Many designated state forest areas in Java, Indonesia, have been settled or cultivated by poor and landless farmers. When this paper was written, the State Forest Corporation practised a general policy of excluding farmers working this disputed land from social forestry projects. At two sites where the Corporation had chosen instead to co-operate, the outcome was remarkable. Farmers were keen to use sustainable farming practices and participate in reforestation once they were granted formal tenure over the disputed areas, renewable on an annual basis. Furthermore, government support freed fish farmers in the Cikeong mangroves from dependence on loans from urban entrepeneurs.