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Keywords:

  • Indonesia;
  • natural resource management;
  • oil palm;
  • participation;
  • power;
  • rural development;
  • stakeholder theory

Abstract

Participation is commonly accepted to be a process that brings stakeholders together to define issues and create mutually beneficial outcomes. In the fields of development and natural resource management, participation is such a widely accepted part of policy that it is rare to find a project or programme that does not exhort the practice of participation and stakeholder engagement. However, despite the considerable weight of orthodoxy advocating greater participation and stakeholder engagement in development, the participative processes and power relations underpinning such engagement are rarely analysed in careful detail. This is particularly the case with oil palm plantations in frontier Indonesia and the interactions between the principal stakeholders at the plantation-community level. There has been minimal analysis to date appraising how such stakeholders interact in relation to a plantation, and there is limited description outlining the divergent viewpoints from such stakeholders. The paper argues that one local stakeholder group, oil palm smallholders, usually possess some agency in their decision-making and interactions with a plantation organisation but that existing structural and informal modes of interaction often limit the transformative potential of participation for all stakeholders.