BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A pledge by Indonesia to hand back control of customary forests to indigenous people is being hampered by overlapping land claims for mines, plantations, forests and public land in the country, a senior government official said on Thursday.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo had vowed to return 12.7 million hectares (31 million acres) of land to indigenous people following a historic 2013 court ruling to lift state control of customary forests.
Rights to about 1.9 million hectares of forest land had been handed over by 2017, but land rights activists said the process was slow, and the government had refused to recognize a map of customary land prepared by indigenous rights group AMAN.
“There are too many maps - we have 85 thematic maps for forestry, mining, plantations, customary forests, etc,” said Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forest governance in the environment ministry.
“We need to reconcile them all before settling a claim. We are also trying to reconcile AMAN’s map, but there are some discrepancies, and we have to consider them carefully,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in Bangkok.
Widodo, who won a second term in an election in April, last year signed an agrarian reform decree aimed at issuing titles to the landless and raise farm incomes. The government aims to register all land in the country by 2025.
But land rights activists have said the government’s insistence on only recognizing “clean and clear” land excludes conflicted areas and those where ownership is disputed, denying millions of people a chance for legal titles.
Last week, the Indonesian forestry ministry for the first time published a map showing locations of customary forests covering about 472,981 hectares that it has verified.
The map will be updated every few months as more areas are verified, and will help settle claims faster, Wibowo said.
Last month, Widodo ordered government officials to resolve land conflicts quickly, and favor communities with prior claims on land given to palm oil and mining developers.
This will also help expedite the issuing of titles, said Wibowo.
Indonesia’s environment minister on Wednesday said a moratorium on new forest clearing for palm oil plantations or logging operations, which has been regularly extended since 2011, would become permanent.
More than 800,000 hectares of land in the country were embroiled in disputes at the end of last year, according to advocacy group Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), many involving palm oil plantations.
Disputes such as these can be resolved faster under the country’s One Map program that seeks to clarify land holdings and synchronize overlapping thematic maps, Wibowo said.
“Land ownership is a complex matter and it takes time to verify claims, resolve disputes and issue titles,” he said.
“By addressing overlaps in the different maps with the One Map policy, we can not only resolve disputes, but also promote more efficient land use that benefits communities and businesses,” he said.
Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org