Industrial timber plantations are controversial in many parts of the world. Indonesia provides an interesting case study, with its history of conflicts over land use and current ambitions for plantation expansion.
This study investigated perceived impacts of plantations on nearby rural populations. A survey was conducted of 606 respondents across three islands (Java, Borneo and Sumatra), three tree species (acacia, teak and pine) and three end uses (pulpwood, timber production and resin production). In addition, a Q-method analysis was conducted at a site with an established pulpwood plantation in order to identify significantly diverse perceptions of the plantation among villagers. The methods were combined to arrive at a representative view of these perceptions and expectations.
Results illustrate a diversity of viewpoints among villagers, with perceptions varying from general dissatisfaction to enthusiasm. Perceptions of pine and teak plantations tend to differ from acacia pulpwood plantations. For pine and teak, respondents reported a higher number and greater variety of benefits and services, higher number of perceived positive impacts in general, a better environmental record, and more opportunities to use plantation land and products for rural livelihoods. These results contrast with the heavy focus around acacia plantations on economic development and infrastructure. Hence, acacia plantations enjoy some level of recognition for opening up remote areas and providing infrastructure and services that are traditionally the responsibility of the state. Data were disaggregated by gender to enable further analysis, and offer a general indication that plantation development has not affected women more negatively than men.
Our analysis leads to several clear directions for the improvement of plantation management. The role of the state must be clarified and potentially reinforced, except if the burden of development, including that of infrastructure, is to remain the responsibility of companies. Lessons can be drawn from the teak and pine cases in Java as to the performance of institutions that act as intermediaries between companies and people. Contributions by communities should be facilitated early in the planning stages, and this should apply in particular to land claims, to the organization of the labor force (including the privileged form of work contract), to the spatial distribution of the plantation in order to leave aside areas of local value, and to options for land sharing, as this is a major vehicle for fruitful coexistence.