News

Palm oil’s complex land conflicts

Getting to the bottom of illegal plantations on Indonesia’s state owned forests
Shares
0
Palm oil is used locally in cooking, and internationally in commercial food and personal care products. It is also converted into biofuel. CIFOR photo/Miguel Pinheiro

Related stories

In an ideal world, palm oil production would cause no deforestation, and have a transparent and fair supply chain. In reality, the impacts of the sector have been the cause of ethical concerns worldwide.

Palm oil is Indonesia’s most important commodity. In 2017 it produced 37.8 million tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) and exported over 80 percent of it, with a value of $31.8 billion. Not only is Indonesia the world’s biggest palm oil producer, it is its biggest exporter too.

The strong market demand of palm oil has led to a vast expansion of plantations. Currently smallholders make up around forty percent of the production market, and around a third of these don’t have the right land tenure permits. In some cases, the smallholders have moved into state owned forest areas. In many cases, the occupancy creates conflict.

In 2017, the Directorate General of Plantation of the Ministry of Agriculture found that of the 2.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations on state owned forests, 70 percent of these were controlled by smallholders.

To get to the bottom of why palm oil plantations continue to encroach into state forest areas, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) organized a workshop in collaboration with Center for Research and Development on Social, Economics, Policy and Climate Change (P3SEPKI): ‘Linking science to policy: the role of research in the effort to accelerate solution of tenurial problems in oil palm plantation in forest areas.’

Solving conflicts by understanding the underlying cause

In his presentation, Ismatul Hakim,  senior researcher at P3SEPKI, says that complex tenure conflicts can’t be resolved without understanding why oil palm plantations are encroaching into state forest areas. He believes assessing how different types of farmers take control of lands, what strategies they use, and most importantly, the motivations of the farmers, is needed before long-lasting resolution is achieved.

According to Hakim’s research, this can be segregated into four categories:

The first is maladministration, where a lack of coordination leads to disputes as it is unclear who legally manages the forest areas – is it the Ministry of Environment and Forestry or the local government?

Second, incomplete forest area gazettements- a legal declaration that announces state ownership- coupled with a lack of clarity and communication on where the gazetted boundaries lay, have caused local people, in need for income, to expand their plantations into unmarked forest areas.

Third, inequality of power and land ownership has caused people to encroach. Local people have watched big investors and corporations take control of and transform their ancestral land, and store land for the future (known as ‘landbanking’).

And finally, the ineffective implementation of policies for forest area release and land swap- where the government gives areas of new land to plantations in exchange for restoring degraded land. To add, he says, this is further hampered by the slow pace of conflict resolution.

Drawing from his research, Bayu Eka Yulian from Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) added “Oil palm plantations have expanded rapidly in East Kalimantan, particularly those smallholders in a silence mode.” He argued while corporations might generally adhere to tighter regulations, small holder farmers, including those with access to more capital and information, appear to expand their plantations at a scale from 0.5 to 3 hectares of land or even more, without restraint.

The attendees agreed that the situation  will keep perpetuating itself without intervention. Rapid expansion is causing damaging changes to the landscape, but farmers are also becoming trapped- as they become highly dependent on a monoculture crop, and get trapped on a single source of income.

 

Solving tenure issues through better governance

In September 2018, the Indonesian government issued a three-year moratorium on new oil palm plantation permits and devised attempts to increase productivity, expressed in Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No. 8/2018. Along with other prevailing policies, this moratorium offers an excellent opportunity to resolve tenure issues.

However, it was feared that the temporary halt might simply not be enough.

“It was generally agreed by the workshop participants that regulations should be clear and not create legal uncertainties,” said CIFOR scientist Heru Komarudin, adding that plantations that are currently operating on state forests should be given enough time to either relocate or have their land status legally changed to non-forest areas.

He similarly believes that smallholder plantations already illegally on state forests should be given the chance to confirm their land status through agrarian reform or social forestry schemes that are already in place.

“Priority should be given to those committed to practising ethical agriculture – by preventing further deforestation and promoting fair trade working rights,” said Komarudin. To create policies that work, the “heterogeneous typology” of smallholders, and the impact of plantations on local people need to be taken into account, he adds.

Furthermore, there is opportunity to raise state funds by getting tenure issues right. Legislating and governing the use and rental of state forest can then be further propped up by compensation payments by companies who have illegally encroached. While strict law enforcement could be used to police the tenure issues, granting land amnesty to those that depend heavily on these lands may be a breakthrough.

Internationally, the European Union Renewable Energy Directive which plans to phase out the use of palm oil for biofuel by 2030, has put pressure on the Indonesian palm producers. In responding to this development, workshop attendees agreed that foreign diplomacy should be strengthened by consolidating the national position, which in turn would make the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification credible.

“Building solidarity with other producing countries to promote best practices and a sustainable and legal palm oil industry is essential,” says Maharani Hapsari, PhD and lecturer of international relations at Gadjah Mada University. “Indonesia should focus its diplomacy on palm oil global trade not only to strengthen authority, but also to enhance legitimacy of forest and oil palm governance by the broadest possible range of stakeholders.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)
For more information on this topic, please contact Heru Komarudin at h.komarudin@cgiar.org.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This research was supported by This event is part of the Governing Oil Palm Landscapes for Sustainability (GOLS) project, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The GOLS project that supports effective and equitable implementation of the New York Declaration on Forests commitments by helping to align public and private policies and actions, and by delivering targeted, research-based evidence to key stakeholders and practitioners.
Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting forestsnews@cgiar.org.