Three Clans in Yang Village Oppose new Plantation Companies

[awasMIFEE note: The letter below, from members of the Auyu ethnic group living near the Kia River, is in reaction to pressure to accept a new investor on their land. An Auyu man, vested with some authority from the local government, has been acting as a broker, in this case reportedly pushing people to reject one potential investor in favour of a new one, getting them to sign documents they didn’t understand and also giving them money. The community now fear that if two companies have rival claims over their land, and they are being pressured to take sides this will produce a conflict in which they will become involved.

Here’s a little bit of background on the companies involved: PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu is one of seven Menara Group concessions which obtained permits in Boven Digoel, and the only one which was not sold on to a Malaysian company. That company distributed money as compensation for taking the Auyu people’s land back in 2013, and even though that process was also coercive and manipulative (the company did not allow a proper decision making process, it held one meeting in the regency capital and then distributed cash) the community recognise that this transaction will in practice give PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu rights over their land. The new companies are PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Abadi, which has been allocated an area of 37,010 hectares in Subur subdistrict, PT Bovendigoel Budidaya Sentosa, with an area of 30,190 hectares in Kia sub-district, and PT Perkebunan Bovendigoel Sejahtera, with an area of 39.440 hectares, however maps of the concessions are not available. Although the ownership of these companies cannot be confirmed, all three are registered at the office of an oil palm company called PT Bumi Mitratrans Marjaya, which is owned by Vence Rumangkang, one of the founders of the Demokrat Party].

A statement of opposition to the new companies which wish to operate on PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu’s concession by the indigenous people of the Kia River watershed in Boven Digoel, southern Papua.

PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu is a subsidiary of the Menara Group. In April 2013 PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu paid money to the indigenous community to release their customary land to the company – the Woboi and Afu clans in Meto village were given this money on Monday 22nd April 2013. Since then the company has disappeared and has yet to surface, now in 2017 entering the fourth year. We don’t know whether or not the Indonesian State has any regulations to deal with companies which disappear in this way, such as revoking their permits.

PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu’s disappearance without a trace was perceived as an opportunity by other companies. So in early November 2016, one of the three companies whose permits were signed by the Bupati of Boven Digoel regency in November 2015 came to Asiki, accompanied by an official of the Boven Digoel Indigenous People’s Association (LMA) and encouraged the local people to oppose PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu, with the reason that the company had been absent for so long leaving no way to be able to get in touch with them.

The LMA official prepared a letter of agreement with the new companies, pushed the people who felt they were being held in Asiki without consent to sign a letter of opposition, giving each of them an envelope containing 1 million Rupiah. They were told that their signatures were only for the attendance list, but it seemed that a lot of signatures were required, and the attendance register was a thick book. It appeared we were being forced to sign, (in particular by the LMA official). Now we feel we were lied to and forced to sign something which we didn’t ourselves properly understand.

The Woboi and Afu clans in Meto and Yang villages are clans whose ancestral forest is part of PT Usaha Nabati Terpadu’s concession and is now targetted by other companies as explained above. The following are some of the clear points which arose from a meeting of the Woboi and Afu clans which took place in Yang village on 2nd January 2017. Read More »

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The traps and manipulations that place control in the hands of capital

Oil palm companies in Papua refer to themselves as a pioneer industry, opening up the interior, trailblazers for new investment and stimulators of local economies. The government has prepared various pieces of legislation to facilitate investment, permits and economic incentives to smooth the way for this pioneer industry, even providing security through the use of state security forces.

On the ground, companies introduce a system of contract law relating to transferral of land rights, in which this is a legal requirement and a condition to obtain cultivation rights title (Hak Guna Usaha). Traditions and customary law around land tenure and land use are stripped away, and they are obliged to follow national laws and corporate management protocol. If there is any recognition of indigenous traditions and precepts, such as a ritual to ask permission or a gift, then it is only undertaken as a formality, a matter of business ethics.

The Worait clan, along with the majority of the Aifat people living arounf the Kais and Kamundan rivers in South Sorong and Maybrat Regencies, and the Puragi people around the Metamani River, South Sorong, are currently having to deal with one of these pioneers of oil palm plantations, part of the ANJ (Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk) Group. Three subsidiaries of ANJ are operating in the area: PT Permata Putera Mandiri (PPM), PT Putera Manunggal Perkasa (PMP) and PT Pusaka Agro Makmur (PAM), with a total planned plantation area of 82,468 hectares.

The majority of the ANJ Group’s licensed area is forest land which was formerly part of PT Wanagalang Utama’s logging concession, which was part of the Kalimanis Group owned by timber mogul The Kian Seng alias Bob Hasan. Then, in 2011, 2012 and 2014 the government issued a series of decrees to release the land, which had been classified as production forest which may be converted, to be turned into oil palm plantations by ANJ’s three subsidiaries.

The minister gave his approval to release forest land, changing its intended use from forest to non-forest (ie. deforestation) to become an oil palm plantation, only based on technical considerations from state bodies concerned with forestry, accordance to spatial plans, and of course economic and political considerations under the pretext of being a “national programme” and in the name of development. The minister issued his decrees without consultation or agreement of the local community. Such policies and practices still work on the assumption that the state has an absolute right of control. It is in contradiction with the Papuan Special Autonomy Law which recognises the rights of indigenous Papuans.

The way that business works in Papua is that corporations use government decrees as assets and a means to consolidate power, and then take control of the land. The majority of the people are not able to reject government decisions and company plans to use forest products and land, just as they couldn’t stop the logging companies that used to exploit the forests in this area, destroying sacred forest areas, clearing social and cultural sites, logging areas which provided food and economic resources for the community.

Memoria passionis, the memory of irregular incidents, violence, discrimination and violations of basic rights that have occurred time and time again in decades past, and continue to the present day, has made the community choose a defensive attitude, preferring to giving in easily rather than being subjected to more violence and insinuated allegations, and the risks of other kinds of aggression. Read More »

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In 2016 plantation expansion in Papua slowed due to international pressure – but can it last, and can indigenous Papuans set the agenda?

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 »

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The Auyu people strategise to defend their rights.

The problems around local objections to oil palm companies menacing the territory of the Auyu people around the Digoel and Ki rivers in Boven Digoel regency are not over yet. Now, local government has issued location permits to three new palm oil companies.

The three companies are PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Abadi, which has been allocated an area of 37,010 hectares in Subur subdistrict, PT Bovendigoel Budidaya Sentosa, with an area of 30,190 hectares in Kia sub-district, and PT Perkebunan Bovendigoel Sejahtera, with an area of 39.440 hectares. These companies all come from Jakarta and operate from the same address: 11th floor of the Graha Pratama building, Jl. MT Haryono Kavling 15. The three companies were issued with location permits in decrees issued by the Bupati of Boven Digoel in November 2015.

The communities in Meto village in Subur sub-district and Watemu village in Kia sub-district, admitted to feeling anxious as company staff and government officials showed up, accompanied by organisers from the official indigenous association (LMA) of Boven Digoel Regency.

Lukas Kemon, a community leader from Meto village related that “The government and the head of the Boven Digoel LMA, Fabianus Senfahagi, brought the company here to take away our land. They didn’t hold a consensus meeting with the community, and we fear the company will destroy our entire forest”.

Some time ago, company staff and Fabianus Senfahagi, who as well as being head of the LMA is a well-known figure amongst the Auyu people and is head of Satpol PP (Civil Service Police Unit) in Boven Digoel, came to visit villages near to the Ki river, in Subur and Kia sub-districts. They attempted to persuade the community to accept the companies’ plans. Company workers also carried out a survey and entered the forest without the community’s permission.

Lukas Kemon gave a summary of the plans, promises and offers the company and government had made: They told us that the Auyu people should not continue to be poor, to live in poverty in the forest, asking for handouts and suffering. We’re bringing you a good company, they said, its leadership includes religious leaders, it’s sure to do good work. You have to accept these companies moving onto the Auyu lands.

In 2011, exactly the same thing had happened, community figures at the regency and sub-district level showed up with government officials and staff of the Menara Group oil palm company, approached the community, gave them donations, compensation money, and then asked for their agreement and signatures so the company could obtain land for an oil palm plantation. Tens of thousands of hectares of land and forest belonging to the Auyu people in Subur, Kia and Jair sub-districts is now in the company’s clutches, and meanwhile the community has descended into conflict and disharmony. Read More »

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Declaration of Indigenous Papuans affected by Forestry, Plantations and Mining.

A conference of indigenous Papuans affected by the forestry, plantation and mining industries was held in Sorong on 2nd and 3rd December 2014,  a follow-up to a similar conference held in Waena, Jayapura in 2014. This is the joint statement agreed by participants in that meeting.

Joint Declaration

We, as representatives of indigenous peoples from the land of Papua who live in and around forest areas, along with civil society organisations from around Papua and further afield, held a conference in Sorong on the 2nd and 3rd December 2016, to discuss various problems related to development policy and investments in forestry and land, and their effects on people and environment.

We have repeatedly conveyed the facts surrounding the negative impacts of investment in forestry and land on the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples around Papua, including violations of their right to life, right to freedom, right to justice and freedom from discrimination, right to not be tortured, right to feel safe, rights to our land, forest and territory, violations of the principle of free, prior informed consent, right to food, right to welfare and development, and also low rates of pay and poor working conditions, forest degradation and destruction, and environmental damage.

We wish to state our pain and deep concern about all these rights violations, the suffering and the losses which we have experienced, both in the past and until the present day, which have come abut as a result of forestry investment and exploitation of forest products, plantations and mining, carried out by private or state-owned companies, with no just settlement or attempts at redress for what we have lost.

We wish to state our concern at government plans and policies for the acceleration of development in the Land of Papua, by providing opportunities and increased flexibility for wealthy companies, through the large-scale national food and energy development programme in Merauke, expansion of oil palm plantations and other export commodities, exploitation of forests, industrial forestry plantations, mining permits, transport infrastructure, and so on, all of which take place with insufficient prior protection of our fundamental rights, our right to land and livelihood and environmental conservation.

Based on this scenario, we would like to make the following recommendations: Read More »

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The Menara Group* has not carried out its obligations.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Forestry Minister issued decrees releasing state forest land to twelve oil palm plantation companies in and around Jair sub-district of Boven Digoel Regency.

Five of those companies are owned by or still have connections with a Malaysian company, the Menara Group*: PT. Usaha Nabati Terpadu (37.918 ha), PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya (39.920 ha), PT. Kartika Cipta Pratama (38.160 ha), PT. Graha Kencana Mulia (38.725 ha), PT. Energi Samudera Kencana (38.525 ha). Currently, only one of these companies, PT Megakarya Jaya Raya is operational, and is based in Anggai Village, Jair Sub-district, Boven Digoel Regency.

According to Stevanus Meanggi, a resident of Anggai village, PT MJR has been clearing forest since 2013, and has currently cleared an area of over 3000 hectares, which is less than 10% of the concession. The majority of the area has been planted with oil palm. The company is also trying to develop a plywood factory at a place called Sabageran.

The head of the Planning Division of Boven Digoel Forestry Service, Zeth Manti, reckons that PT MJR has been under-performing in the oil palm business, meaning the company is behind schedule with planting. “They once applied for a two-year extension of their permit for the nursery, although it would have been possible in three months. There are obstacles and objections to land acquisition coming from the community, and maybe that’s because the company failed to approach the community beforehand”, said Zeth Manti.

Several problems have been identified, including the following: there are still clan members who have not agreed to let a company manage their land, intimidation to acquire land, an unfairly low level of compensation for land, clearing sago groves, a low rate of compensation for timber – 10,000 Rupiah per tree, discrimination against Papuan workers, low wages, company promises that haven’t been followed-up, the company ignoring agreements it has made, the community has still not received a written agreement concerning the use of the land and so on.

Zeth Manti complained that actually a company should make regular reports to local government and related bodies concerning matters such as any obstacles encountered, how work is progressing and draft work plans.

Companies have a responsibility to make regular reports and send them to us, so we know about the company’s situation. But in fact this company has never reported to us or coordiated with us”, he said.

Zeth Manti had also heard the information that a plywood factory was being built in Anggai village, and that a traditional ritual to offer thanks for its development had been held, but the Boven Digoel Forestry Service had not been informed or invited, and so they had no further details. Read More »

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DAP statement on potential mining related conflict in Nifasi, Nabire

(This statement was first published on November 18th)

PT Kristalin Eka Lestari first arrived in Nifasi, in the ancestral land of the Wate people, in 2007, but left after exploration did not yield results. PT Kristalin then made an agreement with the Makimi indigenous group in 2012. There has been no activity between 2012 and 2016.

PT Tunas Anugerah Papua made an agreement with the people of Nifasi in 2014 and started operations. This included corporate social responsibility activities, which included setting up bank accounts for each household, paying for education, health, religious facilities and even a motorbike for each head-of household, as well as distributing basic foodstuffs each month paid from production profits.

The Mosairo River forms the boundary between the two blocks, the Makimi Block and the Nifasi block.

The main issue

Arriving as a contractor to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua in early October 2016, PT Kristalin came to Nifasi village and set up their outpost next to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua’s basecamp. They took over a community outpost and replaced it with a military post. As there was no response from the Nifasi indigenous people PT Kristalin Eka Lestari rallied around 30 members of the military (Yonif 753 Raider) and several Papuans from the highland Dani tribe to secure the location so the company could mine it. A military post was set up directly, displaying a sign reading NKRI Harga Mati: “Unified Indonesia or Death”.

To provide cover for this plan, the local unit commander sent a letter to the district commander in Paniai asking to use the area as a training ground (letter reference B/621/X/2016, dated 17th October 2016), but this is just a pretext to remain in the area for an indefinite time. Each time they bring fuel or food they say it belongs to the Regional Military Commander.


This situation has made the Wate people in Nifasi anxious, as they are continually being questioned by members of the military. On 7th October the military also conducted a sweeping operation, looking for foreign workers.

Another impact is that PT Tunas Anugerah Papua’s work is disrupted, which has meant that corporate social responsibility activities have been disturbed, such as a prayer meeting with the local community which was blocked by army forces. The security forces intimidated employees and were believed to have taken material belonging to PT Tunas Anugerah Papua. Read More »

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As oil palm moves in, the Yei people’s forest slowly disappears.

Yance Mahuze, a well-known member of the Yei ethnic group from Toray village, Sota sub-district, Merauke Regency, was unable to conceal his sadness. His eyes were glazed with tears. What was going on? He looked over his ancestral forest, now an oil palm plantation. Some individuals from the Yeinan tribe (a sub-ethnic group of the Marind people), had agreed to sell their land to plantation companies.

The land is situated at the upper reaches of the Maro River, which flows through many villages on its way to Merauke city. Villages inhabited by the Yei people include Erambo, Toray, Poo, Kweel, Bupul and Tanas. To reach these villages, you have to follow the Trans-Papua road.

Oil palm is not only found in Sota sub-district, it has also arrived in Elikobel. Mahuze feels a sense of pity, since as far as the eye can see the forest that was formerly full of trees is now replaced with oil palm

Previously, he said, the forest was dense, and so if people wanted to visit relatives across the border in Papua New Guinea, they just had to walk for a few hours. Now, with the trees gone, it is too hot. “You need more than a day to reach PNG”, he said.

The local government in Merauke and Papua Provincial Government have allowed oil palm investment to enter the Yei people’s land, and they have been free to fell trees on a seemingly limitless area. Many sacred places, places where the ancestors used to stop or burial sites, and even sago groves, have been cleared.

“Places which used to be totally forbidden to clear are now being felled for oil palm”, he said.

He said that there are two companies operating in the Yeinan forest on the Indonesia- Papua New Guinea border: PT Internusa Jaya Sejahtera and PT Agriprima Persada Mulia.

When they first arrived, the companies promised to give work to Yei people. “But promises remained mere promises, Now, the forests, rivers, swamps and animals in the Yeinan area no longer belong to the Yei people”, he said.

The forest has always been their source of food, he said. They meet their everyday needs from the forests, whether frrom the different kinds of plants or the many species of fish. The area is also rich in animal live, including cassowaries, other birds, ground rats, pig-nose turtles, crocodiles and more.

When the Catholic church arrived in the Yeinan area, it introduced rubber, which the local people have diligently planted.

The upper reaches of the Maro River where deforestation has occurred have silted up. Riverine wildlife can’t bear living in the Maro River. He explains that many turtles have been coming onto the land to take shelter under tall trees. Normally, the people find the turtles on the banks of the Maro River. The same goes for crocodiles – there used to be many in the Maro River, but now they have moved to the Wanggo River.

“The Merauke local government must stop any more investors coming to Yeinan”, he said. Read More »

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A statement from indigenous people in Boven Digoel

This statement was drafted during a meeting between indigenous Papuans affected by plantation development, NGOs and local government representatives, on 4th and 5th November 2016.

We are representatives of the Auyu, Wambon and Muyu peoples, who live within the administrative area of Boven Digoel Regency, Papua province, and primarily in villages that are targets for investment in the forestry and plantation sector. We have held a dialogue with government and policy-makers from Boven Digoel, along with Civil Society Organisations PUSAKA, SKP Merauke Archdiocese and WWF Papua, concerning government policy to protect and respect the rights of Papuan indigenous people to land and natural wealth. The even was held in the PBHK Convent Dormitory in Tanah Merah, on the 4th and 5th November 2016.

We take the view that the land is like our mother who protects human beings and all living creatures found on or under the earth. For us, land has many uses – it is the place we live, the place we build our lives together, a place for hunting, sacred places, holy places, historic places, our source of food, our source of income, our source of medicines, our particular social and cultural identity, a habitat for animals and plants, the land which is transferred when a marriage takes place, and a place for things visible and invisible.

We indigenous people control and own land and natural wealth based on customary law and the customs alive within each community, such as systems to regulate inheritance, gifts and fines. Land management and land use is still based on local knowledge and customs, decision-making councils, mutual aid, family labour, the use of traditional tools and working at a small-scale to meet life’s needs, also paying attention to protecting the environment.

We are currently facing problems and threats due to the investment activities of logging and oil palm companies which are taking land and forest products from our ancestral domain on a large scale. The companies are: PT Tunas Sawa Erma (Korindo), PT. Usaha Nabati Terpadu, PT. Trimegah Karya Utama, PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya, PT. Manunggal Sukses Mandiri, PT. Megakarya Jaya Raya, PT. Kartika Cipta Pratama, PT. Graha Kencana Mulia, PT. Energi Samudera Kencana, as well as logging companes PT Tunas Timber and PT Bade Makur Orissa, which all together have permits for 1,088,394 hectares.

The government gives out permits to companies without the local indigenous community first holding a meeting to decide what they want and give their agreement. The companies acquire land without a collective community decision or free and fair negotiations. Companies use a method of payment which they call “tali asih” [a vague term used to mean a thank-you payment] to obtain land from customary rights owners. They also organise celebrations, give aid, make promises of development, make open or veiled threats of violence, use manipulative techniques, and ask people to sign empty sheets of paper. When ‘tali asih’ or compensation money is given, it takes place secretively and as the company chooses and so only serves to create conflict and tension between members of the community, mutual suspicion and a feeling of disharmony. Read More »

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The voice of Papuan workers: the companies came and our income dropped.

When the oil palm plantation companies first arrive in the villages they promise jobs for indigenous Papuans, an effort to implant dreams of improved economic well-being and higher incomes. Once work starts however, the promises aren’t followed through and the imagined changes never come about. Meanwhile, the land and forest which used to provide the community livelihood disappears and control over the land passes to the companies.

This is the experience of indigenous Papuans who live near oil palm plantation companies. Coercive means are used to take their land and then the people have no other choice than to become labourers for the oil palm companies.

Marta Kandam (19 years old) a Papuan woman who lives in Gententiri village, Jair sub-district, Boven Digoel, told of her experiences before and after the arrival of an oil palm company.

“The economy of the community in Getentiri before the company arrived was based on rubber-tapping and our forest gardens. We used to sell the rubber to Pastor Keis. Our monthly income could be as much as 2.5 or even 3 million Rupiah,” she related.

The majority of peoples living along the Boven Digoel river have rubber farms and are dependant on that commodity as their main source of income. According to the head of the agriculture and plantation agency in Boven Digoel, Martinus Wagi, up to 6,000 hectares has been planted with rubber by the local population.

When the oil palm plantation PT Tunas Sawa Erma arrived in Gententiri, Jair sub-district and Ujung Kia, Kia sub-district, they felled and cleared natural forest, sago groves, rubber farms and plantations of fruit trees, which were replaced with oil palm plantation and company infrastructure.

“We stopped tapping rubber and went to work for the company, as unskilled plantation labour. We get paid for every day we work, but it still works out as less than before the company came. After we started working for the company, even if we work really hard, the monthly wage is only one and a half million Rupiah, or a bit less, no more than that”, Marta said, who has been working as a plantation labourer.

Read More »

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