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Conflict over forests and land in Asia is widespread. Competition for land for investment, resource extraction, and conservation is becoming more common, and with it, community–outsider conflict is believed to have increased in both number and severity. This conflict, which takes place between local actors (communities and indigenous peoples) and external actors (such as Government agencies and developers), has received considerable attention in the popular press but little analytical attention. Debates among scientists, practitioners, and governments on how to mitigate, manage, and transform this conflict have suffered accordingly. This Issues Paper aims to shed more light on how conflict begins; how it affects actors involved; and how it can be successfully managed. • Conflict impacts; • Underlying and direct causes of conflict; and • Conflict management approaches employed by actors.
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Conict over forests
and land in Asia
Impacts, causes, and management
Yurdi Yasmi, Lisa Kelley, and Thomas Enters
Conict over forests
and land in Asia
Impacts, causes, and management
Yurdi Yasmi, Lisa Kelley, and Thomas Enters
RECOFTC holds a unique and important place in the world of forestry. It is the only
international not-for-profit organization that specializes in capacity building for
community forestry and devolved forest management. RECOFTC engages in
strategic networks and effective partnerships with governments, nongovernment
organizations, civil society, the private sector, local people, and research and
educational institutes throughout the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. With more
than 20 years of international experience and a dynamic approach to capacity
building – involving research and analysis, demonstration sites, and training
products – RECOFTC delivers innovative solutions for people and forests.
Issues Paper
Conflict over forests and land in Asia
Impacts, causes, and management
Yurdi Yasmi, Lisa Kelley, and Thomas Enters
Copyright © RECOFTC 2010
ISBN: 978-616-90183-1-5
P.O. Box 1111
Kasetsart Post Office
Bangkok 10903, Thailand
Tel: +66 (0)2 940 5700
Fax: +66 (0)2 561 4880
Sida and Norad funded this research. USAID’s RAFT Program supported the work in
Lao PDR and in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The following organizations assisted
the study: The Center for International Forestry Research, the Chinese Academy of
Social Science, the National Land Management Authority of Lao PDR, Hue University
of Agriculture and Forestry Vietnam, and the NGO Forum on Cambodia. We are
grateful to Horm Chandet, Wang Xiaoyi, Agus Heriyanto, Yayan Indiratmoko,
Ek Vinay Sayyalath, Rawee Thaworn, Nguyen Thi Hong Mai, and HEP Sokhannaro
for conducting the individual case studies upon which this paper is built.
Our sincere thanks go to our colleagues in the Strategic Communications Unit at
RECOFTC, particularly Duncan McLeod, Susan Mackay, Alison Rohrs, and Apinita
Siripatt for their support in finalizing this Issue Paper.
The authors take full responsibility for the views expressed here. They do not
necessarily reflect the views of RECOFTC.
Executive summary
1. Introduction 1
Overview 1
Scope and approach 1
Key concepts 4
2. Conict impacts 5
Negative impacts 6
Positive impacts 7
Conclusions 8
3. Underlying and direct causes of conict 9
Underlying causes 9
Direct causes 12
Conclusions 13
4. Conict management 14
How was conflict managed? 14
Management outcomes 17
Conclusions 18
5. Lessons learned and the way forward 19
Short-term solutions 20
Long-term solutions 20
6. Conclusions 21
References 23
ADR Alternative Dispute Resolution
CFMC Community Forestry Management Committee
ELC Economic Land Concession
FPIC Free, Prior, and Informed Consent
LUP/LA Land Use Planning and Land Allocation Program (Lao PDR)
MoU Memorandum of Understanding
NGO Non-Governmental Organization
Norad Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation
REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation
RRI Rights and Resources Initiative
Sida Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
TNC-RAFT The Nature Conservancy Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade Program
Executive summary
Conflict over forests and land in Asia is widespread. Competition for land for
investment, resource extraction, and conservation is becoming more common, and
with it, community–outsider conflict is believed to have increased in both number
and severity. This conflict, which takes place between local actors (communities
and indigenous peoples) and external actors (such as Government agencies and
developers), has received considerable attention in the popular press but little
analytical attention. Debates among scientists, practitioners, and governments on
how to mitigate, manage, and transform this conflict have suffered accordingly.
This Issues Paper aims to shed more light on how conflict begins; how it affects
actors involved; and how it can be successfully managed.
• Conictimpacts;
• Underlyinganddirectcausesofconict;and
• Conictmanagementapproachesemployedbyactors.
The duration and management of conflicts varied considerably and were key
factors in determining the impacts. Even though each conflict studied was unique,
many negative impacts were common. They included anxiety and fear, disharmony
and division among social groups, distrust, high costs, and environmental
degradation. Though negative impacts predominated, positive impacts were
observed. Conflict increased collective action in certain communities. It also led to
a better understanding of the importance of clarifying tenure ambiguity. This latter
finding adds to a growing body of literature which suggests that conflict can be
constructive (e.g. Castro and Neilson 2001).
Underlying and direct causes
Conflict is inherently complex, necessarily contextualized by, among other things,
national and district-level practices. In this important sense, the eight conflicts are
unique to the locations in which they took place. Nonetheless, these conflicts seem
to have common roots. All involved an overlap between statutory and customary
claims, suggesting that contested or ambiguous tenure underlies every studied
conflict. They were all indirectly driven by broader societal changes, in particular, by
rapid economic development, rising commodity prices, concerns over food security
at national and international levels, or conservation policies that view local people
as a threat to biodiversity. The three underlying causes of conflict observed were:
• Contestedtenureandoverlappingclaims;
• AlackofcoordinationamongStateagencies;and
• Conservationandeconomicdevelopmentpoliciesthatprioritizeglobal
and national interests over local interests, needs, and aspirations.
The direct causes of conflict were more diverse, but carried a salient message
local communities and indigenous peoples view their assets and culture as an
integral part of resource management. When a community’s culture and deep
connection to land and forests was disrupted by outsiders, conflict emerged and
escalated. Notable direct causes of conflict observed were as follows:
• Destruction of community economic and social assets (e.g. land, gardens, graveyards) because of company
operations (e.g. mining, logging, plantation development);
• Lossofincomeandlivelihoodopportunitiesduetotheestablishmentofconservationareas;
• Evictionoflocalcommunitiesfromtheirland;
• Pollution(e.g.airpollution,noise)causedbylogging,plantation,andminingoperations;and
• Jobsunavailableforcommunitymembersbutreservedforoutsiders(e.g.inlogging,mining,plantationoperations).
Conflict management strategies previously described in the literature (see Engel 2007) range from avoidance to adjudication.
In the cases studied, four common methods were employed by actors: avoidance, negotiation, mediation, and coercion.
Though not a technique per se, co-management arrangements were also central to mediation efforts in two instances. Neither
adjudication nor arbitration was used in any of the eight cases.
The technique employed depended on the stage of the conflict as well as on the existing power relations. In earlier stages,
conflict was generally avoided or direct negotiations were attempted. Negotiations, however, did not yield solutions in any of
the seven instances where they were attempted; often, communities could not even get important stakeholders to attend
organized meetings. In four instances, mediation was attempted next. Though this led to more successful management of the
conflict in three cases, in one case, the company involved ultimately relied on military-backed coercion to ‘resolve’ the conflict.
This was also true of a second case in which mediation was not used.
Lessons learned: The way forward
To reduce the future incidence of conflict the following short- and long-term actions are proposed.
Short-term actions:
• Encourageearlyconsultationwithresidentlocalpopulationspriortomakingdecisionsaboutland-usechanges.
• EnsurecoordinationbetweenGovernmentagencieswithoverlappingmandates.
• Promote co-management arrangements in which actors agree upon a strategy to fairly share management
• Call upon governments to remain neutral and avoid taking sides in conicts between local communities and
Long-term actions:
• Clarifytenurearrangementsandland-usepoliciestominimizethelikelihoodofresourceconict.
• StrengthenmediationskillsacrossAsiatoensurelocalcapacitytomanageconict.
• Respectlocalresourcemanagementandensureeconomicdevelopmentalsobenetslocalcommunities.
• Integratelocal livelihood strategiesintoconservation policy tobalancetop-downprocesses anddecreaseconict
caused by unilateral enforcement.
Competition over resources is high and many believe conflict is inevitable. Among other developments leading to rapid changes
in Asia, populations are growing (in size and in wealth); demand for environmental solutions is mounting with concerns about
climate change and the loss of biodiversity (RRI 2009-2010); and more land is being converted into agro-fuel and industrial or
food-crop plantations following concerns over food security and steep commodity price increases. Local communities and
indigenous peoples who live and work at the forest frontier are particularly affected.
Conflict between local actors (communities and indigenous peoples) and other stakeholders (for example Government agencies
and developers), hereafter simply referred to as community–outsider conflict, is widespread. Conflict is an issue that is regularly
and vividly played out in the popular press, creating an impression that both the frequency and intensity of conflicts over
resources are increasing. However, this is not merely an illusion generated by more research.
Often the local communities and indigenous peoples involved in conflicts confront more powerful actors such as developers
and governments. Rarely able to defend their rights and make their voices heard, they often end up losing in the battle over
forests and land. For example, land grabbing in Cambodia potentailly has put 150,000 people at risk of eviction from their land
(Amnesty International 2009). In Indonesia, somewhere between 12 and 20 million people are affected by forest-related
conflict (ARD 2004). The imbalance in power often means that those most affected by conflict are not able to address it
independently of external support.
Scope and approach
Eight community–outsider conflict cases were examined in six countries across Asia: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR,
Thailand, and Vietnam, with a focus on three broad areas:
• Conflict impacts;
• Underlying and direct causes of conflict; and
• Conflict management approaches employed by actors.
Fieldwork was carried out between May and September 2009. In total, 292 in-depth interviews were conducted with
representatives of local communities, governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 16 focus
group discussions were held. It was not always possible to talk with outsider representatives, particularly from companies, and
accordingly, this research emphasizes conflict as experienced by local communities and indigenous peoples. Two international
workshops were convened in Bangkok to discuss study methodologies and preliminary findings.
This paper presents these findings in six sections. Section 1 provides the general background to the study, its scope and
approaches, and key concepts. Section 2 discusses the impacts of conflict, and is followed by an explanation of the causes of
conflict in Section 3. Section 4 elaborates approaches taken to address conflict; how actors engage in the process of
negotiation; and the role of mediation. Section 5 discusses the central questions above: the lessons learned and the ways
conflict over forest and land can be tackled (providing short- and long-term actions). Section 6 presents the key findings and
Figure 1 shows the location of the eight cases and Table 1 offers a brief summary of them.
Figure 1: Actors involved in community–outsider conict in the case-study sites
Table 1: Summary of conict cases
Case Primary actors Description of the conict
u Kampong Speu,
Local communities,
rock mining
A rock mining company operated in a community forest. The company had
obtained a license from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy while
the latter had their community forest approved by the Provincial Governor.
The company, backed by the military, destroyed trees in the community
forest and caused dust and noise pollution. The community demanded
compensation, without any success.
vKbal Damrei,
Local communities,
rubber plantation
A rubber plantation company, with an Economic Land Concession (ELC)
granted by the Provincial Governor, started operations on land that a
community had already demarcated as part of a community forest under
development. The land clearing damaged the community’s forest,
farmland, and burial site. The company employed workers from outside the
community, causing further grievances.
wInner Mongolia,
Herders, Forestry
Increasing desertification and dust storms led the Government to
progressively ban herding in Inner Mongolia, allocating certain portions of
the grasslands as no-grazing zones. This policy caused conflict between
herders and local Forestry Administration officials enforcing the policy as
herders did not feel they had any other option but to continue grazing.
Indigenous peoples,
logging company
A company was granted a logging concession in an area overlapping with
community territory. The local community was evicted from their land and
not employed in the operation, which destroyed their trees and graveyard
and polluted their river. Throughout the conflict negotiation and mediation
took place and with the help of a mediator. After two decades a
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed marking an end to the
Indigenous peoples/
local communities,
oil palm plantation
An oil palm plantation company began clearing land traditionally managed
and inhabited by local communities. No free, prior, and informed consent
(FPIC) was obtained, and the district government supported the company
throughout the development. Local communities asked the company to
halt the operation, without success.
zPhou Gnai,
Local communities,
The Lao PDR Government aims to establish a buffer zone and protected
area that overlaps with a community garden. There has yet to be any clear
information on compensation, and the community has been asked to
discontinue planting eaglewood in the area thus far delineated.
Local communities,
national park
The Government established a national park and forest reserve making the
local communities illegal encroachers on land they had historically
managed. For more than 20 years, they were arrested often and had their
land confiscated by national park officials, triggering open antagonism and
conflict. In 2004, the Sueb Nakahasathien Foundation became involved in
a project to implement joint management of the area, resulting in redrawn
boundaries and the establishment of a Forest Conservation Network.
|Thua Thien Hue,
Local communities,
sand mining
A sand mining company’s operations on land the Pho Trach community has
managed for over 400 years has affected local water supply, damaged
burial grounds, and destroyed a small plantation. Compensation provided
to the community for the loss of their trees has been low, and no
employment has been offered to local people, triggering conflict.
Key concepts
Conflict impacts
Resource conflict is usually viewed as a negative phenomenon, a force that disrupts the status quo and generates hostility,
distrust, and hatred. Scholars, however, have moved beyond dichotomizing conflict as strictly positive or negative (see Glasl
1999) and increasingly conflict is acknowledged as an opportunity for positive change. In field findings where conflict is
managed adequately, positive outcomes routinely emerge such as reaching agreements and improved resource management
via better collaboration. On the other hand, if poorly addressed, negative impacts may dominate (see Yasmi et al. 2009). These
findings lend credence to the theoretical interpretation of conflict as helping to provide modern democratic society with
cohesion (Hirschman 1994).
Underlying and direct causes of conflict
Conflict is commonly defined as differences or incompatibilities in interests, goals, or perceptions. Broad definitions have been
widely adopted in forestry (see FAO 2000). Recently, however there have been more specific attempts to conceptualize conflict
in the forestry context. Raitio (2008), for instance, suggests that forestry conflict can be understood as frame conflict, a conflict
in which disputants differ in their views, experience, or understanding of conflict. Through a comprehensive review of frame
theories she argues that conflict is perception and value driven. Lewicki et al. (2003) and Marfo (2006) focus on distinguishing
conflict from non-conflict situations arguing that differences are a fact of life and cannot be equated to conflict. Following Glasl
(1999) they distinguish conflict as a situation in which an actor feels impaired or restricted by the behavior of another actor
because of differing perceptions, emotions, goals, values, or interests.
A differentiation between underlying and direct causes of conflict is usually made. Underlying causes are fundamental/broader
factors (for example related to resource policy), which are often applicable to broader contexts. Direct causes are those observed
as immediate factors of conflict in specific locations.
Conflict management
With regard to conflict management four terms are often used interchangeably: conflict resolution, conflict management,
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and conflict transformation. They have different underlying assumptions and objectives.
Conflict resolution assumes that every conflict is destructive for society and should be resolved as quickly as possible (Zartman
1991). In contrast, conflict management, ADR, and conflict transformation assume that conflict is complex and can never be
entirely resolved (Daniels and Walker 2001). The main objective of conflict management is to avoid destructive outcomes; ADR
aims at finding a compromise through negotiated agreement; and conflict transformation specifically aims to transform conflict
into something positive (see Susskind et al. 2000). In this paper we use conflict management as an umbrella term depicting all
A number of strategies can be used to manage conflict, strategies that fall along a continuum that veers towards increasingly
‘direct and coercive’ measures (Engel 2007). As outlined by Moore (2003) and FAO (2000), these strategies move sequentially
from avoidance; to negotiation; to mediation; to arbitration; to adjudication; to non-violent directive action; to violence,
described below. The last two, grouped, could be described as ‘coercion.’
1. Avoidance – a strategy in which conflicting parties avoid overt conflict and prevent conflict from becoming publicly
2. Negotiation a process in which the conflicting stakeholders reach a consensus voluntarily and without the
involvement of outsiders.
3. Mediation – a form of third party intervention in which a mediator facilitates conflict management but he/she does
not have the authority to impose a solution.
4. Arbitration – submitting a conflict to a mutually agreed upon third party, the so-called arbitrator, who renders a
non-binding decision. It is used specifically if negotiation and mediation fail, as well as to avoid the high cost of court
5. Adjudication – a process in which a binding decision is made by a judge through formal procedures in a court. It is
the most formal and contentious form of conflict strategy and normally used as a last resort.
6. Coercion – the use of power in a conflict to force one party to comply with the other’s demands or wishes.
1 Conflict avoidance is a response to a conflict. A distinction should be made between this strategy and conflict prevention. The latter refers
to a pro-active approach to prevent conflict from emerging or escalating by devising pro-active measures, e.g. FPIC, public consultation,
and Corporate Social Responsibility.
The duration and management of conflicts varied considerably and were key factors in determining the impacts. Even though
each conflict studied was unique, many negative impacts were common. They included anxiety and fear, disharmony and
division among social groups, distrust, high costs, and environmental degradation. Though negative impacts predominated,
positive impacts were observed. Conflict increased collective action in certain communities. It also led to a better understand-
ing of the importance of clarifying tenure ambiguity. This latter finding adds to a growing body of literature that suggests that
conflict can be constructive (see Castro and Neilson 2001). This section summarizes both the positive and the negative impacts.
Figure 2: The severity and duration of conict over national park designation in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Latent phase
• Resource
between villagers
and State
• Swidden farming
and forest
product collection
• National park law imposed decreasing
swidden farming and forest product
collection. Over 50 plots of swidden
lands were confiscated pending court of
justice’s decision
• Villagers were arrested and charged for
farming in national park
• Violent clashes between officers and
villagers began
• Clashes continue
• Villagers block
forestry officers in
their vehicle
• Mediation is led by
comm. leader and
mayor with little
• Facilitation by external
• Joint management of
protected area introduced
• Regular meetings
organized; joint boundary
• Co-management
1981 1998 2005 2009
Arrests and
Intensity level
Negative impacts
Anxiety and fear
Anxiety was the most common impact, sometimes experienced intensely and over a number of years. Intense anxiety and fear
were felt by villagers in a conflict with national park officials in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Between 1981, when national park
declaration made villagers encroachers on land where they had lived for more than 20 years, and 2004, when the conflict be-
gan to be more successfully managed, this anxiety only increased as more and more land was confiscated. In addition to land
confiscations, villagers were arrested and evicted, and had their houses burned or otherwise destroyed. One villager’s account
begins to describe what villagers experienced:
I remember the day that I was clearing a swidden field for paddy cultivation. I was in constant fear and paranoia. Sud-
denly, I saw the forestry officer approaching me; in panic, I ran as fast as I could. While running for my life, I had to
silence my two beloved dogs that were barking and running away with me by beating them on the head – to death – in
fear that their barking would lead the national park officer to successfully locate and arrest me.
National park officials in this case experienced fear and anxiety as well, perhaps most vividly when they were trapped and
blocked in their cars in the village for half a day without food or water, with villagers preventing their exit.
Fear of violence was also common, for example in both conflict cases in Cambodia. In Kampong Speu, 65 villagers showed up
with knives, sticks, and poles and seized a bulldozer from a mining company in a protest against the company’s land clearing
within the boundaries of their proposed community forest. In Kbal Damrei, 200 people staged a protest with a loaded gun in
an attempt to stop land clearing that was badly damaging farmland and burial locations. Such incidents generated much fear
on both sides.
Disharmony and division within social groups
Disharmony was common, though more pernicious in certain cases than in others. It is likely in some instances that this repre-
sents a deliberate strategy by outsiders to deflect from the original conflict. For instance, in West Kalimantan there was a histori-
cally strong relationship between the Janting and Semuntik communities, with the Janting traditionally lending the Semuntik
land on a provisional basis. When an oil palm plantation company approached the Janting community about converting their
communal land to a plantation, the Janting community refused. The neighboring Semuntik community then told the company
that this land was historically theirs and allowed the company to begin operations. Though historically the two communities
had lived in harmony as fellow Dayak Ibans, the Semuntik’s land claim provoked a secondary conflict between the two com-
munities that continues to this day.
Disharmony was also common within communities where various factions disagreed about the appropriate course of action.
For instance, some households in Kampong Speu agreed with the mining company’s planned operations and even benefited
financially. This triggered obvious rifts with neighboring households that disagreed, and over time, this division widened.
Distrust of local leaders was pervasive, deeply affecting relationships between communities and their local governments. In
many conflicts, communities approached local governments to mediate the conflict only to find that they had supported devel-
opers without seeking consent from communities first. This was true of the conflict cases from West Kalimantan, Kbal Damrei,
Kampong Speu, and Thua Thien Hue.
State institutions designed to protect citizens (i.e. the military and police) were also co-opted to protect developers in several
cases (Kbal Damrei; West Kalimantan; Kampong Speu). In Kbal Damrei, 200 people staged a protest with a loaded gun in an
attempt to stop land clearing that was badly damaging farmland and burial locations. Though the company stopped clearing
land in response, two months later, it hired eight armed military police to allow them to break a previous agreement and resume
land clearing. In Kampong Speu, company representatives were actually believed to be military officials; 21% of community
members felt that the conflict was linked somehow to the Commune Chief and 11.5% felt that the Commune Chief was in-
volved with the company clearing their land. This undoubtedly has reduced the trust villagers have in Government institutions
and in local leaders.
High costs
Many communities and companies experienced high costs, both financially and in terms of the time that addressing conflict
required. Direct financial costs were sometimes in the thousands of dollars for communities. In Thua Thien Hue, conflict has
emerged between a community and a sand mining company whose operations are damaging communal land managed for
over 400 years. Attempting to resolve this conflict has cost the community much time and thousands of dollars in arranging
meetings and traveling between Government offices and the village. In East Kalimantan, the community in conflict with a
logging company similarly spent thousands of dollars and considerable time trying to gain compensation for damage to their
traditional graveyard and for pollution in a river they depend heavily on. The company estimates its own costs in the hundreds
of thousands of dollars. In Janting, West Kalimantan, the community estimates that more than US$2,000 was spent during
the conflict to cover transportation and accommodation during meetings with Government and company officials. Forty-four
percent of respondents in Kbal Damrei said that the conflict with the rubber plantation company had had high costs in terms
of their time.
There is a second set of economic costs that communities face, and these are the economic costs that they pay throughout
conflict as their livelihoods are lost or impaired. In every single case, communities suffered economic loss as their livelihoods
were restricted by development or conservation activities. Strictly speaking, this economic loss is a driver of conflict and not an
impact of the conflict itself. Simultaneously it is significant and so deserves explicit mention. Destruction of community assets
also factors into this equation (see pages 11 and 12 for an expanded discussion of these costs).
Environmental degradation
Environmental degradation due to conflict occurred in two cases. In Pifang village of Inner Mongolia, after grazing restrictions
limited the area over which the traditionally mobile herders could graze their livestock, villagers chose to graze closer to home
to evade Forestry Administration officials who would otherwise fine them for grazing. The result was ecological degradation
as grazing changed from a mobile to a sedentary practice and land was even more heavily grazed than previously. In East Kali-
mantan, rehabilitation and reforestation activities were discontinued.
Positive impacts
Stronger collective action
Strong collective action is often considered an essential prerequisite for sustainable resource management (see Hardin 1968;
Ostrom 1990).2 Given its importance to resource management, improved collective action may be considered a positive impact.
While in certain locations conflict weakened local relationships, in others, previously nascent or weak collective action was
strengthened. In the conflict between the community and a rubber plantation company in Kbal Damrei, collective action
emerged in the form of organized protests, advocacy by the Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC, a community
institution), and later, in a proposal to change the community forest location and therefore begin their application anew.
According to one villager who was discussing villagers’ attendance at a mediation meeting with the company:
We went there to accompany our representatives because we were concerned about their security. When more people
come, we have more voice.
A similar story occurred in East Kalimantan. A series of local demonstrations effectively forced a logging concessionaire to shut
down. An MoU has been signed, and the company has closed its operations.
The important caveat is that collective action can escalate conflict and provoke violence. In Kbal Damrei, community protests
involved one villager gaining control of a loaded gun from company grounds; in reciprocation, the company hired armed
guards. In East Kalimantan, part of what forced company closure was threat of violence; in one demonstration, 13 people came
from Long Laai village to base camp wearing traditional headbands and carrying swords, in a warlike fashion.
2 Broadly described, collective action is the pursuit of a goal or a set of goals by more than one person.
Increased awareness and pressure for tenure clarity
Conflict also generally made communities more cognizant of their rights to the land under the law and the steps they would
need to take to protect these rights. By doing so, conflict in these eight cases reiterated the importance of addressing tenure,
clearly an issue poorly addressed in many Asian countries. For instance, in the conflict with a sand mining company in Thua
Thien Hue, local people became more aware that they would need to obtain official tenure to prevent further investment by
outsiders on their land. Now, the community is seeking a land-use certificate and a water-use certificate for two reservoirs in
the sandy forest. As the chairperson of the Pho Trach cooperative argues, a land-use certificate will allow local people to
negotiate for any case or issues related to their land.
To fully understand the impacts of conflict, one must see it in the context not only of what has happened so far in these eight
cases, but also of what is possible. Conflict in these countries is neither an isolated incident nor the most violent incarnation of
what is possible.
For example, on 4 July 2007, Mr. Seng Sarorn, the elected leader of a CFMC in a district of Stung Treng Province, Cambodia,
was murdered. He was reportedly shot dead by unknown persons while sitting with his wife in their home in Sre Kor I village.
Mr. Sarorn had been the driving force behind mobilizing villagers to establish a community forest and had also been involved
in protests demanding that the company, Sal Sophea Pheanich, return State forest land to the poor people of the community
(Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders 2007). This is only one instance, used to exemplify the potential
severity of land disputes, and to underline how serious the personal consequences can be for those who actively claim their
rights and land.
With or without violence, the loss of livelihoods should not be downplayed. Daily fear and anxiety about having enough to eat
and providing enough for family members to eat make the disputes very real for people who fear losing their land. Concomitantly,
other factors threaten and intimidate people from taking action. In some cases, the political context alone may be enough to
quiet dissent. In other countries, as the cases from Cambodia and Indonesia demonstrate, State forces may be employed to
subdue protest.
In these eight studies, fear and anxiety were widespread. In two situations, this was experienced for more than 20 years. Several
cases, in particular Kbal Damrei, Kampong Speu, and East Kalimantan, were very nearly violent. Despite some progress towards
positive collective action and towards more security in rights, negative impacts predominated.
The impacts of conflict described in the previous section are merely symptoms of the much more deeply rooted problems over
forest and land management in Asia. They suggest something is wrong. However, they do not explain why something is wrong
or explain how it can be fixed. Understanding what drives conflict is a means of diagnosing the problems, a means of allowing
for a holistic approach to addressing it.
Competition over the land is the starting point. Governments, developers, and communities often lay claim to the same
piece of land. Among countless other possibilities, governments may wish to conserve the land to achieve conservation goals
determined at global conventions (for example the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity); developers may be responding to
increases in commodity prices and opportunities to generate income; and communities may be attempting to further legitimize
and secure or regain rights to land on which they are highly dependent. While this competition is the entry point, there is a
need for a more sensitive understanding of the underlying issues.
Underlying causes
Three fundamental and interrelated factors were underlying causes of community–outsider conflict in all eight cases:
• Contested tenure and overlapping claims;
• A lack of coordination among State agencies; and
• Conservation and economic development policies that prioritize global and national interests over local interests,
needs, and aspirations.
Table 2: The underlying causes of conict
Country Underlying cause
u Kampong Speu, Cambodia Contested tenure, economic development policies
v Kbal Damrei, Cambodia Contested tenure, economic development policies
w Inner Mongolia, China Contested tenure, conservation policies
x East Kalimantan, Indonesia Contested tenure, economic development policies
y West Kalimantan, Indonesia Contested tenure, economic development policies
z Phou Gnai, Lao PDR Contested tenure, conservation policies
{ Kanchanaburi, Thailand Contested tenure, conservation policies
| Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam Contested tenure, economic development policies
Contested tenure and overlapping claims
Tenure and claims over forests and land are highly contested throughout Asia. The State has retained full ownership of most
land, supported by constitutional or de jure right that can often be traced back to colonial periods. It enjoys a statutory mo-
nopoly over most forest areas. Simultaneously, many rural communities and indigenous peoples have lived, managed, and
conserved the land, water, and forests that they have depended on for decades, if not centuries, and consider the forests to be
theirs. They claim customary rights as they have been the de facto decision-makers and managers.
The State may provide communities access and management rights to forests and land following prescribed procedures regu-
lated by the Government (for example the legal recognition of community forests in Cambodia or the forest land allocation
program in Vietnam). Such processes provide local people with certificates that legitimize and define their rights. Nevertheless,
conflict is common when the State does not recognize customary rights either fully or at all, or when these rights are later
ignored, by developers or by the State itself.
Tenure was contested in every single case, for example, in Phou Gnai, Lao PDR. Within Lao PDR, a Land Use Planning and
Land Allocation program (LUP/LA) has been underway since the 1990s to address deforestation. The law, as summarized by
Manivong and Sophathilath (2009), holds that the State will be responsible for determining how land can be used by individu-
als and organizations, setting limits on how much land can be used for various purposes. In Phou Gnai, however, this process
conflicts with the villagers’ notion of their customary right to determine how the land should be used. This is captured by one
elderly villager:
I fought for my country for more than 30 years. I’ve served as the village chief. Yet when the authorities come here…
they walk in through my gate, point and mark it with paint… then they say my land must be used for conservation.
A lack of coordination among State agencies
Poor coordination between State agencies can exacerbate or even create situations of contested tenure or overlapping claims.
As discussed, the State may provide communities access and management rights to forests and land following prescribed pro-
cedures; other Government bodies may issue development or exploitation permits for the same land.
Poor Government coordination was a conflict driver in both studies from Cambodia and is demonstrated by the case of the Kbal
Damrei villagers’ commune. Because of the strong support they had received from both the Forestry Administration and their
Commune Council in response to their application for a community forest, they believed that their management rights were
being formalized; because the process had been initiated, their rights were officially protected. Under Cambodia’s Land Law,
Article 23, non-traditional management forms (such as an ELC) are not allowed before community registration and land titling
are completed. Nonetheless, the Provincial Governor of Kratie Province, who was either unaware of the community’s application
for a community forest or ignored the community’s application, granted the Sun Kuy Ty Company a 999-hectare ELC. Such a
concession vests developers with strong rights, with the exception of alienation. Both parties, then, had been granted claims
sanctioned by different branches of the Government.
Global and national vs. local interests on conservation and economic development
Conservation or economic development policies formulated at the central level without consideration of potential local-level
impacts were also an underlying cause of conflict.
Conservation in the region, by and large, follows a pattern of strict exclusion, one premised on the necessity of distancing
humans from nature to ensure its protection. This is a Western concept of wilderness, one which sees no role or room for local
people. Often governments threaten to resettle residents to other locations or severely restrict livelihood activities. Frequently,
protection areas are established without consulting resident local communities in a process that could allow for certain key
resources to be excluded. This occurred in Kanchanaburi where a national park was established without local consultation, the
boundary only being redrawn after two decades of conflict.
Conservation priorities premised on exclusion also drove conflict in Pifang village in Inner Mongolia. Though reforms driving
sedentarization in China date back to the 1950s, they were accelerated in 2000 because of rising desertification and Beijing’s
promise to host a ‘green’ Olympic Games free of dust storms. Grazing in Pifang was restricted incrementally, and in 2005, was
prohibited completely, to be replaced by stall feeding. Pifang villagers, who felt they had no alternative, continued to graze and
accept steep fines, driving conflict between villagers and local Forestry Administration officials.
Rapid economic development is also often a trigger. The Asia–Pacific region is widely hailed as a developmental success story
and indeed, economic development in Asia, particularly in China and India, has helped to drive global growth over the last two
decades. Bolstering this development are Government policies, the implementation of which frequently leads to conflict. In
Indonesia, the Government has provided developers with incentives, i.e. tax incentives and interest rate subsidies (Casson et al.
2007) for investments in the palm oil sector, and it is now the largest producer of palm oil in the world. This development often
Cultural bias: An important ingredient of conict in the region
One ingredient of conservation and economic development policies deserves specific and expanded mention. It is the
cultural biases that result in indigenous peoples (and those practicing traditional agriculture) being treated as second class
The first instance of this bias important to these cases is found in how states frame environmental narratives. In general
in this region states have argued that traditional agricultural practices result in significant, even primary, environmental
degradation. Often these arguments include references to traditional agricultural practices as backward, insinuating that
the people who use them are backward.
Degradation narratives were key factors of the conservation policies that drove conflict in both China and Thailand (as
well as key ingredients of the justification for broader land-use changes elsewhere). In the Inner Mongolia case, for in-
stance, the key assumption of the State was that widespread desertification and dust storms threatening the Olympic
Games were driven by herders’ overgrazing. The solution was grazing restrictions intended to limit the number of live-
stock herders could raise. Not only did this policy lead to conflict between the herders and Forestry Administration of-
ficials, it also led to further environmental degradation. This is likely because herders were intimidated into grazing closer
to home to avoid fines, intensifying grazing impacts on less land.
In Thailand, the environmental narrative is similarly derogatory of local people. The State has long argued, for instance,
that swidden farming is the leading cause of deforestation (Usher 2009), and a former Permanent Secretary for Natural
Resources and The Environment stated that while local communities should be allowed to manage natural resources,
negative impacts would follow (cited in RECOFTC 2007). One senator said: “Local people are like weevils, they eat up all
the wood” (cited in Laungaramsri 2002). It is not a large leap to suggest that this State view informed conservation policy,
which mandated the arrests of villagers practicing swidden agriculture in the Kanchanaburi case. In turn this suggests that
cultural bias is informing and helping to drive conflict over protected areas (the primary source of conflict in Thailand).
In both cases, environmental narratives assert that local people are the barrier to achieving positive conservation goals.
In turn, this creates the space and justification for unilateral State land-management decisions. Yet, the environmental
narratives are not accurate in either case. A longer view of the ecological situation in Inner Mongolia shows that tradi-
tional pastoralist herders managed the grasslands successfully for thousands of years before policy began gradually to
sedentarize them with collectivization in the 1950s. A longer view in Thailand appreciates the benefits swidden farming
provides for biodiversity and acknowledges the widespread deforestation that resulted from timber concessions.
There is also a second widespread instance of cultural bias that is important to these cases – how policies are actually
implemented. Fox et al. (2009) provide a good example from Indonesia: while legislation recognizes customary law, “key
implementing regulations [are] left ambiguous.” Even where implementation regulations are not ambiguous, State actors
enacting policy frequently ignore the regulations in place. This was clear in the two cases from Cambodia. Though Sub-
decree 146 on Economic Land Concessions provides critical social safeguards (e.g. it requires a public consultation and a
social and environmental impact assessment), two separate provincial governors ignored the decree. Conflict ensued. In
Cambodia, there were 236 conflicts over land in 2009 (NGO Forum on Cambodia 2009).
comes at high social cost. In West Kalimantan, the Government issued a permit to a company that overlapped with the
traditional territory of indigenous Dayaks and Malays. The decision to issue the permit was made without obtaining permission
from the affected communities. As a result, a conflict between indigenous peoples and the company escalated from a small
dispute to an intense exchange of threats. The company was backed by the police and military, and indigenous peoples were
supported by NGOs.
Similarly in Vietnam, investment policy has been simplified, with incentives for both domestic and foreign developers such as
the Common Law on Investment 2005 (Hong et al. 2009). Mining and construction development has boomed via such policies.
In Thua Thien Hue, the Pho Trach Cooperative manages nearly 300 hectares of forest with two natural reservoirs for irrigation.
Their ancestors have managed the land for more than 400 years and villagers rely on the sandy forest to provide irrigation water
for agriculture; prevent sand from migrating; and to supply fuelwood and traditional medicines. On the basis of this de facto
management, but without an official land-use certificate, local people have assumed customary right to the forest. This claim
became contested in 2005 when the Vivo Silica Company began to exploit sand from the area, with permission and rights to
the area granted by the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. This exploitation set in motion a conflict over
compensation, as both parties continue to believe the land is theirs.
Direct causes
While there were many direct causes of resource conflict, they largely fell into five key categories:
1. Destruction of community assets (e.g. land, gardens, graveyards) due to company operations (e.g. mining, logging,
plantation farming)
2. Loss of income and livelihood opportunities due to the establishment of conservation areas
3. Eviction of local communities from their land
4. Pollution (e.g. air pollution, noise) caused by logging, plantation, and mining operations
5. Few job opportunities in the logging, mining, and plantation sectors for resident populations
Direct damage to assets and livelihoods could be observed in all cases. In Inner Mongolia, herders had to pay regular and heavy
fines for illegal grazing after a herding ban policy was imposed. In Thailand, the designation of a protected area restricted
livelihood activities and impacted the fallow periods of swidden fields or prevented cultivation altogether. Most land investment
activities through plantation, logging, and mining did not provide jobs to locals. This led to resentment, or triggered secondary
conflict with other community members who obtained jobs.
The East Kalimantan case is a good example of how a conflict can be directly triggered by destruction of community assets. A
forest concessionaire began operating in the community in the 1990s. Though villagers were probably unable to protest due to
an authoritarian regime in place until 1998, tensions began mounting. Community members resented community employment
policies (not a single community member was employed after 1999); villagers felt that the timber harvesting destroyed ancestral
graves, polluted rivers, and forced the closure of community gold panning sites, among other issues. With the political instabil-
ity after 1999 decentralization, this conflict quickly escalated on the basis of these longstanding grievances.
The dispute in Kampong Speu also helps to demonstrate the direct role of asset destruction. The community’s protests against
a local rock mining company have been driven by community claims that about four hectares of valuable trees from their
community forest were cut and cleared. Environmental pollution can also be considered a cause of the conflict, with dust from
rock mining covering nearby houses, ponds for washing, home gardens, and trees. Villagers claim that noise has disrupted their
daily lives and affected wildlife in surrounding areas.
All eight conflicts were complex, contextualized by national and even district-level practices. They are unique to the countries
in which they took place. Nonetheless, they seem to have common roots. Specifically, all involved an overlap in tenure be-
tween statutory and customary claims, suggesting that contested or ambiguous tenure underlies every conflict. They were all
driven, however indirectly, by broader societal changes, in particular, by rapid economic development, rising commodity prices,
concerns over food security at national and international levels, or conservation policies that view local people as a threat to
biodiversity. Though the direct causes of conflict were more diverse, they carry a salient message: Communities view their assets
and culture as an integral part of resource management, and when a community’s culture and deep connection to land and
forests are disrupted by outsiders, conflict is likely to emerge and escalate.
This section briefly describes key approaches taken by actors in addressing community–outsider conflict. It underscores who
plays which roles in conflict management and the outcome of the conflict management process. This information is important
for guiding future actions, for example how to devise effective conflict management strategies.
As Turner and Caouette (2009) point out, “[c]onceptualizations of resistance are situated within understandings of power.” No
comparison across countries is possible. Armed protest in one environment may represent severe resistance to land encroach-
ment; simply voicing dissent in another political context may do so as well. For this reason, little effort is made to link manage-
ment to severity of conflict; instead, approaches are mostly considered in terms of what led to successful resolution.
How was conict managed?
Four main approaches were taken by the conflict parties.3 Negotiation and coercion were used frequently, while neither arbitra-
tion nor adjudication was used in any of the eight cases.
Table 3: Conict management approaches applied in the study areas
Study area
u v w x y z { |
Avoidance No No Yes No Yes No No No
Negotiation Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mediation Yes Yes Yes No Yes (with co-management) 4No Yes (with co-management) No
Coercion Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
Key: u = Kampong Speu, Cambodia; v = Kbal Damrei, Cambodia; w = Inner Mongolia, China; x = West Kalimantan, Indonesia;
y = East Kalimantan, Indonesia; z = Phou Gnai, Lao PDR; { = Kanchanaburi, Thailand; | = Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam.
Local communities and indigenous peoples often resorted to avoidance strategies when they perceived that they did not have
enough power to confront powerful actors such as companies and Government agencies. Another factor guiding avoidance
may have been culture. In Asia, conflict is generally considered to be something to be avoided. In some cultures, although
3 Strategies were noted if they were considered to be important.
4 Co-management is not commonly used in the conventional conflict management literature (refer to Section 2) but it is being used in the
context of forest conflict in Asia. Co-management is a form of joint management wherein actors collectively decide roles and responsibili-
ties regarding forest management. It may also include measures to determine what area is managed by whom and how benefit sharing
is arranged.
this attitude is changing slowly, any direct confrontation is unacceptable. Avoidance was observed to varying degrees in most
cases, and as a primary strategy in several. In Inner Mongolia, local herders accepted herding bans and paid fines if they were
caught by the Forestry Administration herding in protected areas; as a result they incurred huge financial losses. They chose
this strategy mainly because they considered themselves too weak to confront the Forestry Administration. In the conflict be-
tween a local community and a logging concession in East Kalimantan, community members were oppressed and intimidated
during the Soeharto era when the conflict emerged (1990s), and felt they had no other choice but to avoid open conflict with
the company. Later on, when Soeharto lost power in the late 1990s, the political turmoil and instability that followed allowed
the local community to regain some power and confront the logging company. Subsequently, progress was made in terms of
negotiation with the company, which finally led to the signing of an MoU through mediation a couple of years later.
Negotiation between community and outsiders took place in all conflict cases except in Kbal Damrei. Communities were often
represented by their leaders in negotiations with outsiders. Usually, negotiation was used as an approach at a relatively early
stage of the conflict. In Kampong Speu, for example, local leaders negotiated with the rock mining companies as the location
for the mining site overlapped with a community forest area. Both the local community and the company were willing to meet
face to face to address the issue. In contrast, in the Kbal Damrei case, no negotiation took place because the rubber plantation
company was unwilling to meet local leaders. The company maintained a rigid position that it received a legitimate permit to
develop the area as a rubber plantation. This led to a mass protest and in the end a mediation process had to be initiated by
the Provincial Governor.
Mediation was used in five cases after negotiations failed. In conflicts between local communities and outsiders, governments
were often expected to mediate – at least initially. However, governments often sided with companies and thus an alternative
mediator, such as an NGO, was needed. The conflict in Inner Mongolia was mediated by a science institute trusted by both the
Forestry Administration and the local herders. An NGO mediated the conflict between the logging concession and the local
community in East Kalimantan. In Kanchanburi an international project consortium mediated the dispute. In short, mediation
can be facilitated by various bodies or actors who are trusted by the parties in conflict.
The role of trust in successful conict management
Pak Ando (not his real name) used to work for a logging company in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. As a community facili-
tator, his main duty was ensuring that company–community relationships remained strong. But as with many cases of
logging operations in the country under the Soeharto regime, the community in East Kalimantan was unhappy about the
effect of logging activities on community livelihoods and associated water pollution problems. Local community members
had limited job opportunities with the company. Pak Ando’s role was to ensure that his company could continue to oper-
ate with minimal disturbance of local communities. He allocated a small company contribution to village development
projects (e.g. donations for the establishment of a village hall, school), but knew that the community was dissatisfied with
the size of the contribution. Though Pak Ando listened to many grievances from community members, company policy
did not allow him to provide more.
In 1998, when Soeharto lost power, decentralization processes across Indonesia and political instability led the community
to protest and threaten company workers. Eventually, the company had to stop its operations on community land. Seeing
no future in the company, Pak Ando joined an NGO and was tasked to mediate the conflict his previous employer had
experienced. A core issue was lack of trust; despite the change in his position, the local community continued to perceive
him as a logging company employee. Proving his sincerity took over a year, and only after he successfully established trust
with local leaders, local governments, and related stakeholders did mediation start to progress, with both community
members and company employees coming to the table. An MoU between the company and the local community was
signed following mediation, ending 20 years of conflict.
Coercion, the use of power to address conflict, was used by both local actors and outsiders. In five out of eight cases, coercion
was, at least initially, applied. In others it may have been used but was more difficult for researchers to discern.
Often, coercion was used by developers in conjunction with State institutions like the military. For instance, in the West Ka-
limantan conflict between an oil palm company and local people, the military and police supported the company, and they
threatened and arrested local people who challenged and protested the company’s presence on their communal lands. Coer-
cion was also used in both cases in Cambodia, where it was effective in forcing community members to abandon or change
their demands. In Kbal Damrei, during meetings mediated by RECOFTC, villagers were able to explain their need for land and
forest within three kilometres along National Road 7, beyond which there would not be overlapping claims and the company
would be able to fully operate. The company agreed, and several community representatives were assigned to check that the
company honored this arrangement. However, on 29 October 2008, a national holiday in Cambodia, the company violated the
agreement. Protected by eight military police, it resumed land clearing. Notably, NGO staff was on leave on this holiday and
not present in the village.
Local stakeholders also used coercion as a management tactic, though generally with less power and less ‘success.’ In Kan-
chanaburi, in response to arrests and land confiscations, villagers eventually responded with a half-day blockade of national
park officials, who were trapped in their cars in the heat without food or water. A protest by 65 village members in Kampong
Speu in which villagers arrived carrying knives and spears, and another by people in East Kalimantan who arrived with swords
can both be viewed as attempts to threaten violence to achieve closure. In East Kalimantan, this strategy may be seen as having
successfully forced the Salimando company to leave the area as demonstrations increased in intensity.
Co-management, though not a strategy, per se, was successfully used in conjunction with mediation in two instances. In
Kanchanaburi the process of developing a co-management arrangement took several years, and the ability of the mediator,
the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation, was key to facilitating the process. Initially, the Foundation, via the Joint Management
of Protected Areas project, aimed to establish mutual understanding between villagers and national park officials. Monthly
community meetings for villagers and a village committee were established to act as information-sharing forums. In 2006, the
Foundation, community members, and national park officials, working together, marked forest areas for the village’s use within
the boundaries of the two protected areas. The boundaries now clearly exclude swidden lands, and within the new boundaries,
non-timber forest products (for example medicinal plants, leaves, mushrooms, and fruits) can be collected according to regula-
tions established by a village institution and agreed upon by national park officials. Another important agreement, particularly
for swidden farming, stipulates that the village committee will have advance notice for a boundary check – a check to be jointly
performed by both forestry officers and the community committee. Clearly, park officials have made important concessions,
and so have villagers.
Regulations to manage and monitor activities in the park were also established. For example, if a villager does not follow the
regulations, such as harvesting timber in the park area, he/she is subject to a system of sanctions, gradually increasing in sever-
ity. For instance, other villagers will not join in official ceremonies such as weddings or funerals that relate to the offending
villager. As a final resort, national park officials will be informed.
Building on this success, Teen Tok village’s Forest Conservation Network has expanded to include neighboring villages. In 2008,
the village created a Forest Protection Volunteer Network with the five other villages in the cluster to function as a community
network for forest protection, forest care, and forest fire watch and management for the whole forest area. More than 150
volunteers now regularly conduct forest patrols with the national park officers.
Management outcomes
Table 4: Outcomes of conict management5
Study area Outcome
u Kampong Speu, Cambodia Conflict stands still
v Kbal Damrei, Cambodia Conflict stands still
w Inner Mongolia, China Agreement
x East Kalimantan, Indonesia No agreement, conflict continues
y West Kalimantan, Indonesia Agreement
z Phou Gnai, Lao PDR No agreement, conflict continues
{ Kanchanaburi, Thailand Agreement
| Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam No agreement, conflict continues
For at least two of the cases in which a successful agreement was achieved (Inner Mongolia and Kanchanaburi), mediation was
essential, particularly to help facilitate the institutional restructuring and resource co-management necessary for long-term rec-
onciliation of conflict. In East Kalimantan, it is more difficult to say how essential mediation was; by 2000, and taken alongside
political instability, the community had a fair amount of power and was able to threaten the concessionaires enough so that
they eventually abandoned their concession. Regardless, in all three of the resolved cases, mediation was the last strategy in a
sequence of attempts to manage the conflict which included avoidance, negotiations, and coercion.
Negotiation alone never worked. The actors involved did not have the same negotiating powers. In several cases, certain key
players refused to even enter into negotiations, making it difficult to discern the extent to which true negotiations took place.
For instance, the company in Hue failed to invite representatives of the Pho Trach Cooperative to participate twice, only negoti-
ating with their proxy representatives in the district. In West Kalimantan, though the company was invited to multiple meetings
with the community, it never attended the proposed meetings. In some cases, the stakeholders who participated only added to
the confusion. For instance, while the Commune Chief in Kampong Speu met with the company to discuss their protest, many
community members feared that the Commune Chief was actually involved with the company. Though villagers have used
discussions to air their grievances and openly acknowledge conflict, it is difficult to say whether negotiations in these instances
actually enabled stakeholders to bring their concerns to the table, or whether negotiation breakdowns only exacerbated stress-
ful situations.
Local stakeholders, looking for third party support, rightly expected that the Government would assist with conflict media-
tion and act as a neutral party. This expectation was demonstrated by many communities. In Kompong Speu, local com-
munities relied on their Commune Chief to contact Government authorities (the Provincial Department of Industry, Min-
ing and Energy; Forestry Administration; local police) to help settle a conflict with the rock mining company. In West
Kalimantan, local communities sent multiple letters to their district government and one to the governor asking for help
in resolving an oil palm conflict. Communities often considered the Government the ‘right’ authority to bridge com-
munity–outsider conflict, but governments in these conflicts often sided with the developers. Governments looked
the other way when State forces, including the police and armed military guards, were co-opted to help protect compa-
nies or to ‘ask’ communities for compliance in some cases, notably in Kbal Damrei, Kompong Speu, and West Kaliman-
tan. This lack of Government support basically precluded mediation. It also meant that negotiations with companies were
bound to fail; governments were not acting as a force to balance power between communities and developers. This may
be one important reason why local communities never sought adjudication or arbitration as a management strategy.
5 This outcome was based on the workshop held in November 2009. Further efforts were carried out to resolve these conflicts, but there is
insufficient data on the most recent status of conflict management in each location to be able to update this assessment.
Conversely, in conflicts that were resolved in Inner Mongolia and Kanchanaburi, parties were flexible and willing to shift their
positions. This is demonstrated by the policy shift that began in 1998 in Thailand, when the Government allowed shifting
cultivation in certain locations, crucial in allowing agreement to be reached. In Inner Mongolia, the Government was willing to
provide short-term loans for villagers to establish facilities to store feed for livestock instead of grazing in restricted areas. This
suggests that successful mediation depends on good governance. As discussed, it is difficult to say to what extent there was
flexibility in East Kalimantan. By 2000 the community was demonstrating and protesting again, aided by the political instability
at that time – mediation may have only prevented violence from breaking out and facilitated the signing of an MoU. Successful
conflict management in these eight cases attests to the importance of an enabling environment.
At the early stage of the conflicts, actors tended to either avoid acknowledgement of the conflict or attempt direct negotia-
tions; only later did they turn to other outsiders for help with mediation, and in some cases, this stage has not yet been reached.
The choice of conflict management method seems to be influenced by power relations. More powerful actors (such as develop-
ers and Government agencies) are not always willing to negotiate. In fact, coercion may allow them to maintain the status quo.
Clearly, for effective intervention, an enabling environment is necessary.
In previous sections we have briefly described the impacts, causes, and management approaches of community–outsider con-
flicts. This section draws some general lessons from all the studied cases.
Certainly, a desired goal is to minimize the negative impacts of conflict. As impacts are the most noticeable symptoms of the
deep-rooted problems over forest and land management in Asia, they need to be taken into account properly. Throughout the
case studies the following negative impacts were observed: anxiety and fear, disharmony and division among social groups,
distrust, high cost, and environmental degradation. These issues were not isolated to specific cases but were more or less shared
mutually. Therefore, efforts are needed to ensure that such impacts can be reduced.
Secondly, the eight cases show that the results of conflict management efforts have been mixed. Furthermore, some conflicts
took years or even decades to resolve. This suggests that improved conflict management skills are required. The question re-
mains: How do we ensure that actors can address their conflicts quickly and effectively so that agreements and compromises
can be reached at the earliest possible opportunity? Two decades is too long a time to wait for an agreement. The sooner the
conflict is addressed the more likely the costs of the conflict will be reduced. However, we also realize that some conflicts are
complex and require time for proper management. What we would like to stress here is the need for actors to recognize the
conflict and address it in a timely manner.
Reducing the negative impacts of conflict and enhancing conflict management capacities are two of the main challenges that
must be addressed in Asia. Unfortunately, there is no panacea that can cure both problems. Nevertheless, some clues about
how to move forward can be generated from the results of analyzing the causes of conflict. By addressing the causes the nega-
tive impacts are likely to be reduced. After all, impacts are just symptoms of the deep-rooted problems. To address the lack of
skills we need to build conflict management capacities at all levels, from local to national. For example, governments and land
developers need to take community relations into account more seriously. Communities affected by developments will need
to better understand their rights, particularly in the context of investment developments. Capacity building will be needed.
Examples of capacity-building efforts will include making communities more aware of their rights and improving mediation and
negotiation skills within them.
Taking into account the negative impacts of conflict and the lack of conflict management skills in the region, we propose some
possible ways forward. In the short term, we will have to work to encourage early consultation, improve coordination among
Government agencies, promote co-management, and encourage Government neutrality. Our cases show that land investment
activities and conservation efforts failed because they did not properly engage and consult local people.
In the long term the underlying causes of conflict have to be gradually and thoroughly addressed. This will require concerted
action involving all parties. It may also require a fundamental change in resource governance towards devolution, community
empowerment, and participation.
Short-term solutions
• Encourage early consultations with local residents prior to making decisions about land-use changes. As
indicated earlier, destruction of community assets (such as land, gardens, watercourses, and graveyards) triggers
conflict in many places. Thus, before conducting any activities on the ground, developers and companies should
consult community members and take their concerns into account. Some methods to accomplish this will be to
conduct social and environmental impact assessments properly and to hold public consultations with local
communities before land-use decisions are made. Experiences of the private sector in this context are beginning to
be recorded and lessons from this experience should be institutionalized in Asia (see Wilson 2009).
• Promote co-management arrangements in which actors agree upon a strategy to fairly share management
responsibilities and benets. In all of the conflict cases presented, local communities felt threatened by outside
claims to the land, experiencing eviction, loss of livelihood opportunities, and so forth. Ideally, any project including,
for instance, national park establishment or a timber concession should involve local communities as an active
partner. The cases from Kanchanaburi and East Kalimantan indicate that co-management arrangements can help
establish lasting resolution to the issue of conflicting claims. Investors and governments should keep this option
open from the beginning.
• Ensure that communities benet from land investment activities. Employment opportunities for local
communities must be prioritized. Lack of employment opportunities was a direct cause of conflict in many of the
cases described.
• Call upon governments to remain neutral and avoid taking sides in conicts between local communities
and companies. In many of these conflicts, Government representatives were regarded as the ‘right’ mediator.
However, our cases showed that more often than not the Government sided with a particular actor. This means that
it cannot really play a neutral role in conflicts. It is important for governments at all levels to act as neutral facilitators.
Long-term solutions
• Clarify tenure arrangements and respect local resource management. Genuine efforts must be made to
accelerate tenure reform in Asia. Support for such reform will be important for ensuring that progress is made. A
challenge will be reconciling competing claims to the land. The willingness of more powerful actors to recognize and
acknowledge local claims is key in determining the success of this reconciliation.
• Strengthen mediation skills across Asia to ensure local capacity to manage conict. It is imperative that
mediation skills be strengthened at all levels. These cases demonstrate the crucial role capacity-building organizations
will play in this direction.
• Ensure better coordination between Government agencies with overlapping mandates. Coordination
between forestry departments and other related Government agencies (such as mining, agriculture, conservation,
and environment departments) remains weak. The two cases from Cambodia indicate that two Government agencies
gave permits to the same parcel of land, creating confusion and conflict at the local level.
• Integrate local livelihood strategies into conservation policy, as exclusion and unilateral management can
exacerbate conict. Conservation should not be separated from livelihoods. If conservation fails to address
livelihood issues it will either fail or create conflict, as it did in China, Lao PDR, and Thailand.
Forest and land conflict is often caused by fundamental issues such as contested tenure and overlapping claims; a lack of
coordination among State agencies; and conservation and economic development policies that prioritize global and national
interests over local needs and aspirations. In most conflict cases, the power imbalance between local actors (communities,
indigenous peoples) and outsiders is obvious. Direct causes of forest conflict include destruction of community assets, loss of
income and livelihood opportunities, eviction of local communities from their land, pollution, and limited opportunities for
resident populations to benefit from developers.
Community–outsider conflicts are ‘managed’ through various methods and approaches. Often, a number of strategies are
applied in addressing a particular conflict. Five strategies commonly used in managing conflict over forests were avoidance,
coercion, negotiation, mediation, and co-management. The application of certain conflict-management strategies is influenced
by several factors. One of the main factors is power. When actors are powerful, it is more likely that they will resort to coercion
to force a conclusion favorable to them. In contrast, weaker actors such as local communities and indigenous peoples may have
no choice but to avoid open conflict. In other cases, a power balance may be attempted via collective action such as protest
and threats of violence. Another factor guiding management is conflict escalation. Usually, as conflict escalates new conflict
management strategies will be sought. For example, if conflicting parties cannot find solutions through negotiation they may
seek help from a mediator.
Understanding and recognizing the impacts of conflict is an important step towards building awareness of why it needs to
be treated and understanding the causes is important towards learning how to treat it. Where it does emerge, managing its
underlying issues becomes extremely important. Managing conflict is the opportunity to mitigate the impacts or avoid them
altogether, and to address the causes systemically so that they do not recur. Yet, very few conflicts in Asia are well managed.
Of all the land disputes in Cambodia, for instance, only 13% have been resolved. In Thailand, national-level efforts have been
made to reduce land conflict. The redistribution of idle land to poor households has been discussed for more than 50 years and
the Land Reform Act was passed in 1975 to address the issue. Nevertheless, 35 years later, conflict over land is still common
and is believed to have escalated once again in recent years.
The fact that so few conflicts are well managed reflects the fact that managing conflict is inherently difficult. Multiple actors
approach conflicts with multiple agendas. Certain groups may be interested in sustaining resource conflict, keeping the conflict
at a low level to ensure that they can continue to benefit from the status quo. Some actors may be convinced the system does
not work for them and resort to acting violently outside the system. Other actors may trust the system to work but nonetheless
use violence to ensure a conclusion in their favor. However, while some parties may be interested in keeping conflicts simmer-
ing at a low level, a well managed conflict can benefit all stakeholders (Table 5). In part, this is because both parties are self-
interested in ensuring that the resource can be used (Warner and Jones 1998).
Table 5: Potential benets of well-managed conict
Community Company Government
• Clarity and secured rights
• More acceptable and
equitable benefit sharing
• Ensuring smooth operation
• Ensuring stable economic profits
• Minimizing risks
• Maintaining good corporate image
• Ensuring stable tax flow
• Reducing opportunity cost for
conflict management
• Stability
These cases suggest some positive ways forward, encouraging clarification of tenure, better coordination, and timely
intervention. Even more positively, the three successfully managed cases demonstrate how, with understanding and strong
conflict management skills, a tangible reduction in the incidence of conflict in Asia is within our immediate grasp.
As the discourse on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) gains prominence, various
contentious issues are expected to emerge (and are emerging already). For example, who will decide how REDD+ benefits
will be distributed, and how will such benefits be fairly shared across stakeholders at different levels? In the absence of clear
and strong tenure arrangements (the absence exemplified by these cases), to what extent can we cope with conflict related
to benefit sharing in REDD+? There are many potential areas of conflict in REDD+ such as coordination between national and
sub-national governments, coordination between various ministries, among others. All of them will have to be anticipated and
this provides impetus for increased conflict research in the region immediately.
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Land-use conflict in Northern Thailand has led to large-scale deforestation. This article suggests two reasons why this conflict has not been resolved despite the many legal and institutional approaches taken by Thai governments over the decades. First, conflicting directions embedded within the national policymaking level caused uncertainty for policy implementors at ministerial levels. Second, policy-drivers at the local level interacted with the specific socioeconomic context of upland residents in a way to make land-use conflict persistent. Contradictory messages by top policymakers, combined with the national ministries’ focus on purely functional tasks, diminished the importance of a local area-based approach necessary for land-use conflict resolution. Additionally, vested interests favoring agricultural expansion into the forests have been more diverse and influential than those favoring forest conservation; the former having tools at hand to incentivize smallholders to encroach into forested areas. Further driving agricultural expansion was that, in a management vacuum, local private sector actors acted as the de facto policy coordinators for the fragmented government local operations; however, on the forest conservation front, there was no coordinating body. This imbalanced situation has proved fertile soil for conflict.
Ignoring traditional people’s rights and resorting to intimidation and even murder are strategies used to grab land and impose economic models. The history of violence and intimidation against those who defend the land – its people, its beauty, and its vitality – is long and worldwide. It is history made whenever vital local and environmental interests conflict with the neoliberal capitalist economic development projects aimed at the enrichment of the few. In 2015 alone, Global Witness documented 185 killings of land and environmental defenders; since 2002, it has confirmed at least 1176 such murders across the globe. Among these is the murder of Honduran environmentalist and land defender Berta Cáceres in 2016. The constant intimidation and murder of environmentalists and defenders of land rights of indigenous and peasant people, and the imposition of economic enterprises inappropriate to ecological conditions, demonstrate the persistent coloniality that affects nature and people.
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SUMMARY Decentralization in natural resource management (NRM) is increasingly promoted as it is believed to offer better management. This study explores the positive and negative aspects of the forestry confl ict that sometimes increases with decentralization. Drawing upon the results of a case study from Sumatra, this study examines how forestry confl ict under decentralization processes was viewed by stakeholders. The confl ict involved a logging company and a local community, and centered on a disputed forest boundary. The community accused the company of logging within the boundaries of its communal forest. In contrast, the company argued that it was logging within a state forest and was legally protected because it held a legitimate permit issued by the government. It is obvious that the confl ict revolved around property rights claims. While forestry confl ict is often viewed as a purely negative phenomenon this study shows that forestry confl ict has both negative and positive sides. Stakeholders had both negative and positive perceptions of the issue. Confl ict was seen to accelerate deforestation, sour relationships and generate high social risk. On the other hand, stakeholders suggested that confl ict also created opportunities to participate in forest management, allow negotiation and stimulate learning. To address confl ict under decentralization, property rights claims (de facto vs. de jure) need to be addressed and reconciled through negotiation processes so that positive aspects of confl ict can be fostered and negative ones can be avoided. Additionally, decentralization needs to be prepared and implemented with care. Strong legal frameworks, clear implementation guidelines and capacity building for stakeholders are important elements that can contribute to the effectiveness of decentralization.
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Co-management agreements among indigenous people, state agencies, and other stakeholders offer substantial promise as a way of dealing with natural resource conflicts in a participatory and equitable manner. However, experience shows that co-management regimes can set into motion new conflicts or cause old ones to escalate. In practice the result may not be power sharing but rather a strengthening of the state's control over resource policy, management, and allocation. Instead of contributing to local empowerment, such arrangements may further marginalize communities and resource users. We use case material, primarily from northern Canada and South Asia, to explore the pervasive role of conflict in generating, shaping, and influencing the performance of co-management regimes. The paper analyzes the divergent interests and motives of state agencies in planning and implementing co-management arrangements. It highlights the cultural, political, and legal obstacles encountered by indigenous people and other rural communities in trying to negotiate co-management arrangements. We also explore the conflicts that can arise in co-management regimes where local participation in decision making is very limited. General lessons and recommendations are drawn from our analysis.
Regional conflicts can be thought of in three different ways, each suggesting a different approach to their resolution. One is as a clash of conflicting unilateral solutions, which then require a formula for a joint or multilateral outcome satisfactory to both parties. A second is as a succession of opposing policies based on cost-benefit calculations, which then require a ripe moment—comprising specific components of mutually hurting stalemate, impending catastrophe, and a formula for a way out—for resolution. A third is an an event in a process of change, requiring the negotiation of a new regime to replace an old one that previously embodied certain expectations and behaviors. These different notions are illustrated with many examples of regional conflicts and their attempted—and sometimes successful—resolution.
The governance of natural resources used by many individuals in common is an issue of increasing concern to policy analysts. Both state control and privatization of resources have been advocated, but neither the state nor the market have been uniformly successful in solving common pool resource problems. After critiquing the foundations of policy analysis as applied to natural resources, Elinor Ostrom here provides a unique body of empirical data to explore conditions under which common pool resource problems have been satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily solved. Dr Ostrom uses institutional analysis to explore different ways - both successful and unsuccessful - of governing the commons. In contrast to the proposition of the 'tragedy of the commons' argument, common pool problems sometimes are solved by voluntary organizations rather than by a coercive state. Among the cases considered are communal tenure in meadows and forests, irrigation communities and other water rights, and fisheries.
Southeast Asia has witnessed dramatic transformations in the rural sector over the past 60 years, first with the Green Revolution, and more recently with diverse multi-scalar economic and socio-political processes including the growth of cash crops, export processing zones, land conversions, genetically modified crops, free trade agreements, and the growing complexity of rural-urban connections. With such a multiplicity of changes, many directly linked to globalisation, come numerous forms of resistance, as individuals and communities struggle against what they see as unjust consequences. These different resistance measures to rural transformations are the focus of this article. While critiquing the literature on different conceptualisations of resistance, from rural resistance at the micro level, through to collective action and open protest, revolutionary movements, and even regional and global transnational movements, we propose three core arguments. First, in order to capture the diversity of forms of contemporary rural resistance, one needs to use a multi-scalar approach. Previous analytical constructs such as ‘local’ and ‘global’ are inadequate to examine and explain the forms of resistance taking place. Second, rural resistance comes in a complexity of forms, is diversifying rapidly, and is never static. Resistance measures are context contingent, shaped by different worldviews and shift according to local circumstances, the opening and closing of opportunities structures, and the endogenous peculiarities of resistance dynamics. Third, a focus on resistance to contemporary agrarian change in Southeast Asia must recognise agency. We demonstrate that there is much to be gained by taking an interactive standpoint, arguing that local, national, regional, and even global resistance has as much to do with how the actors’ themselves define their field of protest as with the specific nature of their targets.