Plantation companies seeking to avoid destroying forests and causing climate change have been advised to set aside forests and peatlands within their concessions. But what are the implications for forest peoples? Do they benefit or does this further curtail their rights?
This field study looks at how Golden Agri Resources (GAR) is piloting this approach in the centre of Indonesian Borneo, in Kapuas Hulu, an upland area famous for its large lakes, extensive forests and peat swamps, and productive inland fisheries.
The findings are startling. Not only are ‘high carbon stock’ set-asides very unpopular but the whole operation is contested. Community lands have been taken without due process, in violation of the RSPO standard. Forest-living Dayaks, losing lands to plantations and set-asides, complain of land scarcity, while Malay fisherfolk accuse the company of river pollution, declining fishstocks and problems breeding fish.
The main way for companies to avoid such problems is to recognise community rights and livelihoods first and negotiate for land for plantations and set asides, only once areas of high conservation value and ‘carbon stocks’ are identified. Otherwise, from the community point of view, set-aside schemes just intensify land grabs and lessen their food security.
In this case GAR has now promised to put things right. This will mean starting again, by mapping land rights and renegotiating access to community lands – and accepting that when communities say ‘no’, then the company should back off.