The Post-Authoritarian Politics of Agrarian and Forest Reform in Indonesia

John McCarthy, Moira Moeliono

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Indonesia is among the ‘world’s top three exporters’ of coal, natural gas, and natural rubber. It is now the top world producer of crude palm oil and hosts ‘the world’s largest gold mine and second-largest copper mine’ (ALB Legal News 2009). Indonesia is also widely seen as subject to an environmental tragedy, with attention principally focused on the loss of vast areas of forest cover each year. Criticisms of natural resource management also converge on environmental and distributional justice concerns (McCarthy and Warren 2009). Following the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998, state planners confronted widespread resource conflicts and ‘illegal’ resource use practices inherited from decades of authoritarian rule. At the same time, donor agencies advocated policies that would further the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with rapid deforestation. State planners and donors have sought to address these problems, by means of legal changes to natural resource rights and benefit sharing, developing more integrated environmental policy and a more participatory state, and utilizing private-public arrangements and market mechanisms to reduce deforestation. Initially, it seemed that these reforms would transform state institutions and practices ofresource control. However, the transition has proved much more problematic. In this chapter we seek to understand the reasons why this is the case. Advocates of policy change may presuppose that changes to policy and institutional arrangements can remake environmental practices. However, we do not assume that the underlying political economy – associated with a particular structure of property rights – that underpins resource outcomes can be so easily transformed. By examining change in terms of the workings of institutions and the way these are shaped and influenced by embedded power relationships, we analyse the unresolved dilemmas faced by environmental reformers. We begin by considering the theoretical arguments shaping our discussion. We then examinethe political processes at play in the system through an analysis of the law-making process before considering four case studies. First, we discuss attempts to decentralize natural resource management, to make decision-making more responsive and to develop a more ‘participatory’ state, thereby leading to a more legitimate and just sharing of benefits from the resource sector. Second, we consider attempts to overcome the fragmented planning and decision-making process by creating a more integrated national environmental policy framework. Third, we analyse initiatives to initiate ‘Agrarian Reform’ and ‘Forest Revitalization’ before, fourth, considering the initial policies for ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation’(REDD). Finally, we draw some conclusions regarding the nature of institutional transformation over the last decade.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics
    Editors Richard Robison
    Place of PublicationNew York USA
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415494274
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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