Integrated Conflict Resolution System Offers Hope Amid Oil Palm Plantation Disputes

Inobu introduced the integrated conflict resolution system to communities in Central Kalimantan.

In remote regions in Kalimantan, the unrecognized land tenure and the absence of a fair process for land acquisitions have led to agrarian conflicts between communities and oil palm companies, some of which are decades old. An integrated conflict resolution system, developed by local nonprofit Yayasan Inobu, aims to ignite change on the ground by resolving and preventing future land conflicts.

For the past decades, the expansion of palm-oil plantations on land with no clear tenure has caused agrarian conflicts in many remote plantations across Indonesia. Many of them haven’t been resolved or managed at all, leaving rural communities with economic consequences. However, a human rights based approach, combining grass-roots efforts and multi-stakeholder cooperation with the local government and corporations, has emerged as a solution that can protect the rights of indigenous communities and independent smallholders to their land, forest, and livelihood.

The integrated conflict resolution system, which takes place in Seruyan and Kotawaringin Barat in Central Kalimantan, seeks to redress the conflicts and prevent future land disputes, becoming a push for long-needed changes.

Right now, the two palm oil producing districts have begun gathering data on land conflicts in several villages. The data will be used to identify common land conflicts and propose the best ways to solve and prevent them.

Among the most common conflicts in the surveyed villages are land disputes between local communities and plantation companies. In the 1990s, some local communities who had lived in the villages for generations lost their land to palm oil companies which acquired and cleared the land for plantations without proper consultation with the communities. It was enabled, for the most part, by shortcomings of the unclear policies and laws on land acquisitions at that time. To complicate matters further, the lands of indigenous peoples have never been mapped and formalized. 

Meanwhile, in recent years, transmigrants who settled in the plantation housing complex have faced land disputes against big companies as well due to the expansion of plantations. 

The majority of the social conflict cases, especially the long-running ones, are caused by unclear land tenure and the lack of clarity in land acquisition processes. The oil palm plantation permits were issued by the previous administrations. Under mounting pressure for the government to create a more sustainable palm oil industry, in 2018, Joko Widodo’s administration froze new oil palm permits and ordered a review of the issued permits. 

 

Local communities discuss how they can record and solve social conflicts in their village.

However, local communities and companies barely reach a mutual agreement. Many of the cases remained unresolved for decades. The companies have taken steps that they thought were the best possible options, but it’s still not enough. There is a lingering sense of grievance with many of the victims of land-grabbing realizing years later that they need to reclaim their family land to pass down to their children.

With the growing demands for sustainable palm oil around the globe, land conflicts in these far-flung areas have increasingly become a pressing issue in the industry.

Moreover, there’s also a need to address systemic agrarian conflicts. Normally, the local communities would use the conventional method for mediating the conflict. But mediation only aims to resolve the existing conflicts and doesn’t necessarily prevent future conflicts. The dispute resolution was achieved only at the sectoral level, meaning that people in other regions don’t have access to the lessons of resolved cases when they need it. Thus, similar cases would still emerge in different oil palm-producing areas. 

That’s why Yayasan Inobu developed an integrated conflict resolution system through a jurisdictional approach, aiming to address social conflict cases in the whole district by collaborating with all of the relevant stakeholders, including the government, companies, smallholders, nonprofit organizations, and local communities. The approach will help multiple stakeholders to have shared goals and plans which will translate into district-wide policies. 

The integrated conflict resolution system, financed by consumer-goods company Unilever, has a mission to ignite change on the ground and give hope to resolve land disputes in palm oil producing regions in Kalimantan.

The measures to address the widespread land conflict issues include the creation of regent regulations on recording and resolving agrarian disputes in Seruyan and Kotawaringin Barat and the district-wide efforts to ensure the implementation of the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) processes. 

Village-level teams will be established and trained to record conflicts in their regions. The local teams will assist the community to report their disputes, which will be gathered and stored in a mobile app.

The land conflicts added to the app will be reviewed by a government-appointed advisory panel, which oversees the law’s implementation at the regency level. The panel of experts will give guidance and legal provisions to the communities on the best ways to solve the cases: mediation, court procedures, or customary legal processes. In the end, there will be a signed agreement or a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to ensure that the parties accept and obey the result. The agreements, enforceable and legally binding, might be filed with the court.

After the dispute is resolved and a mutual agreement is reached, the local teams will provide rehabilitation for the post-conflict communities to help improve their livelihoods and achieve development and economic growth.

The integrated conflict resolution system is expected to reduce negative impacts of land conflicts, including social inequality and loss of livelihood, and encourage oil palm companies to improve their governance.

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