From October 25th–27th, the 2017 Tenure Conference (Konferensi Tenurial) was held in the LS Luwansa Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. The conference focused on ensuring recognition of the land and forest tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities by engaging with the government to promote equitable and just reforms for sustainable forest governance and management. It sought to “scale up” the outcomes of the first Tenure Conference, also known as the “Lombok Conference,” which was held in 2011.

Participants assessed progress made on the three commitments from the first conference: increasing the forest area that is gazetted; expanding the land and forest areas that are controlled and governed by local communities; and promoting sustainable conflict resolution. The 2017 conference was co-hosted by the Ministry of Environment & Forestry (KLHK), the Executive Office of the President (KSP), and the Civil Society Coalition for Tenurial Justice. The conference brought together over 600 participants, including the Minister of Environment and Forestry, Ibu Siti Nurbaya, other ministers and government officials, academics, international donors, civil society organizations, farmers, fishers, customary and local community members, and private sector representatives.

The conference demonstrated how much progress has been made since 2011—one major landmark being the MK35 Constitutional Court decision that the forests should be returned to their customary owners, another being the customary forests (hutan adat) that were legalized in 2016 and 2017. It also highlighted how much more needs to be done to fully respect indigenous and community rights in the country, such as clarification on peatland reforms and adat tenure regimes within conversation areas, and more transparent and inclusive private sector engagement. Both the conclusions of the conference and the collaboration that went into organizing it attest to the willingness of the current government and civil society to collaborate to achieve these goals. In the face of globalization and efforts to promote economic growth in Indonesia, full recognition of the land and forest rights of local and adat communities remains of the utmost importance. There is hope that this collaborative effort represents a step in the right direction toward securing the land rights of adat and local communities across Indonesia.

Day 1: Bringing civil society and government together to accelerate economic equality in Indonesia

The conference was inaugurated at the Presidential Palace on October 25th by President Joko Widodo, who said that, “We need to seize the opportunity to synergize the work of civil society with that of the Ministry to accelerate economic equity.” He continued, “I hope that through this conference there will be concrete results—in particular, a roadmap that can be applied by the central government, regional government, civil society, and business actors in order to accelerate agrarian reform and social forestry programs and, in particular, road maps that can provide a clear, sustainable pathway to provide greater opportunities to the people.”

During the opening session, the President announced nine new village forests (hutan desa) covering a total of 80,228 hectares—a step toward achieving the government’s target of recognizing 12.7 million hectares of community land by 2019 under its social forestry program. Additionally, he announced recognition of nine customary forests (hutan adat) covering 3,341 hectares. These nine new customary forests were the second set of certificates recognizing indigenous forest rights under the landmark MK35 Constitutional Court decision, which removed customary forests from state control. President Joko Widodo formally handed over the first nine hutan adat certificates covering a total land area of 13,100 hectares in December 2016.

Eko Cahyono, Executive Director of the Sajogyo Institute, opened the conference by describing the history and outcomes of the 2011 Lombok Conference, and spoke about the unique opportunity this conference poses, and how critical it is to review the outcomes from 2011 and make use of the current cooperation between various sectors in Indonesia. He called on the mass media to be an ally to the local communities who seek land and forest tenure reform, and explained the need to secure tenure for these communities in the face of increasing land grabbing, climate change, and criminalization.

President Joko Widodo announced nine new village forests (hutan desa) covering a total of 80,228 hectares—a step toward achieving the government’s target of recognizing 12.7 million hectares of community land by 2019 under its social forestry program.

Dr. Laode Muhammad Syarif from the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) noted that, “We cannot blame other countries for the loss of our forests, we are to blame. When other countries come here, they need the permission to destroy our forests and we give them that permission.”

The first plenary session was attended by four ministers, including the Minister of Environment and Forestry, the Agrarian Minister, the Coordinating Minister for Economy, and the Minister of Villages. Sandra Moniaga from Komas HAM and the Head of the Executive Office of the President also joined the plenary. Minister of Environment and Forestry Ibu Siti Nurbaya mentioned that currently, “Ninety-seven percent of forestland in Indonesia is managed by corporations and 3 percent are managed by local communities.” Ibu Siti did not, however, focus on the areas managed by customary communities (masyarakat adat), one of the pieces of the conference that was contentious and vaguely discussed. The session ended with many questions, including how to extend tenure rights to fishers; the conversion of “abandoned land;” the lack of any forest tenure reforms in Papua as it has special autonomous status; and legacy land issues in concessions in Jambi Province. Ibu Siti asked for each question to be sent to her and pledged to answer them all within a few weeks.

Regarding the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, Ibu Siti said that the parameters of the task force had been drafted, and representatives that might join the task force had been informed, but she gave no indication of when it would be finalized. The shortcomings of the government in securing the rights of local and customary communities were fleetingly mentioned. Participants pointed to a complete lack of communication, cooperation, and transparency within ministries as largely responsible for the slow and insufficient attention to the recognition of hutan adat and the implementation of social forestry and agrarian reform.

Day 2: Examining the history of gender and tenure, and looking ahead to new possibilities

The second day included 11 topic-specific panel sessions, with topics ranging from the Social Forest and Agrarian Reform (RAPS) agendas; to the recognition of hutan adat territories and adat law; to climate change and peatlands; to benefit sharing and economic empowerment; to private sector engagement; to conflict and conflict resolution in agrarian lands; and to tenure rights recognition in conservation areas. Each of these sessions provided critical input to the soon-to-be-finalized “Action Plan,” which mirrors the structure of the “Road Map” from the 2011 conference. Intensive focus group discussions and seminars in the weeks leading up to the conference and in-depth studies on every topic helped participants prepare for these sessions.

An academic afternoon session followed, with various speakers including Professors Mia Siscawati and Myrna Safitri. Ibu Mia presented on gender and tenure reform, while Myrna Safitri explained the historical perspective of tenure reform since 2011 and how to constructively move forward. Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) Coordinator Andy White spoke about global trends in collective forest tenure reforms, and about how the recently launched Tenure Facility can be a potential vehicle to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities to secure their land rights.

Left: Rukka Sombolinggi, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN); Right: Andy White, Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)

Day 3: Confronting the gap between policy and action

On the third and final day, perspectives from local governments and academics preceded concluding remarks and recommendations.

The role of the private sector played a significant role throughout the conference. Just days before, the country’s second largest pulp and paper producer, RAPP, was suspended for non-compliance with the country’s peat protection regulations, and then offered compensation by the government of 15,000 hectares a year. This was touched upon on the last day, as Hadi Wiratno stated, “Indonesian forests are not like a blank piece of paper. We have systems that exist, our own theories, ideas, and management practices. Our forests are not just a connection of trees but a connection of trees and people. We cannot take care of our common pool resources just with the government and the communities. We need to talk to our neighbors and in our forests the concessions so happen to be our neighbors.” Many of the final recommendations made from the conference included constructive methods and mechanisms to engage with the private sector and address the sprawl of concessions.

The Mayor of Sigi District in Kalimantan shared his positive example of a “Green District” that has successfully refused to renew some concession areas, and was able to deny the demarcation of “conservation forests.” He explained that, “When I say we refused the conservation area—we refused the state claim over our community lands,” as 70 percent of the Sigi District is under review for “conservation” titles that have been responsible for the criminalization of local and adat communities. The Mayor gave a uniquely positive example of local alternatives to conservation areas that continue to protect wildlife and forests, while simultaneously creating local forest based-enterprises—leading to the development of a unique management system.

Dewi Kartika from the Coalition for Agrarian Reform (KPA), one of the many powerful women in executive positions in civil society in Indonesia, gave a powerful talk on the lack of progress under the agrarian reform agenda. She went on to say, “By identifying adequate land to be redistributed through a bottom-up approach, civil society has been doing the job of the government. Now [to the government] just process it!”

In the final session, participants presented the collective recommendations and conclusions put forth by each panel team as well as the steering committee of the conference. These included next steps, such as the need to address the gaps in implementation of the MK35 Constitutional Court decision, the social forestry targets, and the agrarian reform targets. To address these gaps, all three agendas need to be implemented as an integrated platform as opposed to as individual policies, and more resources must be allocated for processing tenure claims and addressing tenure-related criminalization. The recommendations are being finalized and will soon be made public.

Finally, reflections from Rukka Sombolinggi, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), and from the Minister of Environment and Forestry, called participants to action. Rukka stressed that the ministry had received the maps that AMAN has collected documenting 40 million hectares of lands claimed by customary communities—yet the data has not been included in the government’s “One Map.”

She went on to tell the Minister that the area of land that has been recognized for customary communities, including the 3,341 hectares announced on October 25th, is inadequate and in no way representative of the lands claimed by customary communities. She called for the recent Presidential Decree 88, which will displace and resettle 121 customary communities living within 1.6 million hectares of conversation area, to be revoked, and demanded that the Indigenous Peoples Bill be passed and the Indigenous Peoples Task Force established.

“We cannot blame other countries for the loss of our forests, we are to blame. When other countries come here, they need the permission to destroy our forests and we give them that permission.”

Minister Siti ended the Conference, reiterating that, “The consistency of our commitments will not fail… Let’s work together on this, let’s collaborate.” Responding to Secretary General Sombolinggi, Minister Ibu Siti said that there is a need for an adat representative to be on the implementing committee of the “One Map” policy to ensure the data mapping their territory is included. Remarking on the complexity of forest tenure reform, she admitted that there are thousands of “regulations that are currently in effect in Indonesia, and most [of] them pertain to natural resources—how do we reform this?” She explained the organization of various forest and land areas under the ministries’ various targets (social forestry, agrarian reform, and hutan adat), and the procedures for receiving formal titles, giving some much-needed clarity for many community members in the audience on the extremely delayed system of legalization. She also stressed the impetus on the government to implement “corrective measures and policies consistently with implementation” on the allocation of land and especially adat lands, giving the example of South Africa’s land redistribution policies. In closing, she urged the audience to “not give up on [her],” and proposed a follow-up workshop in November to discuss the verification processes for 2.2 million hectares of hutan adat claims that have already been sent to the ministry.

The conference was a convergence of diverse perspectives, people, organizations, and government officials. It was a powerful example of cooperation between the Ministry of Environment & Forestry (KLHK), the Executive Office of the President (KSP), and the Civil Society Coalition for Tenurial Justice.

The future is unknown, but perhaps the 2017 Tenure Conference has opened the door for more transparent cooperation and increased the government’s accountability to the public. As we eagerly await the finalized Action Plan and recommendations created by members of the Steering Committee, we know that ahead lies the monumental task of securing the rights of adat and local communities. We hope that there will be concrete, transparent, and sustainable actions toward this end, and that the government will be accountable for the statements and commitments they made during the conference. Lastly, this conference has opened space for local and customary communities to be heard and seen, and for Indigenous Peoples to voice their realities to the government. The time has come for the government and local communities to work together in order to see truly equitable, just, and representative forest and land tenure reforms.

About the author: Natalie Y. Campbell is the Asia Program Associate at the Rights and Resources Initiative.

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