Conflict in the Co-management of Forest Resources

Yurdi Yasmi[1]


The concept of collaborative management (co-management) has gained prominence since the 1990s. In the forestry sector this concept has been increasingly applied. Based on experiences, it is clear that conflict cannot be neglected in the co-management arrangement. This study focuses on underlying causes of forest-related conflict in a co-management setting of forest in Bulungan Research Forest (BRF), Indonesia. Although 'interests' have been widely pronounced as a major cause of conflict, the main objective of this study was to observe how interests play roles in forming a conflict among different groups of social actors in the area. Nonetheless, this study went further than just looking at interests, and also considered other factors, such as perception and emotion. Data were gathered through a series of semi-structured interviews involving 70 respondents. The analysis was done qualitatively by condensing and coding the interview texts and producing a database from which related queries were made. The results show that, in contrary to the widely accepted view, interest is not the only major factor in conflict formulation but other factors, i.e. perception and emotion are more important in triggering a tension. Conflict brings about negative impacts for stakeholders and the environment, but we have to think creatively how to transform conflict into positive social changes.


Since the 1990s the concept of co-management has gained prominence (e.g. Fisher, 1995; Buck et al., 2001). In co-management arrangement stakeholders plan and decide upon collective actions with regard to how natural resources are to be managed. Roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder are identified based on continued negotiation and consultation processes. Co-management can foster a sense of community empowerment as local stakeholders participate in decision-making and benefit sharing. Thus it offers substantial promise as a way of dealing with resource-based conflict. That is why co-management of natural resources has received such an increasing attention over recent times. However, it becomes obvious that co-management can also set into motion new conflicts or allow old ones to escalate, as different interests, knowledge levels and world-views have to be integrated. Conflict is therefore a key concept in understanding and designing co-management activities (Rhee, 2000; Yasmi, 2002)

For as long as humans have encountered one another, there has been conflict (Walker, 1997). Not surprisingly, in natural resource management conflict is increasingly viewed as something normal and part of social processes as it appears in almost all exchanges regardless time and temporal settings.

Many believe that interest is a major factor in forming a conflict (LeVine, 1972; Anderson 1998). While interest has been widely accepted as a main driving force for conflict, this view tends to be quite simplistic. We have to look at even broader picture of conflict and take into account other notions too. Glasl's model suggests a broader approach to scrutinizing conflict. It takes into account not only interest but also perception and emotion as major causes of conflict (Figure 1) (1999). Conflict emerges if behavior as a result of differences in interest, perception and/or emotion, is perceived as impairment by others. If not, it remains as a "potential" for conflict.

Figure 1. Glasl's model of conflict (after Glas, 1999)

For the purpose of this paper interest is defined as thing in which one has a stake or concern. Perception is an idea, a belief or an image somebody has as a result of how he/she sees or understands something (e.g., event, object, etc.) around him. Emotion is defined as any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling passion; any vehement or excited mental state. It is referred to as a strong feeling and is part of a person's character. Some basic families of emotion are anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, surprise, disgust and shame.

The main objective of this study was to understand how those notions play roles in forming conflict among stakeholders involved in forest related activities in BRF.

Study area

BRF is situated in East Kalimantan, Indonesia with an area of 321,000 hectares forming part of Asia's largest remaining tract of tropical rainforest (Figure 2). The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has conducted multidisciplinary research in this area since 1995.

The people inhabiting BRF are generally known as dayak, a collective name used to refer to the indigenous people of Kalimantan (Sellato 2001). They are rice farmers and harvest a variety of non-timber forest products (Kaskija 2002). In addition to these indigenous dayak groups, there are various groups of migrants from other parts of Indonesia such as Sulawesi, Java and Timor who came to the area mainly to work with private companies.

Two coal mining and several logging companies are operating in the vicinity of the study area. The coal mining started their operation in 1995 with a total concession area 1, 030 ha. Its monthly production is around 10, 000 tones of quality coal. The largest portion of the coal is exported to Japan and the Philippines, domestic use is very modest.

The biggest logging company is a state owned company called PT Inhutani II that has been in the area since early 1991 with total area of 48, 300 ha and annual log production up to 30,000 m3 of logs (PT Inhutani II 2001). Some logging companies, relatively small and new (locally known as IPPK[2]), emerged after the regional autonomy policy took effect in year 2000 (Yasmi 2002). In term of size they are varied and ranging from 100 to 2, 500 ha.

Figure 2. Location of Bulungan Research Forest

This study was carried out in seven villages that lie in two settlements called Loreh and Langap. Four villages in Loreh are Long Loreh, Bila' Bekayu, Sengayan and Pelancau and in Langap are Langap, Nunuk Tanah Kibang and Long Rat.


Data collection was done between June and August 2001. Within each of the villages respondents were chosen randomly for semi-structured interviews. The interviews focused on the underlying causes of conflict based on respondents' perception and understanding of the situation. In total seventy respondents were interviewed for between 45 minutes and 2 hours. Because respondents were mostly local people, the result of this study might not necessarily reflect other's perception from other stakeholder groups.

To analyze the data, the interview texts were coded and grouped into one or more underlying causes of conflict. A second database for conflict settlement was also developed. In the end, a database of coding was established. In terms of analysis, the data were analyzed qualitatively through query-making from the database (Bernard 1995). The results from the query were discussed and double-checked with interview text if necessary to ensure the quality of the query. Following these steps, final conclusion is drawn.


The results of this study will be presented based on the following groups; conflict between Loreh and outside bodies and conflict between Langap and outside bodies.

Conflict between Loreh and outside bodies

This section highlights the conflicts between Loreh's people and outside bodies (i.e. mining companies, logging companies and CIFOR). Two mining companies are undertaking their operation in Loreh namely PT BDMS (concession holder) and PT John Holland (a subcontractor of PT BDMS). There is a state owned timber enterprise called Inhutani II operating in Loreh. There are two IPPK (small-scale logging); CV Surip Wijaya and CV Sebuku Lestari. Table 1 summarizes issues that were contested between local people of Loreh and those companies.

Table 1. A summary of contentious issues between Loreh and outside bodies


Perception towards mining

Perception towards logging

Perception towards CIFOR


The operation of mining has given several problems to Loreh.
· Water is heavily polluted. Fish die and some of the people have skin problem after bathing in the river.
· Air pollution is very serious. Many children and others suffer from influenza and even acute breathing problem.
· Soil degradation is a big problem.
· The mining companies often delays their promises to give clean water facilities, electricity generator, transport, etc.
· Mining makes a lot of money but they do not want to help people in Loreh.

· Use military approach. If people cut trees, they will ask us them to stop and if they cannot stop it they will call the police and then we have no choice.
· Inhutani cuts many important plants for people's livelihoods such as rattan, medicinal plants, gaharu (eagle wood), and other leaves (medical plant).
· Prohibiting people to open rice fields
· Even though they take a lot of trees from here and make a lot of money they do not want to help us.

· Asking many questions to people, such as how much money do they have, how many children, how many plates, etc.
· Many people come for interview. People do not know why CIFOR does this?


· We cannot cultivate ex-mining sites anymore and this is very life threatening.
· We imagine that we will have less land for our rice field in the future because of soil degradation. I feel very sad about this and I am afraid if future generation can no longer make their rice fields.
· Mining is very dangerous for our children health.
· Mining has also caused moral and cultural degradation

· Inhutani said that they own all the forests. People in Loreh have no rights to forest.
· People said they have been in Loreh before the logging. They use forests every day. So why would logging company say such thing?
· Forest is also a place for cultural events like ceremonies and the presence of logging has restricted this activity.


Conflict between Loreh and outside bodies

In this section, conflicts between the people of Langap and outsides bodies is illustrated. Two logging companies are operating in the surrounding of Langap; Inhutani II and CV Hanura (small-scale). CIFOR is also conducting several research activities in Langap. Table 2 summarizes issues that were contested.

Table 2. A summary of issues being contended in conflict between Langap and outside bodies


Perception towards logging

Perception towards CIFOR


· They cut plants useful for people such as rattan, medical plants, leaves, gaharu, etc.
· They do not realize compensation they promised.
· They prohibit cutting trees but they destroy forest



· They do not acknowledge people's right to the forest. As they often said, all forest belong to government. This is not good we feel that we also have rights to the forest.
· Logging causes severe problem to people and makes people's lives threatened
· People sad because logging cut too many trees from the forest (CV Hanura).





· Asking many questions to people, people do not know why CIFOR does this?
· CIFOR could help community to resolve conflict but does not want to help.
· CIFOR's led initiative on participatory mapping causes many conflicts.


While many scholars argue that conflict is a manifestation of incompatibilities in interests (LeVine 1972, Anderson 1998), this study reveals that this is not at all times true. Yet conflict involves much more than this. Bitter disputes often erupt in situations where the interests of the two sides are not clearly opposed. In other cases, conflict fails to develop despite deep divisions between adversaries. Such situations suggest that a full understanding of conflict will require much more than mere identification of opposing interest. Many other factors relating to thoughts (perception) and feelings (emotion) of the stakeholders involved enter into the picture.

It is important to consider that once aware of conflict both parties experience emotional reactions to it and think about it in various ways. These emotions and thoughts are crucial to the course of developing conflict. For example, if the emotional reactions of one or both sides include anger and resentment from past wrongs or from contemplated future ones, the conflict is likely to be intense (i.e., high level). This can be seen from the conflict between Loreh's people and the mining companies. In that case, the emotions of people could no longer be managed because they had several experiences that were too threatening for them. As a result, a destructive event took place and tension increased.

Although this study specifically focused on interest, perception and emotion, there are many other ways of looking at conflict. There is a large body of literature that sees emergence of conflict as the specific function of rising population, decreasing resource base, power relations, etc. Indeed, what this paper is trying to show is that conflict associates with many factors and not just limited to interest per se.

In the conflicts described above, some brought about a variety of negative impacts both to stakeholders involved and to environment. For instance in the conflict between Loreh and mining there were a lot of intimidation going on, soil degradation was contested, etc. This empirical evidence indicates that conflict sometimes becomes severe and debilitating, resulting in violence, resource degradation, the undermining of livelihoods, and the uprooting of communities (Walker, 1997; FAO, 2000; Castro et al., 2001). If not properly addressed, such conflicts can threaten to unravel the entire fabric of society. As a consequence conflict resolution have become the prevailing objectives of conflict management approaches in natural resource management.

Although in many cases negative impacts are often more prominent in conflicts, an increasing number of authors contend that conflict should not only be viewed as dysfunctional but should be used as a catalyst for constructive changes particularly under co-management (e.g., Saarelainen, 2001; Castro et al., 2001). In some circumstances conflict might be necessarily created to induce changes. When the manifestation of conflict causes necessary policy, economic, social and management changes, it is valuable and of importance (Saarelainen, 2001). Castro et al (2001) argue that conflict can be used as a starting point for co-management. Conflicts over natural resource management in these views must be seen as a catalyst that induces necessary social changes (Upreti, 2001).

In line with this turn in thinking about conflicts, increasingly questions about the potentials and adequate institutional designs of active conflict utilization are coming on the political as well as the research agenda (e.g. FAO, 2000). So far, most of the studies have concentrated on the description of conflicts. This formed an important step in the understanding of natural resource management away from harmony ideals to conflict conceptualisations (Schanz, 1996). The next step that needs to be made is to understand the mechanisms of actively coping with conflicts in natural resource management, in order to avoid the negative impacts and to further their positive impacts. Some initial studies have been made in this respect, but are mainly limited to business management and organizational environments (e.g. Saarelainen, 2001). Governance structures and natural resource management settings in this respect have not received much, if any, attention yet.


Looking at conflict requires a thorough understanding of the situation at hand and people's perspectives on the conflict and the situation. This study has shown that a conflict is caused by multiple factors and is not necessarily interest-driven but conflict can be even more complex as it is associated with emotion and perception. In many cases, conflicts bring about negative impacts to stakeholders involved and environment and if not properly addressed might threaten the entire fabric of society. Despite negative impacts, current understanding of conflict suggests that conflict might also be necessary and desirable to induce social changes. Thus, the key task is how to transform conflict into more positive direction.


I would like to acknowledge the support of Professors Heiner Schanz and Freerk Wiersum of Wageningen University, Eva Wollenberg, Ravi Prabhu, Carol Colfer, Douglas Sheil and the rest of ACM Team of CIFOR.


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[1] Center for International Forestry Research, Jalan CIFOR Situ Gede, Sindangbarang Bogor Barat 16680
Indonesia. Tel: +62 251 622622; Fax: +62 251 622100; Email: [email protected]
[2] IPPK (Ijin Pemungutan and Pemanfaatan Kayu) is an Indonesian term for a small scale logging concessions (i.e. area ranging from 100 – 2500 ha).