What land use conflict management has to do with sustainable palm oil

With technical support from the IKI project, local community members in Long Laai village collected georeferenced coordinates data of an area of interest. Photo: GIZ

Land-use conflict in Indonesia is inevitable, not only because human demand for land is continually growing but also because of a lack of capacity for efficient land governance. The Indonesian NGO Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA) identified company-community land conflicts in the palm oil sector as the top contributor to the national agrarian conflict cases. Global palm oil consumption rose about 4% annually in 2013-2020, partly driving plantation area expansion in Indonesia at about 6% per annum in the same period. 

Very few local community groups have land-use plans for their customary tenure in a way that can be communicated to government and other actors, such as the palm oil industry. Most of the local communities’ land rights, either as individuals or groups, are not registered in government systems. 

Lack of information on land rights as a cause of conflict

Most local governments have no capacity for data management at a level that allows them to assess potential conflict as part of the licensing process for land use. While approval from the local community is required in the formal land acquisition and licensing processes, there is no detailed guideline from any level of government to assure compliance of the "free, prior, and informed consent" (FPIC) principle as understood by the international community. These circumstances lead to land use conflict cases between community and oil palm plantation companies.

IKI’s initiative to support Indonesia in land conflict management 

Land conflict could lead to negative outcomes, such as violence and degradation of carbon-rich biodiversity. However, if managed properly, conflict resolution could facilitate better land management through cooperation between the land users. 

This is where the work of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) comes in. The Low-emissions oil palm development project focuses its intervention into the lowering emission by saving forests from conversion to plantation. It applies the landscape approach with the focus on district jurisdiction. 

In Berau District, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, the project aims to facilitate collaboration between government, business and community actors. It develops the district government capacity for land use and palm oil sector management, including data management, regulatory improvement, spatially explicit sustainable estate crop development plan, land-use change monitoring, mapping of high value conservation (HCV) areas, and company-community conflict resolution. The improved capacity enables the district government to assess land suitability for industrial crop, including oil palm development. 

A web-based tool for suitability assessment helps permit applicants and the local investment office to prevent new concessions on potential conflict areas as part of the licensing procedure. 

Identifying possible conflicts

Through a decree in 2018, the district head formed a conflict mediation task force which includes 21 mediators who have received training and been certified by the Supreme Court accredited training provider. The mediator team has successfully resolved a company-community land conflict case that started about 20 years ago. The successful application of the "free, prior, and informed consent" (FPIC) and conflict settlement allows the local community to “legally” use 441 ha of land (used to be inside the company’s concession) for agriculture activities and public service facilities. 

With additional technical support from the project, the Estate Crop Agency of Berau District Government identified 22 areas of interest where local communities in five villages and eight companies with potential conflict based on the existing data. The 22 areas of interest include 12,000 ha of land covered by natural forests on the plantation zone (83% is licensed), which the local community wants to preserve.

Under cooperation with the project, the Indonesian Business Council for Sustainable Development (IBCSD) uses the knowledge and experiences from Berau and other regions in developing company-community mediation and partnership facilitation toolkit.

Management of land use conflicts as a starting point for regional jurisdiction

The experience in Berau District shows the potential to benefit from land-use conflict management as an entry point for jurisdictional sustainability transformation. The political interest of the national government for land conflict resolution is high as the president requests the Ministry of Agrarian and Spatial Planning and Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) to settle half of the priority land disputes by the end of 2021.

Shared responsibility for sustainable land use

By April 2021, the national NGOs coalition for Ancestral Domain Registration (BRWA) documented maps of about 12.2 million ha of 945 customary communities in 27 provinces. Palm oil districts with adequate capacity on spatial data management and conflict resolution could use those resources to identify areas of interest for community-company land-use negotiations. 

The successful negotiation could lead to the agreement for shared responsibility on land management which can be extended into a supply-chain partnership for yield and sustainability practice improvement. A positive company-community relationship at the landscape level could encourage other key parties (i.e., other downstream supply chain actors and financiers) to join the partnership for sustainable district transformation.

The IKI will continue to support this process and thus contribute to climate protection through sustainable palm oil approaches at a site-specific or jurisdictional level.