Rietberg, P.I. & Hospes, O. (2018). Unpacking land acquisition at the oil palm frontier: Obscuring customary rights and local authority
in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 2018.
Very few studies have captured the full complexity of land acquisition processes at the agricultural frontier. Specifically, the different stages in the land acquisition process and the changing responses of local communities to plantation development have not been adequately described and explained. Based on a detailed empirical case study of a land acquisition process in a village at the oil palm frontier in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, we address this knowledge gap. To comprehensively capture reactions ‘from below’ to largescale
land acquisition, we use the interlinked concepts of access, property and authority. We show that the land acquisition process is basically a process of transforming and obscuring customary property rights and local authority. In our case, this process is characterised by an initial recognition of customary rights and local authority by the oil palm company. However, in the course of the process, these property rights and local authority are being transformed and eventually obscured. We call for a more interventionist state to prepare a less uneven playing field at the very beginning of land acquisition processes. This could slow down the nearly irrevocable obfuscation of customary rights and the erosion of local authority at the oil palm frontier.
Keywords: community response, Indonesia, Kalimantan, land acquisition, local authority, oil palm
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