Solving Land Problems for Sake of Indigenous Peoples


Land issues can never be separated from indigenous peoples. Various pressures and deprivation of rights of customary land continue to occur along with development of forest areas for practical economic purposes, both by the government and private sector. Current large-scale development often comes at the cost of the indigenous peoples and their territories because their economic activities are considered to have no value compared to   large scale ones. Both territories and indigenous peoples become victim to discriminatory policies and practices. With   large-scale development, both territories and indigenous peoples face threats including   climate change and population increase.

Researcher Claudia Sobrevilla (2008) mentions indigenous peoples’ traditional territories reach 22 percent of the earth’s land surface. They live in areas with 80 percent of planet Earth’s biodiversity wealth. Furthermore, they inhabit areas with the greatest biodiversity in the world’s forest areas such as the Amazon, Africa, Asia, where 20 percent of the areas is legally owned by indigenous peoples and their communities. Their territories function as their place to live, providers of food, water, medicines and other benefits.

Several studies indicate that the world’s indigenous peoples have maintained, managed, enriched and utilized natural resources in a sustainable manner in the domains of their ancestors. Thus the indigenous peoples become among spearheads in environmental management, the wealth of local wisdom and traditions.

Indigenous peoples including in Indonesia, often experience marginalization in large-scale development decision-making due to low assessment of resources, environmental services, and even local culture and wisdom. As in other countries, customary law and its institutions continue to become the central point of almost all management of economic resources and territories of the indigenous peoples. Unique ways of preserving the practical systems of sustainable natural resources management are transferred from generation to generation. However obstacles remain in struggles to establish a legal basis for indigenous peoples’ institutions Indonesia through the drafting of the law and bylaws on the recognition and protection of these people, especially through customary land rights.

This is due to unequal perceptions regarding recognition and protection of the indigenous peoples, including the lack of a database concerning the true economic value of their landscapes — their natural resources and environmental services, culture, traditional wisdom and economic options.

So far feasibility studies by investors on development in the territory of indigenous peoples has prioritized financial analysis, which has not included non-market value in its calculations, including that of environmental damage. Meanwhile natural resources and environmental services in indigenous territories experienced and known by indigenous peoples hold a vital role in their livelihood and wellbeing. Thus the assessment of customary territories should include non-market value.

The Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) has conducted a study on indigenous peoples’ landscapes in the Moi Kelim community in the Malaumkarta indigenous village, Papua. The research this year which was entrusted to the author shows the value of direct benefits derived from natural resources for consumption, including agriculture, forest plantations, fisheries, tourism environmental services, culture and traditional wisdom. The value of indirect benefits is achieved from various services provided by ecosystems in the Malaumkarta area, including forests, mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds, calculated using the technique of Benefit transfer methods. While the methods of Contingent valuation is applied to measure the non-use value of the ecosystem as well as the indigenous culture, to obtain the value of existence which is proxied from the household’s willingness to pay (WTP). The study was carried out using a hypothetical market where coastal resources are in excellent condition, as well as the existence of community culture that has begun to be eroded by the flow of modern culture.

The calculation household direct natural resources benefited from production and consumption of agriculture, fisheries, and forest product, the estimated economic value of direct benefits consumed per capita per month is Rp. 3.4 million. When compared to the gross domestic product of the Sorong regency minus oil and gas amounting to Rp 2.8 million per capita per month, the direct economic value of the Moi Kelim landscape is still higher. Likewise, when compared to West Papua’s minimum wage in 2018 of Rp 2.67 million per month, the direct economic value of the Moi Kelim indigenous peoples in Malaumkarta is still higher.

The valuable input from this study may be important material for stakeholders in the upcoming Global Land Forum (GLF) to produce better land governance agreements. The GLF to be held in Bandung on Sept. 24-26 is a communication forum aiming to lay the foundations of land governance, focusing more on community-based management in the global context.

This forum is pivotal, considering Indonesia’s chaotic land management. State and private land tenure governance among others lead to dead and unproductive land, seizure of indigenous peoples’ land for development, conversion of agricultural land, and various other issues that continue to plague the land sector. This Global Land Forum is expected to provide better solutions to the endless massive problems on the national and global scales.

Land problem solving strategies through agrarian reform continue to be developed, including territorial mapping initiatives, encouraging recognition of customary rights and customary forest rights, protection of land rights defenders who are criminalized by legal assistance, and community forestry schemes, among others. While on a global scale, promotion is increasing of business with a human rights approach, and to encourage a multi-stakeholder approach rather than more land grabbing cases.

In this case, the important thing is not merely to defend indigenous peoples, yet to furthermore maintain a sustainable scheme of consumption and production, goal number 12 of 17 Goals of Development Goals (SDGs) – the blue print to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all in 2030.

The author is Dr. Zuzy Anna, the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Development Goals Studies Universitas Padjadjaran (Unpad), Bandung.

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