Community Facilitator Organizations in Agrarian and Natural Resource Conflicts Advocacy, Mediation, Spokesperson, or Facilitator?

24 May 2022

While handling agrarian and natural resource conflicts, CRU often interacts with community facilitators. In most cases, the facilitators are not local residents, but people from outside the area who came to facilitate the community in a community empowerment program or project. The field facilitators assist the community the processes of planning, implementation, reporting and evaluating those activities. We also often met community facilitators who live with the community for a relatively long period of time.

When facilitating the community to implement empowerment programs or projects, conflicts often arise between the community and parties from the outside. The most common example is land conflicts between communities and companies that hold plantation or forest concessions. When such conflicts occur, due to their closeness and partiality to the community, the facilitators often initiate advocacy activities for the community’s rights to land as their source of livelihood. In many cases, advocacy initiatives are necessary and can be effective as well, but the question then is what if communication channels were available and open, and there is an opportunity to resolve the conflict through mediation? What is the role of the community facilitators’ organizations in the conflict resolution process?There usually are two problems. Firstly, the issue of taking sides which is the basis of the advocacy. These organizations face difficulties when it comes to being neutral and impartial as the basic principle in mediation. Evenso, if mediation is feasible and the facilitators’ organization can accept that  it is with a neutral and impartial attitude that they can help the community, only then mediaton by an advocacy organization could perhaps be considered Changing attitudes – from taking sides with the community to being neutral and impartial – is a fundamental change that is not easy. Then there is an inevitable concern that neutrality might cause the organization to lose the trust of the facilitated communities. The second problem is that the organization does not have adequate insight, knowledge and capacity regarding conflict resolution approaches and mediation.

These two problems have made it difficult for community facilitator institutions that often employ advocacy strategies to be the best choices. Of course, this is not something that is absolute, especially if both problems mentioned above can be overcome, this will open up opportunities to act as a mediator.

If it is not suitable to be a mediator, or becoming a mediator is not the choice of the community facilitators organizations, what about their possible role to represent the community in the negotiation process? It is undeniable that in general community facilitators have better speaking skills and are more articulate, and thus there is big chance that the community will appoint and give them the mandate to serve as their spokespersons and negotiators. However, this will be a question for their “opponent”, especially regarding the legitimacy of the negotiators who come from the community facilitators organizations. There will often be accusations of  cooptation of the of the community’s interests . Therefore, the community is required to be able to represent themselves. For this reason, strengthening the community’s capacity to represent themselves would be the task of the community facilitators organizations.

Mediation efforts of most cases of conflict between communities and other parties are often face several problems, including the readiness of the communities to negotiate and the imbalance of power between the parties. The community facilitators organizations can play a role in helping the community to understand the principles and process of mediation, consolidating their strengths as a basis for negotiations, and preparing a community negotiating team that is truly representative and capable of negotiating.

Of course, when this role is chosen, the community facilitators organizations must adapt by developing its capabilities. Particularly, these organizations need to develop sufficient knowledge and capacity on conflict handling and mediation, conflict analysis, negotiation principles and strategies, as well as how to facilitate the learning process of community members and community negotiating teams to be able to develop the same capacity. But of course, for that requires an investment of time and effort.

Photo Credit: Arman Syah