Indonesian elders sitting on the floor against a wall
Elders at a village meeting discussing land boundaries.

Participatory Mapping and Planning Project in Indonesia

Setting boundaries for a brighter future

In Indonesia, there is a growing problem where village boundaries are breaking down due to the lack of an accurate transfer of information. This issue causes challenges to service delivery and sustainable development. To help solve this problem, NIRAS and local partner SEKALA were tasked with mapping 82 village boundaries in Riau Province in only 42 weeks.

Until recent times, Indonesia saw economic development and environmental concerns as being locked in a zero-sum game, where one had to be sacrificed to achieve the other. Prioritizing economic development while subscribing to this worldview led to dire consequences not only for the environment, but also the people who depend on it for their livelihoods.

This approach led to massive deforestation of Indonesia’s indigenous (and ancient) forests, which had been used by local communities as a source of food and income for generations. It also led to wetlands being drained in exploitative palm oil harvesting practices. The peat fires caused by these wetland drainages caused damage almost impossible to conceive. The fires harmed the health of locals through smoke inhalation and accounted for approximately 85% of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is a massive impact on the environment, considering that only the United States and China are ahead of Indonesia when it comes to emission levels. They cause Indonesia an estimated EUR 3.5 billion in economic damage, annually.

There is hope, however, as the Government of Indonesia increasingly shifts its focus to sustainable economic development. Thus, in 2011, when the United States allocated USD 600 million in financial aid to Indonesia through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), more than half of the planned investments were allocated to the Green Prosperity Project, which is administered by the Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia (MCA–I, but henceforth referred to as the MCA). 

Field surveys conducted in Indonesia.

To ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the project’s sustainable development activities, Green Prosperity takes a bottom-up approach to development by involving as many stakeholders as possible on the ground in their planning and implementation of projects. Green Prosperity’s overarching goals are twofold:

  1. increase agricultural productivity and household livelihoods by improving land use practices and natural resource management.
  2. reduce reliance on fossil fuels and emissions of land-based greenhouse gases by expanding the utilization of renewable energy.

Both of these goals involve significant amounts of participatory planning, where the stakeholders in the area considered for development are consulted during the planning stages of the project. This allows for more efficient and sustainable usage of natural resources in a given area, but also helps to ensure local support, which is vital for the practices and methods introduced by the project to remain in use in the long term.

However, Green Prosperity has frequently been hampered during the planning stages of their project by a simple-sounding, yet incredibly complex problem: village boundaries.

The Indonesian government tends to focus on demarcating provincial and district boundaries, and for all intents and purposes leaves the establishment of village boundaries to the locals. In the past, the knowledge of each village’s boundary was kept by a few of that village’s elders and would then be orally passed down to the next generation, but this way of sharing the information is increasingly being threatened as the tradition of oral storytelling fades away due to a variety of factors such as television and the encroachment of big companies and even syndicates on lands that had previously been considered to belong to the villages.

 

As time progresses, this situation worsens and there are an increasing number of sometimes violent conflicts between villages over where the boundaries lie. This causes great uncertainty for the villagers, but also brings other major challenges with regards to spatial planning and, as a result, the building and efficient utilization of infrastructure. Arguably worse still, this situation places severe restrictions on local governments’ service delivery. The top-down approach in boundary setting used by the government often causes a situation where villages fall through the cracks. While there might be a line drawn on a map, the boundary might be completely different in reality, especially when there are boundary disputes on a local level. And in that disconnect, one can find families who aren’t getting access to vital services such as electricity.

For this reason, MCA launched the Participatory Mapping and Planning Project (PMaP). While there have been efforts to settle the village boundaries before, they were usually one-sided. The government would set boundaries using their top-down approach, only to have the boundaries disputed and disregarded on the local level. Other times, NGOs representing villages would map out what the villagers believed should be the boundaries, only for the government to refuse recognition of these boundaries. PMaP approached the problem differently, by mapping boundaries while taking both sides into account.

 

MCA tasked NIRAS and local partner SEKALA to run PMaP8, which aims to map the boundaries of 82 villages in five districts of the Riau Province, Indonesia, in the very short time frame of 10.5 months (or about 42 weeks). NIRAS and SEKALA designed the process to enable all local stakeholders (including women and the otherwise marginalized citizens) from the villages to participate actively in creating a new map of the village boundaries. The two companies then used a combination of established government processes, international best practices, modern survey and mapping technology, and the information they gathered from community participation to map the boundaries, coordinating with the relevant local government agencies at every step of the way to ensure both community ownership and government recognition of the newly established boundaries.

In addition to balancing the communities and government during the mapping process, the PMaP8 team faced a variety of physical challenges involved in the process of geo-spatial field surveying. This process is vital to the creation of accurate maps, but meant that team members were faced with obstacles like dense rainforests, monsoon rains, and even wildlife such as tigers in their quest to complete the project on schedule. Despite all this, NIRAS and SEKALA were able to successfully complete the project on time, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the PMaP8 team, and the enthusiastic participation of the communities and local government.

As a result, a wide variety of boundary disputes were resolved, service delivery is improved, and stakeholders and investors in the area now have accurate information with which they can efficiently make sustainable decisions for the future.

@Paolo Nicolello