Clarifying land rights as a pre-condition for pro-poor REDD in Papua Province, Indonesia

Secure rights over forests and the carbon within them is generally agreed to be a pre-requisite for any REDD+ mechanism to function successfully, and delivering this certainty has been a major pre-occupation of Governments and private sector investors. Defining these rights is not simple, at least in Indonesia, where up to 40 million people live within land designated as 'state forest' without any legal right to be there or to use the resources. In July 2011, at an international conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise in Indonesia, (http://asiatenureconf...) one expert reported that “whilst in Asia overall about a quarter of the forest is owned, designated or managed by communities and indigenous people, in Indonesia less than a tenth of one percent has been formally devolved to local communities.”

Papua and West Papua Provinces, Indonesia Photo: IUCN

The situation is particularly extreme in Indonesia's easternmost provinces of Papua and Papua Barat, which are also the poorest and least developed of the nation's regions. According to indigenous Papuans, all the land is owned by the region's numerous ethnic groups, but according to the Government, 96% of the two provinces is state forest reserve, where only the state has the right to determine whether forest will be protected or exploited, and to issue licences.

The 2010 revision of the region's spatial plan shows that 85% of settlements in Papua Province are within state forest reserves. It dramatically illustrates the incompatibility between official designation and reality. Logging companies and land developers have dealt with this situation by engaging with the official and customary systems in parallel, securing official permits and informally negotiating pay-offs with local leaders. This system has resulted in conflict and forest degradation. If REDD+ is implemented in the same way it seems unlikely that it will result in carbon or social benefits. IUCN’s Pro-poor REDD+ project works with partners in the Papua region to clarify and strengthen their customary land rights. This prepares them to engage from a position of greater influence not only with REDD+ but also any other potential investment.

The first step in the process is mapping of the boundaries of customary territories. This is not simple, since land ownership is communal, and rights are nested. A single household may have the right to farm or exploit an area of forest, but expansion to other areas may need the agreement of the head of the extended family, whilst handing over land to be used by an outside investor may require the approval of the leaders of an entire clan. The question 'which boundaries are we mapping?' is one that has to be discussed and agreed by the community. But usually the larger clan boundaries receive priority because if these are recognised by the outside world, the rights of others within the clan area are covered too. Since a clan boundary lies between two clans, the process must involve people from both sides of the line. In most areas there is agreement on the location of the boundary, but in some cases community representatives require time for discussion and review of their oral histories of conflicts and peace making before agreement can be reached.

Once there is agreement, local people and project partners work together to map the boundaries. Project partners and communities in the famous Baliem valley in the heart of Papua's central mountains have now mapped 17 contiguous customary territories covering 180,000 hectares, the first time that such a large area has been mapped in Papua. In Papua Barat partners of IUCN’s Pro-Poor REDD+ Project are working on mapping with 5 communities who are keen to manage the forests themselves. The project has been able to link up with other Papuan organisations interested in mapping, and in 2011 supported 10 of them to form a regional 'node' for sharing lessons and building local capacity to do mapping.

Without official endorsement, maps of customary territories will do little to strengthen the voice of communities in land use decisions, including the planning and implementation of REDD+. The project has contributed to the work of the two provincial task forces that have been formed to guide the development of REDD+ in the region, and has contributed to the development of a revised spatial plan for Papua province. These institutions and plans all recognise the existence of local communities and rights, but further work is needed to operationalise this commitment through registration and formal recognition of maps of customary territories.

Then of course there is the question of what rights are conferred when a map is 'recognised' by Government. It is unlikely that customary rights would erase and replace state forest designations, but those working on this want the community to have the right to accept or reject, and the right to benefit from, any investment on land recognised as theirs. This arrangement could result in a harmonised 'approval' of REDD+ projects, from communities, local governments and the state forestry Ministry, which should provide the certainty that potential investors in REDD+ are seeking, and deliver the social benefits that are hoped for from REDD+ schemes.

Although provincial policies are important, the Indonesian national forestry Ministry presently retains all rights to amend the boundaries and status of forest reserves, and to issue and cancel permits for forest exploitation, including REDD+ schemes. To date, changes to allow greater participation in forest management have been slow and small scale, but there are signs that the focus on land rights raised by the REDD+ issue in Indonesia is changing thinking. In his speech at the International Forest Tenure Conference in July, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the Indonesian President's 'Special Implementation Unit' (tasked with overseeing Indonesia's 1 billion US$ commitment with Norway on REDD) said that “we must accelerate the enactment of Forest Estate ... including through community-based participatory mapping ... Enactment of Forest Estate will identify private rights and it should be done in parallel with registry of adat customary land. Forest land use can only be done after enactment to guarantee adat customary rights are recognized”(1). It may be that the opportunity for forest land reform in Indonesia has opened a little wider, and the work of Samdhana Institute and Papuan NGOs and communities, including with IUCN’s Pro-poor REDD project, is demonstrating what needs to be done to make such reforms a reality.

Pete Wood, Samdhana Institute

Reference (1): Kuntoro Mangkusubroto. “Importance of Land and Forest Tenure Reforms in Implementing a Climate Change Sensitive Development Agenda”. International Conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise, Lombok, Indonesia, Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Work area: 
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