Is the government about to take action to save Papua’s forests?

There are positive indications that President Joko Widodo’s recent promise to place a moratorium on new oil palm permits across Indonesia may soon become reality. Statements from key figures in the Forestry and Environment Ministry suggest that one of the main aims of this new policy is to stop the same kind of decimation of forests happening in Papua as has already taken place on Sumatra and Borneo.

The news website has been reporting on developments, and most recently has published an interview with Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya, copied below. The minister described the four stage process currently underway at the ministry to review all permits to release land from the state forest estate for plantations. Apparently all new applications have already been rejected,  and the next stages will be to terminate the process for all applications which already have in-principle permits, and then revoke forest release permits granted in 2015 and 2016.

The fourth stage would happen at a later date, but would go even further,  a review of old permits which were granted before 2015. The example she gives, 300,000 hectares of forest which has been granted permits but is being treated as a ‘land bank’ by Malaysian companies, appears to refer to the concessions granted to the Menara Group in Boven Digoel, now sold on to Tadmax Sdn Bhd and Pacific Inter-link. Cancelling these permits alone would save a significant tract of undisturbed lowland forest.

If all this is true, it would undoubtedly be good news for the forests of Papua, where over a million hectares is thought to be at risk from oil palm development. It would also be good news for indigenous communities, as there are almost no existing palm oil plantations which have not brought serious social problems, such as conflict and loss of livelihood.

However, any optimism must be tempered with caution. The policy governing this new moratorium has not been published, and some parts of the oil palm industry have been lobbying against it.  The government’s existing moratorium on new permits in primary forest and peatland hasbeen shown to be a weak instrument, and has been gradually reduced in size as companies lobby for new permits.  How effectively any new moratorium is implemented would also be an important issue.

Finally, a oil palm moratorium alone would not solve all the problems that rural indigenous Papuans face as a result of the structural discrimination and structural violence that pervades Papuan society, including Papuan communites who have to deal with the effects of plantations which have already started work around Papua.  Nevertheless, if the plans the minister outlines below do come to fruition, it would be an extremely positive step forward. Read More »

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Indigenous people and activists demonstrate against oil palm expansion in Sorong

[awasMIFEE note: as the indigenous people of Sorong, Nabire, Merauke and elsewhere around Papua continue to resist oil palm expansion, there now appears to be some hope that the government is responding. It appears that President Joko Widodo’s comments last April that he was preparing a moratorium on all new oil palm permits are being followed up. Professor San Afri Awang, the Director-General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, has stated that “We have rejected and terminated the licensing process for all new palm oil plantations submitted by 61 companies for an area of more than 851 thousand hectares.” All 61 applications were from Papua, West Papua and Central Kalimantan provinces. The President is reportedly preparing a Presidential Instruction to give a legal framework for the moratorium. Of course, until this is published and we see how it is being implemented, it is not possible to know how much meaningful change this policy might bring]


Hundreds of indigenous people and activists from a range of backgrounds, demonstrated at the Sorong Regency District Legislative Council to demand a stop to the expansion of oil palm which has already destroyed thousands of hectares of forest in the area.

This action is also to show their support for the central government which last month started talking about a moratorium on new land for oil palm in Indonesia.

“All work on oil palm plantations across Sorong Regency must be stopped, because thousands of hectares of the people’s forest has already been destroyed”, participants shouted out during speeches outside the council building.

The indigenous people and activists which have joined the movement to oppose land clearing for oil palm are comprised of young Moi intellectuals, the Malamoi Indigenous People’s Association and Moi people who care for the Malamoi forest, youth and student movements (GMNI, GAMKI, GMKI, the Association of Moi students in Sorong Muhammadiyah University (Himamus) and the Moi Students’ Association in Indonesia (Himamsi)). The action started on foot from the public ground in Aimas, the Sorong Regency capital.

The chair of the Sorong Branch of the Indonesian National Student Movement, Manu Mobalan stated that they were also opposing new land for oil palm as a protest against the behaviour of existing oil palm plantations in Sorong, which have destroyed the forest in the area.

“The oppression of ordinary people is increasing, which means we need a opposition movement to save the Malamoi forest. Investors do not look after the interest of oppressed people”, said Manu. Read More »

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Brimob and how the Yerisiam Gua people’s sago groves were cleared.

Sima, 11 May 2016 – During a discussion on Monday 9th May community representatives were asked if they agreed with PT Nabire Baru’s statement that police mobile brigade (Brimob) were stationed on the company’s premises because the community had requested their presence. They instantly replied that they didn’t.

“How could we have asked for them? How could bringing in Brimob to work as security guards be anything to do with us? We have never asked Brimob to come here. Actually their presence makes us feel nervous, not safe”, said Karel Maniba during the discussion.

The community were protesting the presence of Brimob guards who protect the company’s operations fully armed, causing anxiety within the community. Brimob were seen on the ground when the Manawari sago grove was first cleared on 12th April 2016.

That day Enos Abujani was the first to notice two excavators clearing the sago grove and immediately went to tell his neighbours. Armed Brimob guards were there, watching over the land clearing.

Around 550 square metres were cleared on the 12th April 2016, including 15 stands of sago palms. “I felt my stomach churning as I watched them work. It was as if they were destroying the contents of my stomach”, said Gunawan Inggeruhi who joined three other community members in protesting the land clearance the following day. [The sago palm is the staple food of lowland Papuans].

The community challenged the land clearance four times. On the 16th April, as the company still hadn’t stopped work, they went both morning and afternoon to complain.

“It’s just that sago grove that we are asking they don’t clear. Because that is our livelihood. If I pound the sago inside the trunk, I can get 100,000 Rupiah, I can buy the things I need, such as salt, MSG, soap. If the grove is cleared I feel I have lost out, I feel sorrow, as if I have been stripped naked”, said Mama Yakomina Manuburi, holding back her anger.

Some community members have already been to ask members of the District Legislative Council (DPRD) to help, or have sent complains about this problem to the Nabire police chief. A representative of DPRD Commission I has been to visit the area. However, neither the council or the police chief have shown any clear will to stop the sago groves being cleared. Read More »

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Forest in the Kalasou Valley threatened by oil palm.

Forest belonging to the Moi indigenous people in the Kalasou Valley, Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, is currently under threat, targeted by an oil palm plantation company.

The Bupati of Sorong, Stepanus Malak, issued location permit 221/2011 on 23rd December 2011 to oil palm company PT Mega Mustika Plantation (MMP), covering an area of 9835 hectares. This location permit was renewed once more on 1st April 2014 by the Bupati’s decree SK 660.1/127/2014. PT MMP’s intended plantation site is between Saengkeduk, Selekobo, Klamugun, Miskum and Siwis villages, in Klaso and Moraid sub-districts, Sorong Regency.

PT MMP keeps on trying to persuade the community to give it access to their land for a plantation. In 2012, the commuunity in Klasou Sub-district protested against the plans. “We had sent the Sorong Regency Forestry Service a letter opposing oil palm plantation company PT Mega Mustika Plantation’s plans to come and start work on our traditional lands, but the Forestry Service has never responded, and the government has even given an in-principle permit to the company,” said Hormes Ulimpa, a young member of the Moi ethnic group from Siwis village, Klaso sub-district, who was disappointed at the government’s decision.

The government body he was referring to is the Environment and Forestry Ministry, which has continued to process the company’s application and has issued in-principle permits to release land from the forest estate to two oil palm companies: PT Mega Mustika Plantation was issued decree 5/1/PP-LKH/K/2015 for ± 9,168 hectares and PT Cipta Papua Plantation was issued decree 6/1/PP-LKH/K/2015 covering ± 15,310 hectares. Both permits were issued on 23rd April 2015.

The head of the Sorong Forestry Service, Benyamin A Hallatu, invited the community and the company to a meeting to discuss the plantation boundaries in the Forestry Service meeting room on 28th April 2016, which was attended by sub-district and village heads, land owning clans and the two companies, PT Mega Mustika Plantation and PT Cipta Papua Plantation.

Moi Youth representatives and leaders protested about the invitation to this meeting, Konstan Magablo, a young Moi activist said that “we are disappointed in the local government and the Environment and Forestry Ministry, because when the Moi people’s land becomes oil palm plantations it only creates conflict; we have already seen an example of conflict with PT Henrison Inti Persada’s oil palm plantation in Klamono district, which is still ongoing”.

“The forest is our future and must be protected. We will create a working group to organise people in the villages and give them accurate information about plans for oil palm plantations which would use our ancestral land and their potential impacts”, Konstan said, and he is planning protests against the government and companies’ plans.

The Moi young people hope that the presidential policy to establish a moratorium which will put a stop to new permits for oil palm will be implemented, not just on paper.

Read More »

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The Salim Group’s Secret Plantations in West Papua.

salim location map

There is strong evidence that the Salim Group has been acquiring and starting to develop oil palm concessions in West Papua province, which could result in the conversion of 117,000 hectares of forest and grassland to oil palm.

The Salim Group is one of Indonesia’s biggest business conglomerates and it’s main agribusiness division, Indofood Agri Resources, is the third largest private producer of crude palm oil.1 Although many other major producers such as Musim Mas, Wilmar and Sinar Mas have all cancelled expansion plans in Papua after signing up to commitments to avoid deforestation and peatland development, the Salim Group has made no such pledge.

Four plantations in West Papua province are thought to be linked to the Salim Group, some of which are already operational. Work started on PT Rimbun Sawit Papua towards the end of 2015 and environmental groups also believe that another company PT Subur Karunia Raya has established an oil palm nursery. A third concession, PT Bintuni Agro Prima Perkasa, has reportedly planted an area of food crops to win the support of local indigenous people. The last company, PT Menara Wasior, is still engaged in the permit process.

Examining the deeds for these four companies shows they are all registered to addresses associated with the Salim Group, and many of their directors have experience working for other Salim Group companies. However, none of them have been incorporated as subsidiaries of Indofood Agri Resources (Indo Agri) which is listed on the Singapore stock exchange, nor any other publicly-traded Salim Group company (Jakarta-listed IndoAgri subsidiaries Salim Ivomas Pratama or London Sumatra, or Hong Kong-listed parent company First Resources).

A strong possibility is that these plantation companies are held by shell companies under the ultimate control of Salim Group boss, Antoni Salim. The group is known to hold plantation assets outside the publicly-listed companies, which have previously been incorporated into the main company.

Indo Agri is less exposed to international market pressure to cut deforestation out of supply chains than many other companies as it has a strong domestic market in Indonesia through its link to Salim Group food and supermarket businesses. Nevertheless, Indo Agri makes an attempt to maintain an image of being a responsible company: it has joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and publishes detailed sustainability reports. However, if the same corporate group uses an non-transparent ownership structure to shield a set of plantations which would not meet the RSPO’s environmental and social criteria, then these initiatives are clearly just greenwashing.

Here’s a short description of each of the plantations and a summary of the evidence linking their ownership to the Salim Group: Read More »


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Marap Indigenous Group claim back three oil palm plantation divisions in Arso.

tiga-lokasi-perkebunan-sawit-di-arso-di-tarik-kembali-oleh-masyarakat-adat-suku-marapIndigenous land owners from the Marap people in Arso have used customary law to take back oil palm land owned by PT PN II as part of its Arso plantation, specifically the Core III, Core IV and Core V divisions. The action took place at Yamara village PIR 3, Manem sub-district, Keerom Regency, on Wednesday 27th April.

Maickel Fatagur, the head of the Fatagur clan which holds customary land rights, alongside other clans such as the Wabiager and Gumis clans, said that they will no longer hold any kind of meetings with the company. That is because they have used customary law to take back the land PTPN was using.

“We’e used customary law to take the land back. That means now there will be no more meetings with the company. The land now belongs to us. We invite PTPN II Arso to take back its oil palm and we will take back our land. That’s all”, Fatagur made clear to the Manager of PTPN II’s Arso plantation on Wednesday at Tami in Manem District, in Keerom.

According to Maickel, PTPN II has operated the Arso plantation on the Fatagur clan’s land, and that of its sub-clans, for around 30 years, but the local community, who hold the customary land rights, have never felt economically secure

“All these years attention has never been paid to the wellbeing of the community who hold the customary land rights on the land used by PTPN II Arso at the three locations in question, Core III, Core IV and Core V, which amount to 1300 hectares”, said Fatagur.

Dominika Tafor, the secretary of the Boda Student Association (Himpunan Mahasiswa Boda) in Keerom who is also an indigenous member of the Marap ethnic group, said that she was supporting the action taken by local indigenous people.

“We strongly support the action which the Marap community of Workwama village are taking today. We support it, because for so many years the company has not paid attention to the fate of the community. They only come to destroy”, she said.

When the indigenous people arrived at the plantation office in Tami, PTPN II’s Arso plantation manager, Hilarius Manurung, recieved them and said that he would take their wishes on board and pass them on to the Keerom local government.

“Since we’re a state owned company, we can only listen to all aspirations and complaints and pass them on to the local government for further action. There’s not much we can do. What we can do is to follow up all these complaints from the community,” said Manurung. Read More »

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Government approach in Papua criticised in Human Rights Commission Indigenous People’s Inquiry findings.

inkuiri nasional

“The government needs to review its concept of development in Papua, based on principles of respecting and protecting human rights…. …The government, churches and indigenous peoples must formulate development concepts specific to Papua, resolve conflicts over rights and natural resource management and eliminate the stigma of separatism from communities which are struggling to defend their basic rights.”

That’s one of the recommendations of a new report, in four volumes, published by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, into the rights of indigenous people living in forest areas. It presents the findings of a national Inquiry, which heard evidence from indigenous people in struggle across the Indonesian archipelago in 2014. There’s a long list of other recommendations to different ministries and government bodies, notably including urging the police and military to withdraw their personnel from corporate premises in indigenous areas. The report’s authors for the Commission also state a clear opposition to the MIFEE project, advising the government to “revise regulations and policy concerning plantations and large-scale agriculture projects, including MIFEE, which result in violations of indigenous rights”.

In the findings and analysis section in the first volume, some specific issues affecting different regions were considered. In Papua, as well as singling out MIFEE for criticism, the report’s authors sharply criticised the Indonesian government’s security approach in Papua, where amidst a history of structural marginalisation and human rights violations, the Papuan people are routinely stigmatised as separatist troublemakers for defending their basic rights. The relevant paragraphs are translated below.

The Stigma of Separatism in Papua.

124. Papua is rich in abundant natural resources. Gold, silver, fish, forests, rattan and oil can all be found there. Papua makes an extremely large contribution to Indonesia every year. However, the irony is when this richness is compared to the condition of the population. For decades the people of Papua have been hounded, arrested, tortured, imprisoned, killed and continuously labelled with the stigma of being separatists, treasonous or members of the OPM. They have also been structurally and systematically made powerless and impoverished.

125. The Inquiry Team has found that in the Papuan context, security and political issues receive more prominence than development and community empowerment. Demands for community participation to ensure and protect indigenous rights to land and natural resources more often than not considered as a threat to political and economic stability.

126. Additionally, Papua’s special autonomy status has proved unable to provide a solution to agrarian and natural resource conflicts. Again and again, the response to indigenous people’s efforts to defend their rights is to stigmatise them as belonging to armed groups or the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).

MIFEE (Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate)

127. The problems around MIFEE were raised in the public hearings, where the Inquiry Team heard evidence from indigenous Marind people. The MIFEE programme is part of the Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), as part of Corridor 6 – Papua and Maluku. Plans to go ahead with MIFEE were reaffirmed in Presidental Regulation 32/2011 which set out the MP3EI plan for the period 2011-2015.

128. Starting from 2010, and encompassing 2.5 million hectares of land from the total 4 million hectares which make up Merauke Regency, the project is part of the central government’s attempt to make Merauke a centre for food production. When it was launched, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that the project was targeted at “feeding Indonesia and the world.” But in the end, the arrival of MIFEE just brought injustice for the Marind Anim people had always used the forest to find food. Because of MIFEE, the forest was felled, sago trees which are their main food source were cut down and animals could no longer be found when hunting. All this has made it hard for local people to find food.

129. MIFEE was devised without the wider participation of or consultation with the local community, despite the fact that the MIFEE project area included their customary lands, Almost all activities connected to MIFEE concern the exploitation of natural resources, However, human rights and environmental carrying capacity are not important considerations. Currently tensions have begun to emerge as work starts on MIFEE projects.

130. By 2014 tensions connected to MIFEE had started. If the programme is continued, MIFEE could cause natural resource-based conflict and ecological damage, bringing no benefits to indigenous people or other local communities. MIFEE could also violate the rights of future generations to enjoy their environment or lose their roots or identity.

Download links (Indonesian)

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PT Selaras Inti Semesta continues logging, but isn’t giving work to Zanegi villagers

[awasMIFEE note: PT Selaras Inti Semesta is a subsidiary of the Medco Group, which is also developing industrialised rice production on the Merauke area]

Merauke, Jubi – the community in Zanegi village, Malind District has expressed their disappointment in a company which has been felling the trees in their forest and processing the wood, PT Selaras Inti Semesta. The problem is, after around three years of operation, PT Selaras Inti Semesta is not providing work for a single member of the community.

“Actually in 2010 when the company started work, around 30 villagers from Zanegi were recruited by the company and given work. However, in 2012, their employment was terminated, with the company giving the reason that no more logging work would take place. But actually logging has continued until the present day”, village head Ernes Kaize told Tabloid Jubi on Wednesday (23/03/2016).

Kaize said that over the last three years, local people who hold customary rights in the area have not been given work. This is despite an agreement with the company that villagers would be given work for as long as the company remained in operation.

He said that he had visited the company leadership repeatedly and asked about this agreement to provide a livelihood for local people. However unfortunately, the response has been less than satisfactory. “Honestly, I’m getting bored of going to the company, but never getting a clear response”, he said.

When asked about the amount of land used, Kaize admitted that he didn’t have a clear idea. “I’ve already tried to ask how many hectares of the community’s forest has been felled and how much will be felled, but the company did not give me the data”, he said.

He said that where the land had been cleared, it had been replanted. But this was not the case everywhere. “We hope that the company is truly committed to replanting trees in the areas it has felled”, he said. Read More »

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The Mahuzes

‘The Mahuzes’, a film about conflicts between indigenous people and agribusiness companies in Merauke, was released in Indonesian last year, and now it is available with English subtitles. It’s one of a series of documentaries produced as part of the ‘Ekspedisi Indonesia Biru’, a one-year road-trip on motorbikes by filmmakers Dandhy Laksono and Ucok Suparta, visiting diverse communities around the archipelago, often communities in struggle.

The Mahuzes follows one clan of Marind people in Muting village, where oil palm companies have started clearing land in the last few years on five massive plantations. The effects of these plantations are having a major impact – even the water from the Bian River has become undrinkable. The Mahuze clan is resisting – refusing to sell their land, erecting customary barriers to forbid the company from entering – but the company (PT Agriprima Persada Mulia) just pulls up their boundary markers. As well as these direct conflicts with the plantation companies, we see how they attempt to deal with the conflicts that inevitably arise when irresponsible companies show up with compensation money – there is an emotional peacemaking ceremony between the Marind and the neighbouring Mandodo people, but also anger in meetings that some elders in their own clan may have struck a secret deal with the company.

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate was originally launched as a massive industrial agriculture project in 2010, but it failed to reach the stated ambition in its original plan, and the cluster of oil palm plantations around Muting were some of the only developments that have actually started work in the last years. However, in May 2015 President Joko Widodo travelled to Merauke to relaunch the plan to convert over a million hectares of forest and savannah to mechanised rice production. The filmmakers also visit the site of the new rice development, revealing that once again the central government is ordering a mega project without due consideration of the local social and environmental conditions. One issue is the water – Irawan, who works for the water provider, explains that most of the water in the flat Kurik sub-district comes from rainfall. How could these conditions possibly support huge areas of irrigated rice-fields?

The Marind people’s staple food is sago, and sago palms grow abundantly in groves in the forest. As Darius Nerob explains in the film “If we plant rice, it’s 6 months before we can eat. But with sago, any day we need, we can just go and fell a tree… This tree can feed a family for half a year…. Even though the transmigrant program has existed for 33 years, Marind people have stuck with sago, they haven’t shifted to rice.” Read More »

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Nabire: Akudiomi village government forbids forest and marine resource exploitation.

Akudiomi village in Yaur subdistrict of Nabire Regency (also known as Kwatisore village) looks out over the Cenderawasih Bay Marine National Park, and is home to whale sharks which are frequently visited by local and foreign tourists.

Several days ago (10/02/2016) in the Akudiomi village hall, the village administration held a meeting with the community, tribal leaders and religious and church leaders to discuss prohibiting the exploitation of forest and marine products by companies. Many companies have been operating in the village’s administrative area recently, damaging the environment.

The village took this step because its natural environment is being plundered and destroyed by people acting irresponsibly. Fishermen from outside Akudiomi are destroying the sea which provides local peoples livelihood by dynamite, potassium and poison. Villagers say that large numbers of dead fish can be seen floating around the area due to people using these destructive techniques.

Another reason is that the sea around their village faces the protected Cenderawasih Bay National Park, which should compel the community and village administration to take a firm stand in looking after the area for the future.

This prohibition also applies to their forest, where they will stop all businesses that try to operate. This represents the shared commitment of the Akudiomi village community.

Following on from this decision, all businesses will be cleared out of the Akudiomi customary and administrative territory on the 22nd February 2016, when the village government and the whole village community will join in a ‘cleaning’ operation. Copies of the decision were also sent to the Consultative Leadership Board (Muspida) and other relevant parties. Read More »

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