A story about land:the power of fairand transparentmap-making

Maps & Land cover use / 15 min read

This story is about land. And if you talk about land, you talk about maps. Ideally, maps can give us an idea about certain agreements between people concerning the land. Agreements of a nation state and its citizens about what part of the land is owned by whom. Although there are contrasting interests, these agreements can give everyone a clear picture of what land is owned and used by whom. But how could maps be used in a political way to create the exact opposite? What if maps are not being used in a fair and transparent way? And how does this effect landownership and biodiversity?

The problem

With its 17.000 islands Indonesia is home to the largest forests in the world. With an enormous variety of flora and fauna, that many refer to as ‘the lungs of the world’, these large forests are one of the most important drivers of carbon storage in our world. As important as carbon storage, these forests are also home to many indigenous peoples that originally live in these forests (1). Many people living in and around these forests continue to depend on them for their livelihood.

Economic interests play a major role in the future of the rich Indonesian forests. Besides logging, large corporations transform these forests into industrial forest plantations, rubber or oil palm plantations. Where minerals can be extracted, forests make way for large (open pit) mining sites. These investments regularly take place in overlapping jurisdictions, as reliable data on land use and land status are limited, or land use maps and land status maps often differ from one government agency to another. Competing land claims and disputes thus become a reality, as large scale investors will make use of the differing maps for their own purpose (2).

Indigenous peoples and others, who have owned land for generations, now see their lands occupied by large investors, like oil palm, logging or mining companies. These companies can thus benefit from the existence and use of different maps. 

'Many refer to the rich forests of Indonesia as ‘the lungs of the world’. These large forests are one of the most important drivers of carbon storage in our world.'

This story is about land. And if you talk about land, you talk about maps. Ideally, maps can give us an idea about certain agreements between people concerning the land. Agreements of a nation state and its citizens about what part of the land is owned by whom. Although there are contrasting interests, these agreements can give everyone a clear picture of what land is owned and used by whom. But how could maps be used in a political way to create the exact opposite? What if maps are not being used in a fair and transparent way? And how does this effect landownership and biodiversity?

The problem

With its 17.000 islands Indonesia is home to the largest forests in the world. With an enormous variety of flora and fauna, that many refer to as ‘the lungs of the world’, these large forests are one of the most important drivers of carbon storage in our world. As important as carbon storage, these forests are also home to many indigenous peoples that originally live in these forests (1). Many people living in and around these forests continue to depend on them for their livelihood.

Economic interests play a major role in the future of the rich Indonesian forests. Besides logging, large corporations transform these forests into industrial forest plantations, rubber or oil palm plantations. Where minerals can be extracted, forests make way for large (open pit) mining sites. These investments regularly take place in overlapping jurisdictions, as reliable data on land use and land status are limited, or land use maps and land status maps often differ from one government agency to another. Competing land claims and disputes thus become a reality, as large scale investors will make use of the differing maps for their own purpose (2).

Indigenous peoples and others, who have owned land for generations, now see their lands occupied by large investors, like oil palm, logging or mining companies. These companies can thus benefit from the existence and use of different maps. 

"Many refer to the rich forests of Indonesia as ‘the lungs of the world’. These large forests are one of the most important drivers of carbon storage in our world."

An example: ‘The grey zone’ of different maps

To dive into the problem of the use of different maps, we take the following example. At provincial and district level, the delineation between government and  non-government land for making maps is usually ground-checked. This is often done with support from NGOs, village leaders and other grassroots organisations. Although the maps made at the lower government-level should act as the basis for the national level, this is often not the case. At the national level, remote sensing techniques and satellite images form the basis for map-making. However, satellite images showing land cover often differ when taken in the rainy season. Without ground-checks, land use cover will look much greener, and a larger area might be classified as state forest land. The boundaries on a national land status map can thus easily be drawn right through agroforestry areas belonging to small farming communities. Without knowing, their ancestral lands might be classified as state forest land. This variation is often the “legal grey zone” between local maps and national maps, where large scale investors can make use of.

"Satellite images showing land cover often differ when taken in the rainy season. Without ground-checks, land use cover will look much greener, and a larger area might be classified as state forest land."

Please find below two different maps stacked on top of each other that represent a certain part of the Gula Gula programme. The left map is the provincial map (drag the center line to the right to completely see it) in which you can see the yellow spots that represent the land of food forest programme. The right map is the national map (drag the center line to the left to completely see it). In this map you can see the classified forest land that now all of a sudden reaches certain lands of our programme.

An example: ‘The grey zone’ of different maps

To dive into the problem of the use of different maps, we take the following example. At provincial and district level, the delineation between government and  non-government land for making maps is usually ground-checked. This is often done with support from NGOs, village leaders and other grassroots organisations. Although the maps made at the lower government-level should act as the basis for the national level, this is often not the case. At the national level, remote sensing techniques and satellite images form the basis for map-making. However, satellite images showing land cover often differ when taken in the rainy season. Without ground-checks, land use cover will look much greener, and a larger area might be classified as state forest land. The boundaries on a national land status map can thus easily be drawn right through agroforestry areas belonging to small farming communities. Without knowing, their ancestral lands might be classified as state forest land. This variation is often the “legal grey zone” between local maps and national maps, where large scale investors can make use of.

"Satellite images showing land cover often differ when taken in the rainy season. Without ground-checks, land use cover will look much greener, and a larger area might be classified as state forest land."

Please find below two different maps stacked on top of each other that represent a certain part of the Gula Gula programme. The left map is the provincial map (drag the center line to the right to completely see it) in which you can see the yellow spots that represent the land of food forest programme. The right map is the national map (drag the center line to the left to completely see it). In this map you can see the classified forest land that now all of a sudden reaches certain lands of our programme.

Our approach

With Gula Gula’s aim to rebuild forested landscapes in Indonesia, we have experienced these challenges of the existence of different maps when overlaying different government maps. Some of the farmers we work with therefore decided to relocate their restoration site after we found out that their fields were situated  in the grey area of overlapping jurisdictions. Overlaying district maps with national government maps showed that their land was part of the State Forest Land area (see maps), despite the fact that their families have called this area their own for generations. To avoid potential conflicts, we invest many days of ground-checking to develop the polygons for each farmer’s restoration site to be situated outside the boundaries of any government map.

With a very precise yet labor-intensive approach, we work with both of the available maps; the one from the National Ministry of Forestry and the one from the Provincial Department of Forestry of West Sumatra. Our Geographic Information System Team, or GIS Team, consists of 4-6 people who walk or ride their motorcycle to every single land area to be restored in order to register all of the GPS coordinates. With the field-based GPS coordinates we manage to develop a complete and precise overview of the land that is being used within our food forest programme. Only when we are 100% sure that all the land is under secure control of the farmer participants, we will sign the carbon contract with a group of farmers.

We collaborate closely with representatives of Sumatra’s Provincial Department of Forestry. This collaboration is fruitful and we are happy to work with them. The representatives also expressed their gratitude towards our precise GPS tracking approach, because that gives them some leverage in their talks with the national ministry when needed. The village chiefs that we work with are also happy to receive these remote sensing maps about the land cover issues of both regional and state level.

To summarize, through intensive local and regional collaboration our approach is labour intensive but careful planning is important to ensure that all the land we restore is legally under village control, hence permanence of carbon sequestration can be assured. Nowadays our team directly checks the location of a farmer restoration site using mobile phones. If the area could give conflicts, the team can directly respond and search for a secure area outside government control with that particular farmer.

"Without a transparent and fair decision-making process that includes land owners and indigenous peoples, economic interests could remain to be the driving interest in the map policy of Indonesia."

Our approach

With Gula Gula’s aim to rebuild forested landscapes in Indonesia, we have experienced these challenges of the existence of different maps when overlaying different government maps. Some of the farmers we work with therefore decided to relocate their restoration site after we found out that their fields were situated  in the grey area of overlapping jurisdictions. Overlaying district maps with national government maps showed that their land was part of the State Forest Land area (see maps), despite the fact that their families have called this area their own for generations. To avoid potential conflicts, we invest many days of ground-checking to develop the polygons for each farmer’s restoration site to be situated outside the boundaries of any government map.

With a very precise yet labor-intensive approach, we work with both of the available maps; the one from the National Ministry of Forestry and the one from the Provincial Department of Forestry of West Sumatra. Our Geographic Information System Team, or GIS Team, consists of 4-6 people who walk or ride their motorcycle to every single land area to be restored in order to register all of the GPS coordinates. With the field-based GPS coordinates we manage to develop a complete and precise overview of the land that is being used within our food forest programme. Only when we are 100% sure that all the land is under secure control of the farmer participants, we will sign the carbon contract with a group of farmers.

We collaborate closely with representatives of Sumatra’s Provincial Department of Forestry. This collaboration is fruitful and we are happy to work with them. The representatives also expressed their gratitude towards our precise GPS tracking approach, because that gives them some leverage in their talks with the national ministry when needed. The village chiefs that we work with are also happy to receive these remote sensing maps about the land cover issues of both regional and state level.

To summarize, through intensive local and regional collaboration our approach is labour intensive but careful planning is important to ensure that all the land we restore is legally under village control, hence permanence of carbon sequestration can be assured. Nowadays our team directly checks the location of a farmer restoration site using mobile phones. If the area could give conflicts, the team can directly respond and search for a secure area outside government control with that particular farmer.

"Without a transparent and fair decision-making process that includes land owners and indigenous peoples, economic interests could remain to be the driving interest in the map policy of Indonesia."

The solution: One Map Policy?

A couple of years ago, the Indonesian government has recognised this major concern of overlapping jurisdictions and differing maps. The government has launched a long-awaited unified map of land-use cover across the country (3). This ‘One Map Policy’ is a big effort to resolve such overlapping claims that have led to conflicts, human rights abuses and environmental damage. The policy aims to produce a map with a geoportal database of 85 thematic maps of the 34 provinces that are provided by 19 ministries and government agencies. At a first look, a single map policy is  crucial and much needed  solution. It means no overlapping claims of land, a single vision of who owns land and how the land is being used and for Gula Gula in particular this would also mean an easier way of collaborating with the farming communities. Unfortunately, the solution is far more complex than it seems and can have the same real-world implications on people and planet.

Because the crux of this new development is the way in which the maps are being made. Who are able to decide and which interests are being heard? As A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil of the Jakarta Post (4) wrote:

(..) The One Map Policy process has been largely closed off from the public, with datasets mainly provided by government institutions. Critics say this has led to the exclusion of indigenous communities, who otherwise exist beyond the boundaries of government-led spatial planning.

Without a transparent and fair decision-making process that includes land owners and indigenous peoples, economic interests could remain to be the driving interest in the map policy of Indonesia.

In our next story we will be talking to Raflis, the director of Yayasan Hutan Riau, a NGO that works on mapping Riaus forest. He is a long advocate and expert of fair map-making and with him we will dive into the One Map Policy and the implications it can have on people and planet.

The solution: One Map Policy?

A couple of years ago, the Indonesian government has recognised this major concern of overlapping jurisdictions and differing maps. The government has launched a long-awaited unified map of land-use cover across the country (3). This ‘One Map Policy’ is a big effort to resolve such overlapping claims that have led to conflicts, human rights abuses and environmental damage. The policy aims to produce a map with a geoportal database of 85 thematic maps of the 34 provinces that are provided by 19 ministries and government agencies. At a first look, a single map policy is  crucial and much needed  solution. It means no overlapping claims of land, a single vision of who owns land and how the land is being used and for Gula Gula in particular this would also mean an easier way of collaborating with the farming communities. Unfortunately, the solution is far more complex than it seems and can have the same real-world implications on people and planet.

Because the crux of this new development is the way in which the maps are being made. Who are able to decide and which interests are being heard? As A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil of the Jakarta Post (4) wrote:

(..) The One Map Policy process has been largely closed off from the public, with datasets mainly provided by government institutions. Critics say this has led to the exclusion of indigenous communities, who otherwise exist beyond the boundaries of government-led spatial planning. 

Without a transparent and fair decision-making process that includes land owners and indigenous peoples, economic interests could remain to be the driving interest in the map policy of Indonesia.

In our next story we will be talking to Raflis, the director of Yayasan Hutan Riau, a NGO that works on mapping Riaus forest. He is a long advocate and expert of fair map-making and with him we will dive into the One Map Policy and the implications it can have on people and planet.

References

  1. Shahab, N. (n.d.). Indonesia: One Map Policy Overlapping Land Claims and Conflicts. [online] Available at: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/case-study_Indonesia_One-Map-Policy.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].
  2. World Resources Institute. (2017). Understanding Indonesia’s OneMap Initiative. [online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/tags/understanding-indonesias-onemap-initiative  [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].
  3. Basten Gokkon (2018). One map to rule them all: Indonesia launches unified land-use chart. [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/12/one-map-to-rule-them-all-indonesia-launches-unified-land-use-chart/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].

  4. The Jakarta Post (2020). Concerns of transparency, inclusivity raised as One Map nears completion. [online] The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/04/concerns-of-transparency-inclusivity-raised-as-one-map-nears-completion.html [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].

References

  1. Shahab, N. (n.d.). Indonesia: One Map Policy Overlapping Land Claims and Conflicts. [online] Available at: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/case-study_Indonesia_One-Map-Policy.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].
  2. World Resources Institute. (2017). Understanding Indonesia’s OneMap Initiative. [online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/tags/understanding-indonesias-onemap-initiative  [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].
  3. Basten Gokkon (2018). One map to rule them all: Indonesia launches unified land-use chart. [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/12/one-map-to-rule-them-all-indonesia-launches-unified-land-use-chart/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].

  4. The Jakarta Post (2020). Concerns of transparency, inclusivity raised as One Map nears completion. [online] The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/04/concerns-of-transparency-inclusivity-raised-as-one-map-nears-completion.html [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].