Land and watershed degradation in Java – rooted in histories of conflict and displacement

Free Public Lecture

Land and watershed degradation in Java – rooted in histories of conflict and displacement

Theatre 2, Basement Level
207 Bouverie Street
207-211 Bouverie Street


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T: 8344 9395

Substantial funds have been invested into land and watershed conservation on the Indonesian island of Java. Most programmes targeted soil erosion on villagers’ private lands by tree planting and field terracing. Yet, upland degradation and high river sediment loads are still considered a major environmental problem. My research shows that the causes of these issues are not sufficiently understood and obscured by political discourse. I linked remote sensing, historical cartographic analyses, and land use and landscape mapping with interviews and focus groups involving a broad range of actors on various political levels to analyse watershed characteristics and transformations, their causes, and governance regimes. The research deconstructs political narratives about watershed issues and reconstructs these issues, in material, social, historical, and political terms. It exposes historically rooted conflicts over land and forest resources as a major cause of both land degradation and one-sided degradation narratives. These conflicts are rooted in violent displacements of people and entire villages in the wake of an Islamic insurgency in the 1950s, the political massacres of the mid-1960s in the wake of General Suharto’s seizure of national political power, and illegitimate expansions of plantations in the 1950/60s. The conflicts have turned forest and plantation lands into widely tree-less erosion-prone battlefields, resembling ‘scars’ in satellite images. Erosion on these conflict lands remains unaddressed, while watershed debates continue to focus on villagers’ private lands. The research suggests that watershed management must be linked with the opening up of unresolved political histories and with open debates over future (re-) arrangements of land and forest access and control.


  • Dr Martin Lukas
    Dr Martin Lukas, Post-doctoral Researcher