Good Land Management Is Sought in Balancing Economic Needs, Rural Living

Charles Vincent (Consulting Leader), Rob Daniel and Moray McLeish (S&CC Technical Advisor)


On this day 18 years ago, in the Brazilian state Para at El Dorado dos Carajas, 1500 people occupied and blocked BR-150 highway with the aim of convincing the government to implement agrarian reform. This resulted in 69 injuries and the deaths of 21 people. 

Since then the 17th of April has been commemorated worldwide as the International Day of Peasant's Struggle.

Small farmers make up half of the world’s population and grow 70 percent of the world's food. This massive collective contribution often goes without great recognition, with this group enjoying little visibility in, or access to, the public sphere.

Indonesia is a globally significant emerging economy whose growth is fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, including rainforest-covered land. The rapid economic growth in Indonesia is paying dividends. In 1976 54.2 million people, or 40.1 percent of the population, were considered to be living in poverty. By 1996 that figure had reduced to 22.2 million or 11.3 % of the population - a massive achievement. But there is still room for improving the rural economic growth.

Around 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas and depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihood with a need for good land management, namely that which is equitable, sustainable, transparent and auditable.

Papua province’s economic development vision is a good example of this.  This plan envisages an eco-efficient economy that no longer depends on large-scale land conversion and resource extraction. The vision is putting in place the framework for more just and environmentally appropriate social and economic development. At its core is the goal to create economic opportunities for small and community owned businesses, based upon secure access to land.

But what does this really mean? According to Moray McLeish, technical advisor of sustainability at PwC Indonesia "good land management is a balance between the needs of mass production and the benefits of developing rural livelihoods". First of all, good land management requires a transparent and auditable plan. The first element of such a plan is to allocate the right land for the right purpose, taking note of the interconnectedness of all activities within a landscape. For example, creating space for agriculture in places where the soil is fertile and building roads to get the produce to market in a timely fashion.

The second element is about not converting land in the wrong areas, for instance maintaining forests along rivers and on hillsides prevents soil erosion and landslides. And the third aspect is collaborating with the local people when locating land for plantations, mines, power stations and other infrastructure. The final element to a plan is, of course, implementation.

McLeish states "successful implementation of any plan will depend upon the degree to which all stakeholders - local, national or international; public private or not for profit – are involved in its’ creation and execution". This is most likely to lead to an effective and conflict-free interpretation and implementation of the plan. This planning is a task for the state, requiring close coordination between central, provincial and district governments. But is also something that organizations accustomed to in developing and monitoring processes in a transparent way, such as PwC Indonesia, can support.

Failure to get these key elements of land management correct may lead to incidents such as those that took place in Brazil in 1996. And any representative of land-intensive businesses will tell you that conflict is expensive.

Conflicts cost money to manage, create uncertainty and divert both sides from spending their time on productive activities. According to the nongovernmental organization Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), in 2013 there were 369 land-related conflicts taking place across the plantation, mining, infrastructure and forestry sectors in Indonesia, claiming 21 lives. These conflicts often take the form of company versus community. But they can also take the form of poor rural community versus another poor rural community, such as  when land boundaries are contested and rumours of underground mineral reserves cause land prices to shoot up.

Urban dwellers might ask: Why should I care? This is a valid question especially when the western world has largely done away with the smallholder model. It has been replaced by large-scale intensive farms producing huge quantities of uniform cheap produce - the reason why  our supermarket staples are affordable.

The answer, however - aside from a legal imperative to respect the land rights of the rural people -  is simple: We need their stewardship of the land as this not only feeds us but also protects the quality of our waterways, reduces landslides and protects critical habitats.

Hence, small-scale farmers protect the way of life as we know it. They tend to select and grow cultivars best suited to the local climate and best matched to local taste. Without this large diversity of food sources and locally adapted selective breeding and genetic diversity service, the foods we consider to be “staples” such as wheat, rice and chilies could be prone to catastrophic disease outbreak and unable to adapt to a changing climate.

Securing access to land and assisting  small-holding farmers to build productive opportunities will not only result in a reduction of poverty but will help to secure the way of life us city dwellers have become accustomed to. Once we realize and act on that, the commemoration of the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle will be belong to the history.


Moray McLeish and Rob Daniel are technical advisor in sustainability and climate change practice At PwC Indonesia, and Charles Vincent is the leader of PwC Indonesia Consulting.