Conflict over forests and land in Asia

Conflict over forests and land in Asia

The causes, impacts and management of land conflicts in Asia

Tenure and claims over forests and land are highly contested throughout Asia where states retain full ownership of land. Competition for land for investment, resource extraction, and conservation is becoming more common. The conflict takes place between local communities and indigenous peoples and external Government agencies and developers.

This paper sheds light on how conflict begins, how it affects actors involved and how it can be successfully managed. It states that he impacts of conflicts include anxiety and fear, disharmony and division among social groups, distrust, high costs, and environmental degradation. The positive impacts include increased collective community action and a better understanding of the importance of clarifying tenure ambiguity.

The paper presents the following underlying causes of conflict:

  • Contested tenure and overlapping claims
  • A lack of coordination among State agencies
  • Conservation and economic development policies that prioritize global and national interests over local interests, needs, and aspirations.
The direct causes of conflict include:
  • Destruction of community economic and social assets by developers in mining, logging, plantation development
  • Loss of income and livelihood opportunities due to the establishment of conservation areas
  • Eviction of local communities from their land
  • Air and noise pollution caused by logging, plantation, and mining operations
  • Jobs unavailable for community members but reserved for outsiders.
The paper states that conflict management which has included co-management arrangements have also been central to mediation efforts. Negotiations did not yield solutions in some instances where attempts were made. Mediation was more successful in some cases. Military-backed coercion was employed in some cases. To reduce the future incidence of conflict, the paper proposes the following short- and long-term actions beginning with the short-term ones:
  • 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 responsibilities
  • Call upon governments to remain neutral and avoid taking sides in conflicts between local communities and companies.
The long-term actions are:
  • Clarify tenure arrangements and land-use policies to minimize the likelihood of resource conflict
  • Strengthen mediation skills across Asia to ensure local capacity to manage conflict
  • Respect local resource management and ensure economic development also benefits local communities
  • Integrate local livelihood strategies into conservation policy to balance top-down processes and decrease conflict caused by unilateral enforcement.
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