Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Multi-Functional Lands Facing Oil Palm Monocultures: A Case Study of a Land Conflict in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Multi-Functional Lands Facing Oil Palm Monocultures: A Case Study of a Land Conflict in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

When the green paddy fields turn yellow, it is time to harvest the rice. Farmers in Kebun Hijau1 village put rubber tapping on hold and work in a race against time to harvest their staple crop. The first harvest is celebrated with a ceremony for the new rice; a nightly event where villagers gather to make a sweet dish of roasted unripe rice with coconut sugar. After the harvest month, the farmers return to their rubber gardens to generate cash income. People in Kebun Hijau have produced crops for the world market since colonial times, including rubber, copra, pineapple, and a variety of pulse crops. Recently, several farmers have started to plant pepper plants and oil palms to try out new cash crops. However, after a company planned to establish a large-scale oil palm plantation, the oil palm became part of a violent land conflict.

This article presents an ethnographic case study of a conflict about an oil palm plantation project in Kebun Hijau, a Malay village in a littoral (pesisir) dis1 trict in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Since the beginning of this millennium, oil palm plantations have been expanding rapidly throughout Kalimantan.2 The expansion of oil palm plantations leads to the conversion of vast areas of agricultural land and forest into monocultures. This has triggered violent land conflicts between plantation companies and rural communities, as well as conflicts within communities.3 In 2014, palm oil watchdog Sawit Watch reported 717 ongoing conflict cases in Indonesia. The conflict presented in this article started in the preparatory phase of a plantation project. I analyze the case from a property rights and access to resources perspective, looking at how people's responses to the plantation project are related to the way they give meaning to land and associated resources that are targeted for conversion to oil palm.

In brief, the conflict started in 2008, after a plantation company received a 10,000 ha land concession from the district government. The concession area included a large part of the village lands of Kebun Hijau and the lands of 13 other villages. The plantation project was met with resistance from local communities because people feared that they would lose their land to the company. After four years of conflict, the district government ordered the company to cease its activities; the plantation project was canceled before any oil palms were planted. The conflict had led to violent confrontations between the company and its supporters and opponents in the villages. A mass demonstration against the company ended with protestors throwing stones at the office of the district head. During a second protest, they set fire to the base camp of the company. The conflict created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust between opponents and supporters of the plantation within the villages. Although the company has now left the area, the situation remains tense. New companies are scouting the area and conflict is likely to reoccur.

With this case study, the article contributes to an ongoing debate about palm oil production and land conflicts. The global debate on palm oil production started after several international NGOs began mobilizing around palm oil issues in response to the major forest fires of 1997 in Indonesia (Pye, 2010, p. 858). Most academic literature on palm oil concentrates on environmental issues, such as deforestation, peatland destruction, (water and air) pollution, and biodiversity loss (Fitzherbert et al., 2008; Wilcove & Koh, 2010). Gradually, more attention has been paid to socio-economic issues such as labor conditions, challenges and opportunities for smallholders, gender differences, and (indigenous) land rights (Julia & White, 2012; Lee et al., 2014; Li, 2015; McCarthy, 2010). Companies, development institutions, and governments have asserted that the development of plantations is an opportunity for rural development, job creation, and the development of infrastructure in isolated areas (Word Bank & IFC, 2011). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.