Winners Take All: Understanding Forest Conflict in the Era of Decentralization in Indonesia

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"The competition for benefits from decentralized forest management has dramatically increased forest-related conflicts among different stakeholders in Indonesia. Conflicts have been especially intense in areas of remaining valuable forest, such as Malinau, East Kalimantan. In this paper I aim to show how decentralization has influenced conflict. I show the increasing level of conflict that has occurred in Malinau and characterize the different types of conflict that have emerged. I then explain their causes in the context of decentralization. I use data from 27 villages to show that the new intensity of conflict has been related largely to (a) increases in value of forest and associated with district leaders initiatives to promote small-scale timber harvesting (b) uncertainties in village boundaries, forest land claims and rights to forest, (c) disagreements about how benefits should be shared, (d) more freedom of expression in civil society; (e) hesitance and lack of capacity in government to address tenure issues and (f) hesitance and lack of capacity by government or civil society to manage conflict. I show how conflict can be best understood within a nested set of contexts that includes the roles of different stakeholders. In Malinau conflict is deeply rooted in historical relationships among local settlements and ethnic groups. These relationships traditionally defined access to land and forest resources, as well as relations of power, conflict and cooperation among groups. Reform has strengthened the identity of these groups through revival of adat, presence of more local representation in district government and freedom of expression. As they have become stronger, the competition among them has increased. Decentralization is thus creating opportunities for more contestation and transforming social relations."
IASC, common pool resources, forest management, decentralization, conflict--case studies, social organization