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At a Distance from the Territory: Distal Drivers in the (Re)territorialization of Oil Palm Plantations in Indonesia

Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN,volume 6)

Abstract

Exponential growth in oil palm land and palm oil production in Indonesia currently makes the country the world’s largest producer of this vegetable oil. Throughout its tumultuous political past from the 1960s until today, conditions were created which enabled the expansion of oil palm plantations. Under President Suharto’s “New Order,” territorialization processes were used to bring land and people under the control of an increasingly powerful central government. Plantations were instrumental in this regard and additionally formed the basis for the production of palm oil as an important export commodity in the opening of the Indonesian economy. In the wake of the 1997/1998 Asian economic crisis and with the end of Suharto’s rule, Indonesia entered a period of reform marked by decentralization and reterritorialization processes. Oil palm plantations continued to grow as foreign investment and plantation ownership by private businesses became increasingly relevant. Throughout both of these periods, the land-use decisions, which fostered the expansion of oil palm plantations, were not made by the people on the ground, but at a spatial, temporal, and functional “distance.” While distal drivers strongly shaped the development of land use, the consequences of these changes had little impact on the drivers. As plantations expanded farther into territories already claimed for other forms of land use (e.g., rainforest, subsistence agriculture land, indigenous land), they were increasingly likely to confront competing claims to land. Under the perceived greater political freedom of the reform period, the competing claims more often triggered conflicts, which, however, had limited bearing on these distal drivers.

Keywords

  • Land-use practices
  • Globalization
  • Governance
  • Conflict
  • Palm oil

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term “agro-biofuels” (and hence agro-biodiesel) is used within this chapter in order to underline the focus on large-scale agricultural production of biofuel feedstock.

  2. 2.

    Driving force, Pressure, State, Impact, Response (EEA 1995).

  3. 3.

    Until 1980, oil palm plantations were essentially confined to three provinces in Sumatra where they followed in the trodden paths of colonial rubber plantations: In 1975, North Sumatra contributed 94 % of total Indonesian palm oil production, followed by Aceh (5 %) and Lampung (1 %) (Kementerian Pertanian Republik Indonesia 2013).

  4. 4.

    The “green revolution” was essentially aimed at establishing a high-input high-output agricultural system in which higher yields were to be achieved through the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, agricultural technology, and new crops types along with efficient management techniques.

  5. 5.

    The country’s political program of government decentralization was mainly triggered by regional expressions of discontent (e.g., separatist movements in resource-rich provinces like Aceh and West Papua) and the pressure of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for structural adjustments following the Asian crisis (McCarthy 2004).

  6. 6.

    Interview with Sawit Watch, Bogor, December 3, 2013.

  7. 7.

    Interview with an activist, Bogor, December 5, 2013.

  8. 8.

    For more information see: http://www.aman.or.id/.

  9. 9.

    Interview with KPA, Jakarta, July 12, 2011.

  10. 10.

    For another example of land-use decisions in which carbon credit plays a role, see Gasparri (Chap. 4).

  11. 11.

    Interview with SPI, Jakarta, January 25, 2012.

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Schaffartzik, A., Brad, A., Pichler, M., Plank, C. (2016). At a Distance from the Territory: Distal Drivers in the (Re)territorialization of Oil Palm Plantations in Indonesia. In: , et al. Land Use Competition. Human-Environment Interactions, vol 6. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-33628-2_3

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