Politics of implementing agrarian reform in North Sumatra, Indonesia: The productiveness of institutional fragmentation

Authors: Zhe Yu Lee*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Land Use, Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: bureaucracy, land tenure, agrarian reform, Indonesia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past few years, the Government of Indonesia has set out to implement an ambitious goal of formally changing land tenure arrangements on over 20 million hectares of land across the country. With the official intention to democratize access to and control of land to a wider proportion of the country’s rural population, this policy framework for agrarian reform constitutes a key component of President Jokowi’s National Medium-Term Development Plan. In this paper, I analyze the politics surrounding the policy framework’s implementation at the provincial level in North Sumatra. Given variegated meanings of agrarian reform held by different civil society actors as well as the abstract national-level policy framework allowing for multiple types of tenure to be claimed, I argue a non-straightforward claims-making process should be expected. Therefore, “ineffective” policy implementation cannot be merely explained by characterizing bureaucratic institutions as dysfunctional and deficient given that the “accuracy” of land tenure claims cannot be ascertained neutrally, in addition to the non self-evident nature of how local communities are constituted. Based on fieldwork with provincial-level peasant organizations, indigenous peoples movements, conservation NGOs and bureaucratic actors, I make sense of how the fragmentation of the Indonesian state as it relates to issues of land tenure and land use provide opportunities for different civil society actors to assert and gain recognition for specific visions of (re)territorializing land and (re)subjectivizing rural populations in an effort to challenge longstanding political-economic structures that continue to privilege plantation, mining and logging interests.

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