Keeping local rights in sight during land-use planning


A version of this story was originally published on the website of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which will host a session titled Governance: Governing access and securing rights to land and resources at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta, May 5 to 6, 2014. Follow ICRAF on Twitter.

The rights of local and indigenous people have often been overlooked when governments undertake land-use planning.

It’s time for that to change, say scientists Sébastien de Royer, Gamma Galudra and Ujjwal Pradhan.

Over the past few hundred years, although forests have reduced dramatically in size, many indigenous forest dwellers continue to practice sustainable forest management as they have done for millennia. These communities have typically been isolated from the mainstream culture prevalent in urban and agricultural regions, their needs and rights relegated to the margins of civil society by oversights in government policies.

The work on safeguarding these communities from further marginalisation and bringing their concerns into the mainstream political arena is rooted in the context of land grabs for mining, plantations and other commercial and state interests, which deprive indigenous people of their land and livelihoods.

According to scientists Sébastien de Royer, Gamma Galudra and Ujjwal Pradhan, who delivered a presentation at the World Agroforestry Centre 2013 Science Week in Nairobi, Kenya, the aim of integrating social safeguards into the land-use planning process in Indonesia will build on similar work carried out under the U.N.-backed  REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme and several other programs, including investment and certification schemes with the World Bank, REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards, the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards program, the Forest Stewardship Council and the International Finance Corporation.

The team intends to go beyond compliance to integrating into usual government practices and active support of rights. They intend to use sub-national arenas and the political and administrative context of land-use planning to experiment with the implementation of social safeguards involving a broad range of stakeholders in a real-time strategic negotiation that respects the rights and voices of local communities and indigenous people.

The scientists explained that social safeguards are essentially precautionary measures established to protect local people from any infringement on their rights to land, natural resources, knowledge, culture, practices and all social attributes that are central for fulfilling their basic rights. The safeguards are a mix of principles, conditions, procedures and approaches that take into account rights and aspirations, which do not harm or undermine, but rather enhance, the rights of communities, indigenous people and others involved in a landscape, including rights holders and land users.

The concept of “safeguards” encompasses free, prior and informed consent; participation; land conflict; land and natural resources rights; livelihoods and food security; and poverty alleviation.

The legal foundation for safeguards rests on international human rights standards as enacted under the  International Labor Organization Convention, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on Biological Diversity article on indigenous knowledge.

Within the context of reducing emissions from all land uses (REALU), indigenous people as managers of sustainable agricultural practices form the basic foundation of the “temple” of principles and actions.

In this context, especially in Indonesia, much of the work around social safeguards is about land tenure since a lack of clarity over the right to land is often the source of conflict between local communities, governments and businesses.

For example, in the Indonesian province of Jambi on the island of Sumatra when timber and crop plantation companies are granted concessions over major areas of a district, resistance from local communities who consider they have traditional rights to the land is common.

Further, as well as the wholesale conversion of vast areas of traditionally managed forest, the concessions often involve the inward migration of workers from other parts of Indonesia who move into areas formerly under traditional control, changing local land-use norms and practices and stimulating further conflict and contested claims over land.

These migrants act as intermediaries, reshaping the land-tenure system and shifting the balance of power between local communities, the state and business concessions. In a dynamic situation such as this, if social safeguards had been integrated into land-use planning it would be very likely that conflict would have been much less, even though it would have undoubtedly been difficult to obtain free, prior and informed consent for any plans given the intense and complex interactions between the various groups.

“Free, prior and informed consent” can be simply defined as protecting the right of local and indigenous communities to negotiate the terms of externally imposed, policies, programs, projects and activities.

The complexities of integrating social safeguards into government land-use planning should not be underestimated. There are competing needs, interests and values: a lack of reliable information about social, economic and biophysical conditions; limited understanding of sustainable development; and a general lack of involvement by the people.

Further hindrances include unresolved land tenure and resources conflicts, unclear traditional community rights, lack of integration of sectoral plans, weak technical planning skills and little consideration of climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

However, the stakes are high because the issues outlined above have inevitably led to high greenhouse-gas emissions from the land-based sector in Indonesia, little consideration of the rights and aspirations of local and indigenous communities, with accompanying dispossession of traditionally owned and managed land and a huge number of conflicts over land and resources that further restricts the social and economic development of the entire nation.

The team’s approach to overcome these obstacles is to set up a system that first understands local complexities and social realities, ensures the full participation of multiple stakeholders, protects rights, knowledge, skills, institutions and management systems, informs spatial and development plans,  reconciles local claims and land rights and ensures they are included in planning, has a long-term, positive impact on livelihoods and social benefits and maintains and enhances environmental services for social benefits.

In the Participatory Monitoring by Civil Society of Land-use Planning for Low-emissions Development Strategies (Parcimon) project funded by the European Union, the team is working in the districts of Jayapura, Merauke and Jayawijaya.

As well, the province of Papua has more than 200 distinct indigenous groups, the nation’s highest poverty level, high forest cover and land grabbing for food estates and mining leading to violent conflict.

A recent decision by the constitutional court to return some state forestland to traditional control seems set to reduce the lack of clarity over rights but it is still unclear how the government proposes to implement the ruling.

In this environment, the team plans to undertake a four-phase process to achieve the goal of safeguarding community rights: preparation; interpretation; governance; and monitoring and evaluation.


Migrants, land markets and carbon emissions in Jambi, Indonesia: land tenure change and the prospect of emission reduction – Galudra,G. et al – Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change – ICRAF

A discourse on Dutch Colonial Forest Policy and Science in Indonesia at the beginning of 20th Century – Galudra, G. et al – International Forestry Review

Safeguarding people’s rights through land-use planning

RaTA: A Rapid Land Tenure Assessment manual for identifying the nature of land tenure conflicts – Galudra, G. et al 

Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses (REALU) – Vietnam: will current forest land tenure impede REDD+ efforts in Vietnam? – Do Trong, H. et al

Hot spot of emission and confusion: land tenure insecurity, contested policies and competing claims in the central Kalimantan ex-mega rice project area – Galudra, G. et al 

The emergence of forest land redistribution in Indonesia – Sirait, M.T.

Trees in multi-Use Landscapes in Southeast Asia (TULSEA): A negotiation support toolbox for Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM) – van Noordwijk, M. et al

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