Powerful actors and their networks in land use contestation for oil palm and industrial tree plantations in Riau

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Indonesia has experienced one of the world's fastest plantation expansions. Plantation growth is indeed an economic solution to meet the market's needs, but the accompanying environmental damage and social conflict are at odds with sustainability goals. Various actors with interests in land compete with the power they have. The most powerful actors have controlled land use based on their decisions. Accordingly, this paper presents empirical evidence to understand the important role of powerful actors in land-use contestation in oil palm and industrial plantation forests. It focused on analyzing power actors and social networks to help policymakers understand these powerful actors and take steps toward good governance. We conducted a focus group discussion (FGD), field interviews, and observations as well as implemented the actor-centered power (ACP) approach and social networks analysis (SNA). The combination of these two methods aims to improve the ACP approach by explaining how actors form coalitions with one another so that the strongest and most prominent beneficiary actors can be identified. We found that actors at the site level are powerful actors, whereas those with the highest authority in the hierarchy do not have power in land-use control. Village officials are powerful actors, as they are the central figures in the network and mostly use dominant information to weaken other actors. Village officials with strategic positions in the network have the most connections and play a bridging role between actors from different subgroups in the network. Powerful actors who can control the use of natural resources must be involved in determining strategies to improve natural resource governance and implement such a process at the site level.

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