West Papua Oil Palm Atlas Introduction

Plang PT. RMLOver the course of several months, we have tried to collect as much data as we can about the oil palm industry in Papua. We have done this through a process of internet research, communication with local Papuan NGOs, church organisations, indigenous organisations and other activists, and attempts to contact government and corporate sources. We hope it is a reasonably good guide to the state of the oil palm industry in West Papua and its implications for local people.

Unfortunately the information is not as complete as we would like it to be. Our aim was to provide a picture of every oil palm company with a permit to operate in Papua, together with a location map, information about who owns it, and what permits it has. However, that is not always so easy. We have been unable to obtain full lists from local government offices in most parts of West Papua, so we are left to fill in the gaps from local community reports, media and our own research. The biggest difficulty is often trying to get information from the local government, many refuse to co-operate, most never pick up the phone and so are hard to contact if resources don’t permit a personal visit.

If an oil palm company wants to apply for permits, it usually has to approach the Bupati, the elected leader of each Regency. If the Bupati agrees in principle, they will look for suitable land and issue a Location Permit. Later the company will need recommendations at the provincial level, and if the land is classified as state forest, then it will need a permit from the Forestry Minister to release the land from the state forest estate.

Several observations might shed some light on why this permit process is so untransparant: Curiously, it appears that more location permits are given out towards the end of an leadership term in the run-up to new elections, which can lead to the view that natural resources are being held hostage to politicians’ private interests. The company and government technical teams also frequently argue the case that the land is “secondary forest” so they won’t have problems with the moratorium on new permits in primary forest areas. There is also very little consideration of the local social context when the government considers whether to release land from the state forest estate.

However, for the indigenous forest communities living on the land which the companies are eyeing up, it is vital that they get full information about the company’s plans at the earliest possible stage. As they are the customary owners of the forest, and dependant on it, they have the right to make a free decision about what happens to the land. However, often the first time they hear about plans is when a company approaches them with a proposal to buy the land. By that stage, the company will have been given at least a location permit, without the community having sat down and discussed the plans. Companies then frequently use techniques of deception or intimidation to acquire that community’s land, using state security forces or middlemen who have family connections to the local communities. It is very easy for a company to create conflict within a community in this way, splitting them into pro- and contra-, and these conflicts can be used to the company’s advantage. Communities which are better informed before the situation gets complicated are in a much better position to decide how they want their forest to be used.

The Papua Oil Palm Atlas is also an attempt to provide information about the different companies controlling the oil palm industry in the land of Papua. These companies often use local names, or names which will give the impression of being pro-people and pro-environment, but in fact they are often controlled by members of the business elite, part of large corporate groups which work together with multinational companies. Typically these companies will also have businesses in other sectors such as logging, industrial tree plantations, mining and industrial-scale fishing, both in Papua and in other parts of Indonesia.

Some of the corporate groups which are involved in the oil palm business in the land of Papua are amongst Indonesia’s richest business people accordng to Forbes (2014) data: the Musim Mas group owned by Bachtiar Karim (personal wealth 2 billion US$), the Raja Garuda Mas group owned by Sukanto Tanoto ($2.11 billion), the Sinar Mas Group owned by Eka Tjipta Widjaja ($5.8 billion), Salim Group owned by Anthony Salim ($5.9 billion), the Rajawali Group owned by Peter Sonddakh ($2.3 billion). Most of these groups has more than one concession for an oil palm plantation, and some have other businesses, such as the Rajawali group which is also developing sugar-cane plantations in the Merauke area.

Other major companies involved in Papua are the Austindo Nusantara Jaya Group, owned by a wealthy businessman called George S. Tahija, who was well as oil palm is developing the sago palm processing industry in the Metamani area of South Sorong, and an electricity plant in Tembagapura, Mimika. The Kayu Lapis Indonesia Group has its roots in logging, and is the largest operator of timber concessions in Papua. The Medco Group is also active in industrial timber plantations, pulp and mining around Papua. A South Korean company, Korindo Group, is using land which it previously logged for its plywood business to plant oil palm. There are several other foreign companies operating in Papua: the Tadmax group from Malaysia and Pacific Interlink from Yemen which have concessions in Boven Digoel, the Lion Group from Malaysia, with a large plantation in Bintuni Bay, Noble Group, which has offices in Hong Kong has two operational plantations, and Carson Cumberbatch from Sri Lanka which is clearing land near Nabire for oil palm. In contrast with other parts of Indonesia, only one oil palm plantation is operated by the state – PTPN II in Arso. PTPN II’s other plantation in Prafi, Manokwari has recently been contracted out to a Chinese company, Yong Jing Investment.

Apart from these big national and transnational companies, our research has also shown that there are also several ‘mysterious’ companies who pioneer new investments, using their links with local government to obtain permits for plantations. These companies operate very discreetly and try to avoid having any kind of public profile. They don’t have websites, their offices in Jakarta bear no company names and reception staff invariably refuse to give out any information. Two such companies are the Menara Group which got permits for seven subsidiaries in Boven Digoel before selling most of them on (one of the Menara Group’s commissioners is a former Indonesian police chief), and PT Pusaka Agro Sejahtera Group which has managed to get permits in South Sorong, Maybrat, Mimika and Jayapura. Another example is also in Boven Digoel, where three plantation companies have listed their address at a law firm, but that law firm wheen visited refused to give out any information about any client which might want to start oil palm companies. Our visit was met with a similar response at the listed address of PT Mega Mustika Plantation and PT Cipta Papua Plantation, which both have plantation plans in Sorong. There are indications that this kind of company’s interest is speculative – once all the permits have been obtained, then the individual plantation company will be sold on to another company (one of the big national or transnational companies), that has greater access to capital and will actually operate the plantation. However this type of shady behind-closed-doors business practice makes it impossible for any dealings with the local indigenous community to follow principles of free prior informed consent.

Our data isn’t complete but we try to be honest about the holes in it. On the maps on the following pages, the plantations marked in darker green are where the borders are known with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Where we know the general location but not the exact boundary the plantation is marked in light green. Finally, where we do not have reliable location information at all, we just place a box with data about the company as near as possible to where we think the location might be. In the accompanying articles, as much s possible of the sources we have used has been referenced. We haven’t included information which we regard as unreliable, but we have to acknowledge that the data here is only as good as the sources which it is based on.

However, we do believe it is important to struggle for full and accessible information about plantations and other development plans, so it can become a tool of the wider struggle for communities to take control over their own future. If data is difficult to access, it is because it is deliberately being concealed by those with a vested interest in denying communities this right.

Hopefully this publication is one contribution to that struggle for open and accessible data about plantations in Papua, but our hope is that it is something that can be built on. Until the system changes, there is a need for more people to pro-actively go out and find information at the local level, and share it with others. Bringing necessary information that has been hidden into the public domain entails a collaborative effort of many people, as does ensuring this information reaches rural communities which are likely to be affected by development projects.
Ideally this will not be a static project, but it will be possible to produce future editions. The completeness of this however, is very much dependent on reliable information at the local level. Therefore we appeal to local activists, community members or those who have access to government data to recognise the importance of open and accessible information, and to publish yourself, or get in touch with us.

Download the full report here: [English] [Indonesian]

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