Indigenous people to reclaim land after years of struggle

Hans Nicholas Jong

For decades, indigenous people have been denied their rights to manage their own lands by the government.

Even when the forests have been managed for generations by their inhabitants, only the government has had the power to issue licenses for logging and plantations.

Forest areas have regularly been used by large corporations for industrial logging, pulp and paper and palm oil plantations.

These forest conversions have been the major cause of conflicts between government and local communities, who feel victimized by the land seizures and a lack of benefits.

In 2013, indigenous people were finally given hope after the Constitutional Court delivered a ruling on the 1999 Forestry Law that invalidated the government’s claim to customary forests.

But this hope is slowly disappearing as the indigenous people have not received access to their land three years after the landmark ruling.

“The government needs to speed up the process of declaring customary forests,” Association for Community and Ecology-Based Law Reform (HuMa) executive director Dahniar Adriani said.

Many indigenous people actually have tried to claim their rights following the historic ruling.

Last year, four indigenous communities, Marga Serampas from Jambi, Kasepuhan Karang from Banten, Amatoa Kajang from South Sulawesi and Wana Posangke from Central Sulawesi, applied to have their lands recognized at the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

They prepared all the necessary documents, such as customary forest maps and local bylaws that recognize the rights to customary forests for indigenous communities.

Yet, none of them have been granted their land rights.

The ministry’s social forestry director-general, Hadi Daryanto, said that the process of distributing the land rights took a long time because the central government wanted to make sure that the distribution plan was sustainable for the long term.

“Actually, the process is based on the principle of carefulness,” he said. “There has to be a process of organizing at the local level. That process is what Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar wants to see. When people are able to organize themselves, they will be sustainable.”

But now the preparations to distribute 12.7 million hectares of social forests from 2015 until 2019, as promised by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in his Nawacita program, is finished, Siti said.

In the near future, the President is scheduled to launch the land distribution plan by giving the first land rights to the Amatoa Kajang indigenous community in South Sulawesi.

“We have finished the technical preparations,” Siti said. “I am waiting for the next instructions from the President.”

According to Hadi, Jokowi wants to see whether the land distribution system being prepared by the ministry would ensure the sustainability of the indigenous people.

“We know that if we distribute land certificates, they will be sold. So [we have to] convince [the President] that the certificates wouldn’t be sold again because if that’s the case, people will become poor again,” he said.

In order to ensure that the land distribution system is sustainable, the ministry had prepared 4,700 facilitators who would manage the land distribution in the field, said Hadi.

The facilitators, civilians who were used to dealing with indigenous people, are tasked to empower indigenous people and ensure that they do not sell their land certificates.

After the government gives indigenous people their land rights, the facilitators will help them utilize the environment sustainably for social businesses, such as selling clean water and coffee. “The profits will be invested in the form of joint patrols and capacity building,” Hadi said.

However, there are only about 4 million hectares of planned customary forests that have facilitators, out of the planned 12.7 million hectares.

“That’s our priority first because the rest is still under claim,” said Hadi.

Besides giving land access to indigenous people, the land distribution system also has to solve the never-ending agrarian conflict between indigenous people and concession holders.

“So the relationship with the private sector can’t be broken. People’s access to forest has to be supported by the business sector,” Siti said.

Last week, Siti met with the business sector to talk about the plan.

Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires (APHI) executive director Purwadi Suprihanto, who attended the meeting, said that the association fully supported the plan.

“We already have a roadmap, but it will be corrected by including the social approach, meaning that people-based permits will be prioritized and developed,” he told The Jakarta Post.

In order to ensure that indigenous people are economically empowered, they will be relocated to the surroundings of concessions, according to Purwadi.

“So there will be land permits issued [for indigenous people] in the surroundings of corporate areas with existing operations. There’s no way people would be given land certificates that are far from everywhere,” he said, adding that it was the ministry that proposed the concept.

Source: The Jakarta Post. Date: August 20, 2016