Land Tenure on Peatland: A Source of Insecurity and Degradation in Riau, Sumatra

Peatland has long served the panglong (timber) businesses as well as the local people. In the nineteenth century, people could clear the land as long as they paid the sultan or community chief. The Sultan in Deli gave empty land concessions to companies (tanah kosong) on the condition that the company kept the land for swidden agriculture for local people. The Agrarian Law in 1870 enabled the colonial government to grant land concessions to companies for woeste grond (waste land), over which the people had no rights. The concept of “waste land” was different from “empty land” which was a part of the customary land tenure system. After the independence, the Basic Agrarian Act and the Basic Forestry Act recognized the customary communal right of disposition (hak ulayat) and the right to clear land; however, these rights were strictly interpreted, making it challenging to implement them. The Basic Forestry Act stipulated the state forest area (kawasan hutan) as the forest over which the people had no rights other than hak ulayat. The Forestry Act in 1999 added that people were prohibited from cultivating and/or making use of and/or occupying the state forest area illegally. According to our survey at a village in the peatland area, almost all land was state forest area, in which there were a lot of production forests over which companies had been granted concessions. On the other hand, local people had settled there since the 1930s and acquired land through inheritance, buying, and clearing. Many of them have letters of certificate for this land. Today the government tends not to recognize such letters issued for state forest areas. These conditions have given rise to the insecurity of land rights in the peatlands. While the government hopes that agrarian reform would resolve land tenure issues through social forest programs, local people have yet to see benefits from these programs.
  • Authors: Mizuno, K., Hosobuchi, M., Ratri, D.A.R.
  • Author Affiliation: Universitas Indonesia, Kyoto University
  • Subjects: land use, peatlands, customary rights, land tenure, agricultural law
  • Publication type: Chapter-R
  • Source: Osaki, M., Tsuji, N., Foead, N., Rieley, J., (eds). 2021. Tropical Peatland Eco-management. 627-649
  • Year: 2021
  • ISSN: 978-981-334-654-3
  • DOI:
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