the 1960s to today, adat has remained an unofficial guiding principle for forest management in Maluku, with sustainable results for forests. But now as the demand for land increases under pressures of population growth, migration and local development, adat laws and the forests they sustain are under threat.

While community rights to use and manage forests are enshrined in Forestry Law No. 41 of 1999, the largely informal character of adat means it is difficult to have customary rights to tenure recognized under national law.

And without secure tenure, communities are at risk of losing their customary forests to expanding housing, roads and farmland, or to private companies in the plantation, timber or mining industries.  This has implications not only for the forests, but for the communities who still depend them for their livelihoods.

According to new research led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), collaborative adat management is still the preferred scenario for communities in Maluku, with an eye to sustaining people and forests into the future.

The new findings have emerged as part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform, which aims to to investigate how forest tenure reforms are implemented, and what the outcomes are for tenure security. Simultaneous site studies are underway in Indonesia, Peru and Uganda.

In Indonesia, three sites – Maluku, Lampung and Kalimantan – were selected to give a comprehensive understanding of tenure reform in the country. Maluku was chosen because of its strong adat forest management systems, as found by an earlier CIFOR study from 2010-2014, which provided baseline data for the latest research. Meanwhile, Lampung has implemented social forestry for about a decade, and Kalimantan has just begun to introduce tenure reforms.

The study in Maluku aimed to improve understanding of the factors affecting community tenure security in order to generate action plans for securing the rights of local communities and improving the livelihood outcomes of acceptable scenarios.

This topic is in discussion at the 2017 Tenure Conference from 25-27 October in Jakarta, Indonesia.

   Aerial view of Honitetu village, Maluku. The village is one of the research sites where communities were involved. CIFOR Photo/Aris Sanjaya


A participatory prospective analysis (PPA) approach was chosen by researchers to facilitate intense interaction among a wide spectrum of stakeholders, which would not happen under normal circumstances.

“We use PPA as an entry point for study in an area by involving all stakeholders, from the district to the provincial level,” says Nining Liswanti, CIFOR researcher and Indonesia coordinator for the study. “When they agree to participate, they have to participate in all stages of the study.”

Up to 19 participants joined the expert group after being selected according to their expertise in forest management, including community members, academics, and representatives from local government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

A series of workshops were held where all stakeholders were placed at the same level and given free reign to express their opinions. Through this exercise, the expert group identified forces of change that could influence the tenure security of local communities.

There were five stages in the PPA workshops. Firstly, participants were asked the core question: “What is the future of forest tenure security in Maluku?” They were asked to envision their ideal forest management system within the boundaries of their area in the long term, for instance, 20 years into the future.

We usually create a variety of different scenarios

Nining Liswanti, researcher

The initial workshops were divided into three meetings at the provincial level, for two days each. The first meetings aimed to identify what the forces of change were, and to analyze them.

In the second and third stages, participants were engaged to detect and define forces of change, and also to identify and select driving forces and how they influence each other.

Key driving forces of local tenure security were identified as: regional governance, local government budgets, tourism potential, customary rights and institutions, strengthening the rights and voices of indigenous women, land conversion and spatial planning, local regulations, community knowledge, awareness and community empowerment.

The next step produced five contrasting scenarios, capturing expectations of local community tenure security, given different combinations of eight factors that drive tenure security.

“We usually create a variety of different scenarios. One is collaborative, where all stakeholders are involved — this is the ideal scenario. Another scenario puts the emphasis on women. Another scenario is where one side has more influence compared to the other, creating conflict,” Liswanti explains.

   Local woman participate in natural resource mapping in Honitetu village, Maluku. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti


The last step was to elaborate an action plan based on the desired scenario. So how do the people of Maluku envision the future of their forests?

Stakeholders were found to perceive tenure security in multi-dimensional and diverse ways. The expert group members agreed that if the community were given full and guaranteed ownership rights, this would reinforce sustainable use and management of forest resources.

The community wants tenure reform, but they want it to be in the 'adat' forest scheme

Nining Liswanti, researcher

For local communities, full ownership rights and recognition of customary institutions are key, while for local government, sustainable use of land and forest resources is a major concern.

“Now the community has to acknowledge that its adat land is within, or overlaps with, state forest areas, either in production forest or in protection forest,” Liswanti says.

“Because of this overlap, there are legal limitations which mean the community is no longer allowed to cut down trees without permission — or if they do, they can only use the timber for subsistence purposes, not for sale.”

Non-governmental actors regard ambiguities in laws and practices across agencies to be a threat to tenure security, while the central government views customary practice as a major concern.

“Within the community, there is disagreement on the issue of social forestry. They want their forest status to be more certain,” Liswanti says. “Previously, they never thought that social forestry could be a win-win solution.”

The favored scenarios by the community emphasized good governance, collaboration, respect and recognition of customary rights and institutions, while the rejected scenarios exemplified situations that were under the exclusive control of dominant government or private sector actors.

“They agreed to the ideal scenario,” Liswanti says. “So what do we need to do to achieve it? The community wants tenure reform, but they want it to be in the adat forest scheme.”

   Yokbet Yawate carries firewood in Honitetu village, Maluku. Customary forests here have been a source of household fuel for centuries. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti


Taken together, the scenarios, regardless of their desirability, point to the key issues in the success of reforms to date in achieving tenure security for local communities in Maluku.

Important constraints on reform implementation include budget allocation, coordination, changes of policy and regulation, a lack of spatial planning data and a lack of recognition of customary rights. These factors are important for implementing forest reform, and could provide a threat to tenure security.

All stakeholders agreed to integrate the action plan into government program activities in Maluku, to ensure implementation. However, this still needs to be further negotiated by the relevant actors.

“The forest management unit, as the backbone of forest tenure reform at the ground level, and in collaboration with the Social Forestry Agency in Ambon, should engage more with the community to understand what the community’s needs are for better future tenure security,” Liswanti says.

“We expect the regional government to recognize their community’s character, and to use concepts that work for them,” she adds.

The researchers acknowledge the contributions of the PPA expert group in Maluku, representing different stakeholders including government and non-government officials.

For more information on this topic, please contact Nining Liswanti at or Esther Mwangi at
This research was supported by the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Landscapes Rights