Nadya Karimasari is an Indonesian PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Development, Wageningen University, studying nature conservation in Leuser, Northern Sumatra. In 2019, she received a fellowship at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry, New School for Social Research, New York, to study “Critique of Capitalism” with Nancy Fraser. She was also selected to attend a political ecology summer school at York University in 2017 with Nancy Peluso and Peter Vandergeest as the class instructors. Her article could be found in Journal of Sustainable Tourism and a book chapter forthcoming with Palgrave- Macmillan. She has been a scholar-activist, particularly as a volunteer and interpreter, since Jun Borras supervised her Master’s study in 2010 at the International Institute of Social Science (ISS), Den Haag and introduced her to the Indonesian Peasant Union, a member of La Via Campesina in Indonesia.
Ecosystem Restoration as Soft Agrarian Reform? Selective Palm Oil Elimination in Aceh’s Gunung Leuser National Park
The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the decade on Ecosystem Restoration. However, the influence of agrarian class dynamics on the effectiveness of ecosystem restoration to reduce environmental damage has little been discussed. This paper investigates the promise and pitfalls of ecosystem restoration project – as part of nature conservation agenda – as a counterforce against the destructive role of plantation and smallholders’ agricultural encroachment into Indonesia’s forest and protected areas. Nature conservation agenda to eliminate palm-oil has occurred sporadically, resulting in patchy landscapes where some plots of “exotic plants” were somewhat arbitrarily diminished while the rest were allowed to exist. In Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP) in Aceh and Northern Sumatra, this logic has united farmers into mobilizing a resistance movement since 2015 which results in the first case in Indonesia where farming within the national park is legally allowed as long as it is “traditional”. This legal move is framed by government officials as the “Ecosystem Restoration as Soft Agrarian Reform”. This study, based on the author’s field research for 18 months in January-March 2017 and November 2017-January 2019, looks at the interplay of socio-political structure of rural society with the outcome of ecosystem restoration project in GLNP. Large estates being razed was immediately grown back into its original state. The owners were sometimes enticed by NGO’s offer to purchase the estates for conservation purposes. Meanwhile, independent smallholders would be forced to obtain debt when their plots were razed, but some of them also got a chance to purchase land formerly owned by elite landholders who opt to sell their land to avoid the risk of being targeted by nature conservation project. Hence, this paper argues that ecosystem restoration needs to take into account the agrarian class dynamics if it aimed to genuinely ameliorate the problems of global climate change.
Affiliation: Wageningen University, Netherlands