Illegal operations common feature of palm oil-driven conflicts


Locations of villages experiencing palm oil-related conflicts Photo: Gaveau et al., 2014

Illegalities by palm oil companies are a significant factor in the widespread conflicts between them and rural communities in Indonesian Borneo, according to a recent paper published in Applied Geography.

Conflicts between communities and companies, between and within villages, and between communities and the government, have proliferated across the areas of Indonesia most heavily targeted for plantations.

The National Human Rights Commission has recorded approximately 9,000 conflicts over land, three quarters of which involved the private sector. USAID estimated in 2006 that conflicts affected up to 19.6 million people.

These conflicts are on occasion exploding into acts of violence against communities. They most commonly involve the long-term suppression of community rights and their ability to effectively resist companies.

The paper in Applied Geography seeks to understand spatial patterns of conflicts, and assess and quantify the varying factors that underpin them.

Through a sweep of information online, the authors identified 265 reports of land conflicts across Kalimantan, from which 187 involved oil palm companies. Of these, 102 cases involved “[c]onflict over land boundaries and illegal operations by companies”. The study found that such conflicts were more likely to occur where forests were “more accessible by more people”, and where communities were less reliant on the resources offered by forests.

“Illegal operations” was one of five broad categories, and grouped with boundary disputes, so the nature of the illegality is unclear and inevitable varied. It is likely that disputes that fell under other categories – for example, poor consultation – also included some form of illegality on the part of companies but were not reported as such.

The paper can be viewed online here.

Mongabay has also published an in-depth post on the paper.

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