There is currently some momentum for change in the palm oil industry, aiming to reduce its disastrous environmental and social impact. In Papua, some of the biggest companies, such as Sinar Mas, Musim Mas and Wilmar, have all abandoned plantation plans after signing up to ‘no deforestation’ policies.1 The Indonesian Government may also finally take some action to bring the industry under control. A new moratorium on palm oil permits is reportedly being prepared and the Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya has made clear that one of the moratorium’s main objectives is to save Papua’s forest.
However, many companies with ambitions to vastly increase their plantation area are still looking to Papua as one of the few areas where large amounts of land are still potentially available. Plantations on this new frontier are often much larger than elsewhere in Indonesia, meaning huge environmental destruction and drastic changes which have a devastating effect on local indigenous populations.
Accurate information on how the oil palm industry is developing in Papua is crucial to be able to assess whether the changes in the industry will actually protect the forest and make a positive difference to the lives of indigenous Papuans, or if it will just give a better image masking the same old problems. Nevertheless, obtaining full data is still a major challenge. This series of articles aims to give it a shot, profiling a few of the newest companies to start operations in Papua, especially companies which have recently started cutting the forest, or appear to be preparing to start work. The first is a particularly worrying case, where forest clearance started last year: Pacific Inter-link.
In a remote area of Southern Papua an immense block of 2,800 square kilometres (the size of Luxembourg, or three times Singapore) of primary rainforest has been given permits for oil palm, and deforestation has already started. In an incredibly brazen move by local politicians, (later supported by the Forestry Ministry), this whole area was given away to just one company, the Menara Group, divided into seven contiguous concessions.
The Menara Group has since sold most of the concessions to two Malaysian-based companies: Pacific Inter-link took four of the concessions (PT Megakarya Jaya Raya, PT Kartika Cipta Pratama, PT Graha Kencana Mulia and PT Energi Samudera Kencana) and Tadmax Sdn Bhd took two (PT Trimegah Karya Utama and PT Manunggal Sukses Mandiri). The remaining concession, PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu, either still belongs to the Menara Group or has been sold to an unknown buyer.
Pacific Inter-link started work on one of the concessions, PT Megakarya Jaya Raya in mid 2015. Satellite images show that by April 2016, 2,840 hectares of forest had been cleared. About one third of that area was on deep peat, and the area lies within an intact forest landscape. Most of PT Megakarya Jaya Raya’s concession is classified on Indonesian government maps as primary forest, as are the other three concessions.
in the case of Wilmar, the abandoned plantations would have planted sugar-cane. ↩