Possibilities and challenges for forest tenure reform in Indonesia

February 2, 2018

In a three-part series, the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Forests News looks at ongoing research from the village of Honitetu in Maluku, Indonesia, as part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure).

Forest tenure reform has been at the center of the debate, on national as well as international policy agendas, in recent years. The reform is intended to give customary communities, local communities or local governments ownership or some level of rights over forestland and resources. Despite over two decades of experience of tenure reform in most of the developing countries, the impact of the reforms on the ground has fallen short of the expected outcomes. The reforms are either inadequate in conserving forest resources or providing limited livelihood returns for local people.

The research on forest tenure reform has demonstrated that a number of factors including a regulatory framework, administrative management, market forces, resource systems, and community attributes are key in determining the impacts of the reforms. However, there is limited understanding of the extent to which each of these factors affect the outcomes at the systems level. The research accommodates history, scale and power dimensions of reform into consideration, and aims to generate insights by investigating the emergence, concurrent implementation practice, key outcomes and bottlenecks of these reforms.

With field research currently ongoing in Indonesia, Peru and Uganda focusing on the connections between land rights, conservation and livelihoods, this research program builds on CIFOR’s existing body of knowledge on forest tenure reform.

The first article of the recent series, ‘The forest belongs to the community’, looks at tenure reform in Maluku.

As tenure laws continue to change, customary management is under challenge by top-down government control, the entry of private industry with business permits, increasingly limited rights for local people, and a shrinking area of forest for them to forage and farm in, the article states.

The article is accompanied by a video titled Mapping traditional forests in Maluku, Indonesia.

The second article in the series, The power of ‘sasi’: A sustainable taboo, investigates a customary resource management technique that is used to enforce rotational harvesting.

The endurance of the sasi tradition in Maluku is a testament to its effectiveness as a resource management technique. Adapting to changing legal conditions, landscapes and beliefs, it has maintained its power in the local imagination, as well as its results for sustainable forest management, according to the article.

The article features a video titled Sustainable symbols: ‘Sasi’ taboos in Maluku, Indonesia.

Finally, The forest farmers shows the challenges facing indigenous communities in rights over their forests. Indigenous forest users can be left with insecure tenure over the land that sustains them, the piece says.

That piece is accompanied by Changing times: Living off the forest in Maluku, Indonesia.

Following the series was the article Postcards from the field: The view from Honitetu, in which scientist Nining Liswanti, the Indonesia coordinator for a GCS-Tenure, shares her experiences in Maluku.

Her research has brought findings back to Jakarta on the community’s aspirations for tenure reform to recognize customary lands, and the right to manage them according to ancient traditions.

The articles mentioned above were written by Catriona Croft-Cusworth and originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

All four articles were produced in collaboration with Aris Sanjaya (video), Ulet Ifansasti (photographs), Aini Naimmah (transcription), Budhy Kristanty (production) and the community of Honitetu village, Maluku, Indonesia.

For more information on this topic, please contact Esther Mwangi at E.Mwangi@cgiar.org or Nining Liswanti at N.Liswanti@cgiar.org.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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