Indonesia — As forest and peat fires once again flare up in Riau province, spreading health-threatening haze over much of Sumatra and even farther, two important questions arise: Where do these fires start? And who is really responsible for managing the land?
As a rich, multi-layered natural resource, land has different meanings to different actors. It is a source of identity and heritage, and also a means of production and livelihood. It holds the physical and biological assets that sustain us all. We are surrounded by different kinds of landscapes, and we utilize these spaces for a variety of purposes.
Approximately 50 percent of Indonesias total land mass is forested area. Millions of people live in and around these areas, depending on forest resources for food, livelihoods, and cultural activities. Forests also provide raw materials and/or the ground for the production of timber, pulp and paper, palm oil, and mining. These industries enormous demands on land, in conjunction with overlapping land claims by forest dependent communities and indigenous groups, have intensified a long-lasting debate about land tenure rights and the governance of natural resources in Indonesia. Competing interests occur precisely because each actor perceives the value of lands differently.
Some progress has been made toward clear land tenure, notably in the recent Constitutional Court decision, which paved the way for a wider recognition of indigenous peoples rights on customary forests.
However, overlapping land claims remain a source of widespread conflict in the archipelago. National and provincial governments maintain different and incompatible zoning and maps, and competing claims between companies and local communities are also common. Making things even more complicated, there are many disputes between, or even within communities. This is partly because local communities are made up of many different types of stakeholders indigenous peoples, ethnic groups and transmigrants and each group claims entitlement to different rights and settlements. How can we reconcile such overlapping land claims by different actors into coherent spatial plans?
Reconciling the clashing interests of different actors into a common vision through appropriate land-use planning and resource governance is a fundamental step toward achieving sustainable development. And this will require active participation of stakeholders at all levels throughout the decision-making processes. Collaborative landscape level planning is an integrated approach that prioritizes listening to various stakeholders linked to specific landscapes and balancing their needs and rights with the imperative for economic development, while also taking advantage of the natural characteristics of the landscape in a region.
For companies, collaborative landscape-level planning is a means to better understand how their supply chains interact with and affect larger landscapes, to mitigate key sources of risks, and to increase overall business efficiency. For communities, it is an opportunity for different groups to articulate their respective visions and interests for their future and to share control over collective decisions that affect them. For the government, it is a major step toward the effective and rational governance of natural resources.
There are multiple entry points to collaborative landscape level planning. They may take the form of multi-stakeholder consultations and free, prior and informed consent; participatory mapping; and/or partnerships.
Participatory mapping provides thematic information about a landscape in a transparent manner, and can serve as a common ground in defining and determining the appropriate use of space among different stakeholders. It can also highlight areas of overlapping land claims. If effectively used, participatory mapping can clarify disputed boundaries of concessions and smallholder agricultural lands, making it easier to identify who is actually responsible for the devastating fires.
For the private sector, collaborative landscape level planning offers new ways to mitigate supply chain and reputational risks. Companies investing in this approach do so in order to enhance business values such as corporate social responsibility, or else to respond to international sustainability demands, mitigate land-use conflicts, avoid ecological degradation and fires, and reduce risk management costs. These benefits can provide long-term advantages to forward-thinking companies seeking a strategic advantage in clear land and resource access and improved supply chain efficiency.
The raging peatland fires in Riau over the past two months clearly highlight the pressing need for sustainable practices in the land-use sector. Collaborative landscape level planning is not a silver bullet that can solve all the complex problems we face today. However, it can be an important pathway for businesses, government and communities to work together to find realistic solutions to these issues.
Challenges still remain.
The success of a collaborative landscape level planning approach depends on how land-use plans are developed in response to the various interests of multiple stakeholders, how these plans are actualized across sectors, and how they are used and enforced on the ground. As elections come to Indonesia once again, we have an opportunity to turn the page on some of the business-as-usual practices into a sustainable model for a more prosperous future for us all. Collaborative landscape management can play and important role in this process.