In 2016 indigenous opposition to new plantations has continued around Papua: In Muting, Merauke some clans from the Marind, Yei and Mandobo ethnic groups have declared that their land is not to be used for oil palm. Representatives of the Auyu, Wambon and Muyu ethnic groups in Boven Digoel and members of the Aifat people in Maybrat have complained that they have been deceived by palm oil companies operating in their areas. People in Sorong and Maybrat regencies have demonstrated to demand the revocation of plantation permits in their areas. In Keerom, the Marap people have established customary law blockades and held protests at state-owned company PTPN II’s plantation, saying they were taking back the land the company grabbed decades ago. The Yerisiam people in Nabire have also opposed a palm oil company which started clearing their sacred sago groves for a smallholder program, when the community had expressly requested the company to leave the groves alone just two months before.
These local conflicts are not a new phenomena, Papuans have been determined to defend their rights to ancestral land for many years. In recent years, as more and more plantations are established in Papua, many communities realise they have more to lose if their forest is destroyed than they might gain from the plantation economy. Opposition from local indigenous communities has been successful in halting several plantation projects in Papua, where potential investors regularly cite the problems of obtaining rights to indigenous land as one of their main obstacles.
However, a major change this year is that action at a entirely different level also seems to be changing the outlook for the palm oil industry in Papua, limiting its expansion, which would be good news for the forest, and probably forest-dependent communities too. In 2016 several international environmental organisations have chosen to focus on companies involved in Papua, which they are starting to see an important frontier for forest protection.
As a result, several oil palm companies have halted planting, and it looks likely that the pace of forest conversion will have significantly slowed as a result. But it is by no means certain that this trajectory is set to continue, it could still go either way depending on whether a new push for sustainability manages to transform the industry or whether it fails and settles back into business as usual.
The main mechanism being used to drive this change is through companies’ supply chains. In 2013 and 2014, key palm oil trading and refining companies bowed to pressure from their major customers and signed up to policies saying they would not source palm oil from companies engaged in deforestation, draining peat bogs or exploiting local people or workers.
At least 60% of palm oil traded around the world is now supposed to be covered by these ‘no deforestation, peat or exploitation’ (NDPE) commitments. The three largest trading companies, Wilmar, Golden Agri Resources and Musim Mas, which were all well-known for terrible records of deforestation, were convinced to sign up, and this had an important direct result for Papua as all three groups abandoned plantation plans which would have involved deforestation (Wilmar c.160,000 hectares of sugar cane plantations, Musim Mas 160,000 hectares of oil palm plantations and GAR 20,000 hectares of oil palm). Read More