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Jakarta Post

Land redistribution key to reducing inequality

  • Alexander Irwan and Yanuar Nugroho


Jakarta   /   Wed, September 19, 2018   /   09:44 am
Land redistribution key to reducing inequality Scenic view of a tropical forest in Kalimantan. (Shutterstock/File)

One similarity between the three Asian economies, namely Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, is their success in becoming high-income countries after World War II while maintaining a more equal distribution of income. Currently the Gini Index of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are in the low 0.30s, while Indonesia’s index (a lower middle-income country) is around 0.40. Key to the ability of the three countries in maintaining a more equal distribution of income is land reform, which they conducted as early as the 1940s and 1950s. 

The 2016 data from the Global Hunger Index and last year’s figures from the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization show that the world’s hunger and malnutrition cases increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. 

This problem is not solely due to lack of food, but is also related to villagers’ lack of access to land and concentration of land ownership in the hands of corporations. Lack of access to land and natural resources is among major contributing factors to increasing inequality. 

Yet it is never too late to conduct land reform. The Indonesian government’s plan to provide ownership certificates and long-term leases over land and forests totaling more than 21 million hectares to local communities living within or in surrounding forest areas needs to be supported. 

With these certificates and leases, millions of poor rural Indonesians will have the necessary legal certainty to invest in those lands and forests as assets to improve their livelihoods and help ensure a brighter future for their children. 

The government’s social forestry program, for example, provides local communities and indigenous people legal access to manage forests and other natural resources within them. 

Recent research by the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) demonstrates that indigenous communities create significant economic value from their forest management. 

The Kajang community in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi, creates approximately Rp 28.92 billion (almost US$2 million) of economic value per year from production of natural products and various crafts. The Moi Kelim community in Sorong, West Papua, creates even larger value, reaching Rp 41.23 billion per year. As a comparison, the Moi Kelim community’s economic value creation is significantly higher than the total Sorong regional domestic product, currently at $2,413 per year per capita (excluding oil and gas). 

These findings rebuff the common assumption that indigenous peoples’ activities in forests bring less economic value in comparison to large-scale economic activities like plantations or mining.

It is thus only appropriate that Indonesia has been selected to host the 2018 Global Land Forum 2018, to be held in Bandung from Sept. 23 to 27. This forum is conducted only once every three years and is attended by international development organizations, UN agencies, government agencies, academics, non-governmental organizations, as well as civil society organizations (CSOs) and villagers working at the grass roots level. 

In these times of global uncertainty and growing inequality, Indonesia can use the forum to showcase its efforts to reduce inequality through land and forest redistribution. Indonesia’s best practices, along with others from around the world, can be shared with the aim of finding solutions to increasing inequality in the low- and lower middle-income countries. 

Indeed, Indonesia has much to share, not the least of which is the constructive collaboration between government agencies at all levels with CSOs and millions of villagers from across the archipelago to actualize the progressive land and forest redistribution agenda. 

One example is the creation of a community forestry in Namo village, Sigi regency in Central Sulawesi. During the 1980s, the Namo community living around Lore Lindu National Park had limited access to the forest. 

However, since the implementation of the hutan desa (village forest) program in Namo, the community set up zones in the forest for various types of forest management. Research by the Partnership for Governance Reform (Kemitraan) in 2016 shows an increase in monthly income of Rp 900,000 per household from managing non-timber forest products, like rattan or bamboo. 

From abroad, another success story on community forest management comes from Honduras. Community forestry in Honduras has been characterized by little or no formal or legal rights over forest areas. 

However, a study in three municipalities of the central highlands found that in the 10 years between 1994 and 2003, community forestry enterprises contributed approximately $7 million to the local economy. In one municipality, Lepaterique, local residents established small-scale logging operations in 1992. Five years later, a socioeconomic survey found the income of households involved in these logging activities had doubled and that 50 to 60 percent of their total income had come from forest activities. 

The 2018 Land Forum will be held in Bandung, host city of the historic 1955 Asia-Africa Conference, which at that time represented nearly one-quarter of the world’s land surface and roughly 54 percent of its population. The final Communique of the Conference underscored the need for participating countries to provide technical assistance to one another through the exchange of experts and technological know-how, as well as the establishment of regional training and research institutes. 

May the 2018 Global Land Forum deliver promises of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in bridging collaboration among emerging countries that are struggling to reduce inequality through land and forest redistribution.


Alexander Irwan is acting director of the Ford Foundation Jakarta office, and Yanuar Nugroho is deputy chief of staff for Analysis and Oversight of Strategic Issues on Social, Cultural and Ecological Affairs at the Executive Office of the President.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.