The oil palm plantation sector is experiencing growth very rapidly. As a result, the face of rural areas in Indonesia has changed. On the other hand, the expansion of the plantation area has triggered conflicts between oil palm companies and communities.
In the past two decades, in West Kalimantan (Kalbar), there have been 69 conflicts identified between local communities and companies related to the development and management of oil palm plantations. Out of those 69 cases, 32 of them were successfully researched.
A senior researcher of KITLV Leiden, Ward Berenschot, revealed that oil palm conflicts generally come from feeling injustice regarding how companies get land and how benefits from using the land are shared.
“The conflicts have significantly harmed the economy and individuals, not only for the communities but also for the companies. Finding ways to resolve these conflicts is an urgent task, but also not easy,” Ward said at the launching of the research report and public discussion event with the theme: “Resolving Oil Palm Conflicts in West Kalimantan: Evaluation on the Effectiveness of Various Conflict Resolution Mechanisms”, Tuesday (19/1/2021).
As known, the research team who are involved in the research: Palm Oil Conflict and Access to Justice in Indonesia (POCAJI), released their latest report online about the general character of oil palm conflicts in West Kalimantan: what has been done to resolve them, and how effective are the efforts to resolve the conflicts.
Out of the 32 cases studied in West Kalimantan, 21 cases or 66 percent of complaints were problems with the plasma scheme, 15 cases or 47 percent were regarding land grabbing. Nearly all conflict cases involved two or more complaints at a time. Therefore, the total percentage exceeds 100 percent.
Ward explained that complaints about the implementation of profit-sharing schemes (plasma) often led to conflicts. This was triggered, some companies did not realize the plasma lands as promised; the plasma lands were realized, yet the profits shared to the community were zero or too small; The cooperatives formed to manage the plasma schemes did not function properly since the community members who ran the cooperative did not transparently share the profits with their members.
While for land grabbing, the most complaints were related to the way the company got (or did not get) the initial approval of local communities in the land acquisition process. These complaints were voiced by the community in 15 conflict cases which were investigated.
Although the companies were required — both by law and by palm oil industry standards — to get community approval, not all companies made this effort, so that the communities felt that they were being cheated on their lands.
In some cases, the companies tend to rely on community leaders who frequently did not represent their members, did not provide complete information or gave false information regarding the impacts of plantation development, used intimidation by thugs, or lack transparency of compensation payments to communities.
From these complaints, what solutions do people generally ask for? An important finding from this study is that in voicing the aforementioned complaints, the communities generally did not reject oil palm development or ask termination of plantation operations.
“In many cases, the primary demand of the communities was to get better returns on the benefits of oil palm plantations: for example, the communities wanted more profit sharing or better implementation of plasma schemes,” Ward said.
In addition, the communities also demanded for better compensation for their lost land, asked for (part) of their land to be returned, and demanded the companies to contribute more to local communities in terms of better job opportunities and labor management.
“This pattern also shows that in general the communities did not want the plantation to completely leave. Instead, they wanted to get better returns for the land they had contributed to the development of oil palm plantations, “explained Ward.
The research report also explains that communities generally voiced their complaints peacefully, through demonstrations and hearings with authorities at the local level.
However, this study found an alarming trend that the protest leaders were often criminalized by police and company management: there were arrests on community members in 31 percent of the conflicts studied in West Kalimantan, which included 94 arrests.
“These conflicts also caused 12 people injured,” Ward revealed.
Why were conflicts frequently unresolved?
In general, oil palm conflicts were rarely resolved. In West Kalimantan, in 66 percent of 32 conflicts studied, the communities were not (or almost not) successful at all to get resolution on their complaints. When conflicts were resolved, it took very long process: approximately 5 years.
Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, a researcher at KITLV Leiden explained that one of the important reasons from the many unresolved conflicts was that the local authorities were often less successful in facilitating the conflict resolution process between the companies and the communities.
“Although facilitation and mediation efforts were often conducted in West Kalimantan (72 percent of all cases), out of 26 facilitation efforts by the local government, the DPRD and police to mediate conflicts, there were only 3 cases where agreements between the companies and the communities were reached and implemented,” said Ahmad. .
The study found that in general the existing conflict resolution mechanisms of oil palm conflict resolution — courts, the complaint facilities of RSPO and informal mediation by local governments — were still ineffective yet.
Another reason on why many conflicts have not been resolved was that it was difficult for the communities to access formal mechanisms of conflict resolution such as courts and RSPO dispute resolution facilities.
The mechanisms were rarely used. In West Kalimantan, there were only 5 cases brought to court and 5 cases went to RSPO. Due to the combination of several factors such as legal constraints, costs, lack of trust, and complexity of procedures, the communities were reluctant to use these mechanisms.
“In addition, when the communities won in court (only in 3 cases), the court decisions were often not implemented,” said Ahmad.
In contrast, professional mediators with trained capacities to mediate conflicts were much more effective at facilitating oil palm conflict resolution.
The research team of POCAJI provided several conflict prevention recommendations. It is expected that the local government can ensure that companies indeed get ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ or FPIC from local communities before starting the operations; and monitor the implementation of the nucleus-plasma cooperation scheme.
To improve conflict resolution, it is necessary to establish a mediation institution or conflict resolution desk at the provincial or regency level; to increase the capacity of related authorities; and also for the local government to impose sanctions on companies that are not cooperative in resolving conflicts.
“It is necessary to have more professional law enforcement and avoid informal pressure from business actors,” Ahmad stressed.
The Role of Regency Government
Head of Plantation Department of West Kalimantan, Heronimus Hero, said that the regency government is supposed to have a more strategic role in preventing and resolving conflicts. This is because almost all authority of evaluation is on the regency government.
“There is indeed more authority in regency. The main key to conflict resolution is in the regency,” he said.
Hero mentioned that the regency government can evaluate whether the companies have benefited all parties, meaning that the companies are profitable, the community is prosperous and the economy is developed.
“Because the one who gives permit is in the regency, since it has an area. The regency is given extraordinary instruments. This is the most strategic evaluation of the regional government and it is legally valid. ”
According to Hero, all regulations in the plantation have been there. They only need to be implemented. The tool has also been available, it only needs to be done.
“The regency can give a warning to the companies. However, the companies also have to be protected, because there have been permits. If there is no permit, the regency can give strict sanctions, “Hero expected.
Involving Village Authorities
The Regent of Kubu Raya, Muda Mahendrawan, said that in an effort to resolve oil palm plantation conflicts, the regency government involved more village officials in mediating and approaching the two disputing parties.
“Kubu Raya involved more village officials in resolving conflicts,” he said.
Muda admitted that most conflicts in the regions were due to land grabbing and overlapping transmigration lands. Moreover, recently there are more conflicts on plasma profit sharing. In addition, conflicts also occur among adjoining companies.
“Out of 28 companies in Kubu Raya, we organized and accomplished them one by one. We will re-manage the licensing. ”
Besides, Muda explained, a new conflict recently emerged as a result of a takeover or shift in company management.
“The company takeover is one of the causes of the emergence of new conflicts which has not been highlighted. This is a challenge that we must solve. We will continue to do mediation, so that the problem will be resolved, “he said.
“Company takeover as one of the causes of new conflicts has not been highlighted. This is a challenge that we must solve. We continue to carry out mediation, so that the problem can be resolved, “said Muda.
Land and Legal Certainty
The representative of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association [Gapki], Sadino, stated that not all oil palm plantation companies are members of Gapki. In West Kalimantan, for example, out of 378 companies, only 70 companies are members of Gapki.
“Gapki’s commitment is a socially and economically sustainable plantation. Conflicts certainly become a record. We definitely understand. We hope this research will not end here. This is only the first effort. It has not come to the substance of the plantation regulation.” Sadino stated.
Sadino highlighted the issue of land and legal certainty in Indonesia. If that happens, conflict resolution definitely will be easier.
“Why the conflicts exist, because the majority of forests are unlikely to have proofs of certificates. However, they are later claimed as community land. This becomes the dispute, moreover if it is brought to a court that adheres to positive law. ”
Then people look for alternative ways, such as mediation or so on. “Agrarian law does not reach all regions. It becomes difficult for the companies, who should be contacted if the evidences of the rights are only the certificates, “Sadino said.
About the research
In terms of data collection, Rahmawati, a researcher from Gemawan Institute explained that to study this conflict, POCAJI researchers used various research methods such as interviews with representatives of the affected communities in the period between May 2019 and May 2020.
“Then reviewing newspaper articles, government documents, reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic studies and various online sources,” Rahma revealed.
As known, this research is the result of a large-scale collaboration of Andalas University, KITLV Leiden, Wageningen University and six Indonesian NGOs namely Epistema Institute, HuMa, Gemawan Institute, Scale Up, Walhi of West Sumatra and Walhi of Central Kalimantan.
A team consisting of 19 researchers studied 150 cases of oil palm conflicts in four provinces in Indonesia: Riau, West Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. For West Kalimantan, a field research was coordinated by Gemawan Institute and KITLV.
The research team in West Kalimantan: Hendra Cipta, Rikson Siahaan, Daniel Pranajaya, Rahmawati, Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, Ward Berenschot
“This research was conducted because of the financial support from the Ministry of Research and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia and the Netherlands NWO Research Council,” Rahma concluded.