This paper presents an ethnographic case study of a palm oil land conflict in a Malay community in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The conflict occurred in the preparatory phase of a large-scale plantation, before any oil palms were planted. After protest from local communities, the project was canceled. This case enables an empirical enquiry of land tenure as well as the meaning of land and associated resources for people’s livelihoods in a pre-plantation situation. The article aims to understand how people’s responses to the oil palm plantation project are rooted in the way they give meaning to the land that is targeted for conversion. Using a functional analysis of property relations, the article shows that people value multiple functions of land, including food security, income security over generations, flexibility to respond to crises and opportunity, and the ability to retain autonomy and identity as farmers. One of the factors that contributed to the conflict was the expectation that a conversion of diversified agricultural land and forest into a monoculture plantation, run by a company, would change the functionality of land and associated resources in a way that would negatively impact livelihood opportunities, lifestyles, and identity.
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