COVID 19 as a Game Changer in Handling Agrarian Conflicts during a Pandemic

Sungai Kelaru,Kalimantan Tengah
24 August 2021

Agrarian conflicts have become inevitable in current growth-oriented development in Indonesia. In fact, when the pandemic of COVID-19 broke out and social restriction policies were implemented as a key strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, this contributes to the contraction of the economy at various levels. The economic downturn did not stop the continuation of existing and the emergence of new agrarian conflicts in various regions in Indonesia. In addition, the urgency of efforts to control the impact of the pandemic is diverting the previous focus of efforts in handling agrarian conflicts as part of the Agrarian Reform policy.

The emergence of new conflict cases, as reported by the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), indicates that during the pandemic, new conflicts continue to spread, including land conflicts between communities and the corporations. This implies that the need for efforts to address agrarian conflicts remains important and urgent for all parties, including communities, the government, and the corporations. The question is, how should the agrarian conflicts be handled, while conflict resolution practicioners – including CRU – are facing various technical and methodological challenges during the pandemic due to the restrictions on mobility as well as on social activities? The conflict resolution process requires equal access to both information and communication, which could be difficult to meet due to restrictions of face-to-face engagements. As a result, conflict resolution efforts tend to rely more on the use of information and communication technology (ICT).

Digital communication platforms, such as Zoom and MS Teams, are the most preferred options. Yet, new problems arose. The gap in access to ICT and network quality exists not only between regions in Indonesia but also among conflicting parties. This is a challenge not only in conflict resolution efforts but also in various other aspects of life. The issue of the digital divide has been debated since the intensive development of the Internet. During the pandemic, these challenges are becoming more obvious and urgent to be addressed.

Conflict handling is also required to transform creatively without sacrificing the essential values ​​and principles of conflict resolution. Are the ICT platforms adequate in this transformation effort? Although the Government has provided the public a waiver to access the ICT, this has not been sufficient compared to the efforts to equalize the quality of the existing network.

Another important question arises in the context of rural communities, especially forest villages, is whether the Village Fund (Dana Desa) could be allocated to the efforts to equalize network quality, for example for hardware procurement and ICT infrastructure development. Thus far, it is understood that the policy on access to the Village Fund must comply with the districts’ budget nomenclature, where budgeting priorities during the pandemic are aimed at health and economic recovery through efforts to maintain and stabilize economic growth by increasing people’s purchasing power. Since this alternative is unlikely option, it might be important to explore Village Owned Enterprises (BUMDes) as an alternative solution.

It should be considered that not only does ICT infrastructure have the opportunity to be used in conflict resolution, but it is also useful for various other things, including education, obtaining market information, wider communication networks, and so on. The discussion about this, of course, is still long and could not be resolved in this short piece. However, the above mentioned questions imply the need for creative transformation efforts in resolving agrarian conflicts, especially considering that Agrarian Reform remains a priority policy of the Government.