How Oil Palm companies are threatening the livelihood of the Kamoro and Amungme indigenous peoples in Timika.

By Santon Tekege***

[awasMIFEE note: This is an opinion piece by Santon Tekege, pastoral staff for the Catholic Diocese of Timika, where he looks at some of the issues surrounding PT Pusaka Agro Lestari’s oil palm plantation in Mimika Regency, not far from the city of Timika. Following mounting criticism of the company, notably by the church, the Bupati (elected regency leader) of Mimika took the decision to revoke PT Pusaka Agro Lestari’s permit to operate in December 2014. However, he bowed to pressure to reinstate the permit three months later. Undoubtedly, the Bupati’s hand was somewhat limited, as the company had many other permits, including Hak Guna Usaha, a form of cultivation rights title issued by the national government, which gave the company a strong legal case. However, resumption of work means that the forest continues to be destroyed, and this risks causing further flooding, which has already caused the evacuation of three villages of indigenous Kamoro people downstream from the plantation.]



The mandate of Papuan Special Autonomy law 21/2001 was to provide an response to the West Papua independence issue. It was even claimed that the law (known as Otsus) would address all the problems facing the Land of Papua. The Indonesian government’s hope was that with this law the desire for Papuan Independence would be quashed as economic well-being improved. The government truly wanted to extinguish the independence issue, and promote Indonesian nationalism in the Land of Papua. However it has not reached this goal. It’s fair to put it that way because since the Otsus law, problems which endanger the livelihoods of indigenous Papuans have actually increased. It even appears that indigenous Papuans have become a minority and could be wiped out entirely, if we look at how many people are dying or are shot by security forces stationed throughout the land of Papua.

Many people believe that the Otsus law just gave the Indonesian government, and the security forces in particular, a way in to Papua to be able to uphold the integrity of the Indonesian republic in the territory. Because of this, indigenous Papuans feel they have been sacrificed, as shooting incidents occur all over Papua, with the Indonesian security forces as perpetrators. What’s more, Papuan natural resources are being pushed to exhaustion by the Indonesian government and Indonesian and foreign capitalists. These capitalists start new businesses all over Papua, each and every one backed up by state security forces. The Indonesian Government believes that the presence these companies and their capitalist owners is part of the development process, which will bring Papua into an age of modernisation that will have a positive impact on governance and will even generate important benefits, but doesn’t think about the environmental disaster this implies for the Indonesian homeland. Especially if we consider the issue of environmental destruction in Papua which we keep hearing about. For example the oil palm companies which are springing up all over the land of Papua. The state security forces (army and police) are behind companies operating in Papua.

Plans to develop Oil Palm in several areas throughout Papua

The Papuan Provincial Government thinks that by bringing in the oil palm industry it can ensure indigenous Papuans’ welfare. The provincial government, without a thought to the impacts of the losses and disasters that may ensue, without even thinking about the importance of fresh air, have been handing out permits to operate oil palm plantations throughout the land of Papua. This kind of governance is not providing suitable development for the Papuan context. The government is blind and gravely mistaken if it believes that this kind of development will bring improvements to local people’s prosperity.

The Papuan forest is one of the targets targeted for conversion and accelerating development, and also for increasing the added value of oil palm in the global market. To achieve these targets set by the national government, the provincial administration has designated several regencies as centres for oil palm development. The regencies are: Merauke (150,872 hectares), Sarmi (71,889 hectares), Keerom (18,338 hectares, Jayapura (99,737 hectares), Nabire (32,000 hectares), Mimika (77,660 hectares) and Boven Digoel (385,167 hectares). WWF Indonesia’s palm oil coordinator for its Papua Programme has revealed that part of Papua’s forests would be used for oil palm.


From secondary data compiled by WWF Indonesia, in 2014 around 30 companies in these seven regencies in Papua Province had obtained the in-principle permit from the Forestry Ministry and around 24 companies had obtained a plantation permit (IUP) from the agriculture ministry, meaning they were able to start their business.

Although the hope is that oil palm investment in Papua might promote the regional economy, on the other hand we mustn’t forget about the environment and Papuans’ indigenous values and wisdom. In fact there are many plantation management practices which bring conflict and violence, since Indonesian state security forces provide the security for plantation companies in Papua. That means on one side, companies are using pressure from above (by using military security forces) and then on the other, the local people are pushing for their rights to their ancestral land. These two sides often clash, leading to conflict and violence. The victims are the indigenous landowning communities throughout Papua.

Oil Palm companies threaten indigenous Kamoro and Amungme people.

1. Position of the Church, Timika Diocese.

The natural world and all its contents was created by God alone according to His will. The Church as a union of the faithful has a responsibility to contemplate and act on God’s will. Humans’ response to God’s will is called faith. For this reason, the church’s involvement in looking after, restoring and conserving the environment should be based more on the call of faith rather than just a reaction to the various environmental problems which keep springing up. Whenever the Church is involved in safeguarding the integrity of creation, this is a manifestation of this faith. Love for God can be expressed through love for His creation. Also based on faith, Church elders come up with bright ideas related to how to manage the world in a way that is dignified and gives space for all creatures to live. This includes their concerns around problems related to the environment.

In the document Solicitiudo Rei Socialis (Social Concerns), Pope John Paul II confirmed once more that the progress which results from human development must always show respect towards all creatures. This attitude of respect is based on three considerations: firstly, humankind should not meet their economic needs by sacrificing other parts of creation, whether living or not, such as wildlife, plants and other elements of nature. Nature was not only created for human needs, and for this reason, humans should also feel solidarity with other parts of creation. They also need food and shelter for their survival. Humans can meet their needs without neglecting the needs of other creatures. Secondly, humans must be aware that natural resources are limited, even though renewable resources also exist. If humans, driven by a belief that natural resources will never be exhausted, use them without thinking about the sustainability of nature, then their availability will reduced, which will be a disaster for humanity, especially future generations. While humans do have a right to make use of the natural world, they don’t have a right to use it up. Thirdly, industrial development should not pollute the environment. Waste from the industrial process should not pollute the ground water, air or rivers. Environmentally-friendly industry will ensure the wellbeing both of humans and of other creatures, but dirty and polluting industry is a disaster for all beings. Industrial progress should not only be concerned with economic interests; serious attention should also be paid to possible social and ecological benefits.

Based on these reflections the Bishop of Timika Diocese urged oil palm company PT Pusaka Agro Lestari (PT PAL) to prioritise human safety over private profit. He even firmly opposed PT PAL’s operations, which are located close to Timika city. This is because the future impacts of environmental damage pose a serious threat, specifically to coastal communities, and so the Mimika Regency administration should take a firm stand concerning the company’s operations. The threat from PT PAL’s expansion of the area planted with oil palm, clearfelling forest trees around Timika, has been demonstrated by the floods that inundated coastal communities in Miyoko and Aikwapuka several months ago. Until now, people from those two villages are still choosing to remain in Keakwa village. PT PAL must take responsibility for the people in those two villages, victims of flooding.

Seeing as how oil palm expansion has been the trigger for environmental damage and even for frequent social conflict amongst the local people, the bishop urged the Mimika Regency Government not to issue more permits for oil palm operations on Amungsa and Kamoro lands. As a direct effect of plantation expansion, sedimentation of riverbeds can occur, meaning there is a potential for high tides, which combined with heavy rain can cause flooding, as happened in Mikoyo and Aikwapuka.

If this situation is allowed to continue, it is also possible that Kokonau and other villages downstream from PT PAL’s operations will share the same fate. What this means is that a man-made disaster is being created for coastal communities. The government must take a clear position and take rapid steps to tackle the problem. Apart from the threat to coastal communities, the plantation is sure to cause future problems for river transportation. This problem must not be allowed to drag on, the government must act before it caused another problem which might threaten people’s livelihoods, especially on the coast.


The Justice and Peace Secretariat (SKP) of Timika Diocese has urged the local government to immediately close down the oil palm company PT Pusaka Agro Lestari (PT PAL), as they believe it is not benefiting local people. The Bupati of Mimika has also said that the oil palm plantation should be shut down because it because of its negative effect on the Papuan people’s livelihoods. We encouraged indigenous organisations to talk about the problem and take steps as fast as possible to support the Bupati’s position of revoking PT PAL’s permit.

Local people are starting to feel the effects of the oil palm plantation in the Amungsa and Kamoro people’s forest. When heavy rain fell in the Mimika area, several villages were flooded by river waters flowing down from the plantation. This flooding losses damaged local people’s property, causing the inhabitants of three villages to evacuate to other villages. In Papua the forest has always been the place people live and look for food. It also contains cultural and religious sites.


The core of Papuan peoples’ lives lies in the forest. So if the forest is destroyed, it will have a corresponding destructive effect on people’s lives. We have all shown our support for the idea of shutting down PT PAL as fast as possible. The government should not just place a moratorium on new developments, or review the policies it adopted concerning PT PAL’s investment, but it also needs to take clear and courageous steps to revoke the company’s operation permits to prevent more forest being destroyed. The experience of several places in Papua, such as Arso, Taja Lereh, Sorong and Manokwari, has proven that oil palm investment brings absolutely no benefit for the Papuan people.

The people who benefit from oil palm in Papua are company owners and the Indonesian government. The big losers are local Papuan communities, in this case those who live on the Amungsa and Kamoro lands. We in Papua, in Timika, have no use for oil palm plantations. Truly, it only destroys the Papuan forest and surrounding ecosystems. The people in Mimika have to remain on guard until this problem is definitively resolved. The Bupati shouldn’t just talk about shutting it down but should create a team, which involves NGOs and other community organisations. However, the likelihood that current and past government officials may have some vested interests in PT PAL confirms the need for governments to think about wider society and about the viability of future generations of Papuans’ livelihoods. We’re talking about a much wider interest, that of the survival of the Papuan people, not just the survival of a few bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats. It isn’t right if one or two individuals pursue their interests, sacrificing the wider society as they do so.

Meanwhile, Thomas Wanmang has taken a firm stance about PT PAL. As a leading indigenous figure in Mimika, he has taken a position about the negative impacts. He has said that the Amungme and Kamoro communites feel they are losing out, and even feel they are being killed by PT PAL’s operations in their area. He puts it that way because PT PAL is destroying the forest and environment they need for their livelihood. Indigenous people live from the forest and its resources. For this reason, the indigenous leader is suggesting that THE LAND OF PAPUA SHOULD BE A RED FRUIT PLANTATION [The red fruit, Pandanus conoideus, is a well-known plant endemic to Papua, which many ethnic groups use for food and medicine]. We the people of Papua don’t live from oil palm or other companies that set up business on Papuan soil. We live, we eat and drink the fruit of what we plant, i.e. red fruit. We cultivate it and the harvest can be enjoyed. So, LET’S MAKE PAPUA A CENTRE FOR THE GLOBAL PRODUCTION OF RED FRUIT.

2. Mimika Government and PT PAL

The Mimika regency government, led by Bupati Eltinus Omaleng, SE, has been somewhat hesitant and confused about the company, and his policy has been quite lame, and lacking in decisiveness. The Bupati didn’t maintain his original commitment. He must have been blinded by the billions of Rupiah coming from the company. Because of this, the Bupati gave the oil palm company permission to operate once more on the Amungme and Kamoro lands.

Although the Bupati revoked PT PAL’s operating permit on 14th December 2014, after a range of studies and because of local government interests, he gave his permission once again on 15th March 2015. ((The Bupati of Mimika, Eltinus Omaleng, SE, reissued the permit to PT PAL for its oil pal plantation on Amungsa and Kamoro lands which it had frozen on 14th December 2014. This was after taking into account the interests and interventions of several authorities, in particular the Evaluation and Study team formed by PT PAL and the members of the Mimika People’s Representative Council for the 2009-2014 period, the result of a comparative study by a team from PT PAL in Sorong, a letter from the Interior Minister, from the Agriculture Minister, and other important letters from the central government. Because of all of this, the Bupati reissued the operational permit on 15th March 2015. This was reported in a local newspaper, the Timika Express, in its 16th March 2015 edition. However, this just means that there are various vested interests which are destroying the livelihood of the Kamoro and Amungme people in Mimika. Because of this, many other groups continue to oppose the oil palm company.)) This permission was included in Mimika Bupati’s decision document (SK) 127/2015. This document gave the oil palm plantation permission to recommence work but obliged it to meet four conditions: Undertake activities or investment that brings direct impacts for the people of Mimika, Giving people jobs, Empowering the community and Giving direct and indirect contributions to the community and local government in Mimika Regency.

bupati ingatkan

The Mimika local government is not being consistent with its previous statements and position. This kind of approach shows that the Bupati’s governance is weak and he is taking extremely unwise decisions as the leader of the government in the Kamoro and Amungme lands. Maybe there are also vested interests that are deliberately trying to destroy the Amungsa and Kamoro environment.

A secret meeting took place in the Rimba Papua hotel on 24th October 2014 between the Mimika Council Representatives for the 2009-2014 period and PT PAL, to discuss their interests. In that meeting, an agreement was made between the District Representative Council and PT PAL’s owners ((Pater Bert Hagendoorn, OFM, in an opinion piece entitled “Dewan dan PT PAL”, published in a local Timika newspaper “Salam Papua”, 7th November 2014)). In this closed meeting, PT PAL told the council representatives that (1) 85% of the thousands of workers on the plantation were Amungme and Kamoro and only 15% were from other ethnic groups (When the author went to the plantation to check this information, he found that the owner of PT PAL was totally wrong and speaking from his own agenda, as the majority of workers were not ethnic Papuans). (2) The owner of PT PAL said in the meeting that workers were well-paid. (This is utter rubbish intended to deceive, as the workers are not paid a fitting wage for the work they do). (3) PT PAL said that a school would be built for the workers’ families (and the company would pay the cost of education, although the government is planning free education across Papua), as well as a healthcare building, housing development and church. However, all these promises are mere deception as the company has been operating for several years, and all the while the forests are being destroyed. Faced with much opposition for the company’s unkept promises, Syahrial from the Mimika government Forestry Service stated that PT PAL had to build public facilities (school, place of worship and healthcare building amongst others), as per their original commitment. (4) The company had made an initial commitment that each worker (heads of household) would be given 4 hectares of land which they could plant with different kinds of crops, but to date PT PAL has not met this promise. (5) PT PAL has also promised to plant trees which soak up groundwater, in order to prevent flooding, but this has still not happened. PT PAL kept lying to the public in order to gain trust and permission to use customary land, and to avoid the local government blocking their operations. (6) PT PAL has promised to build an oil palm factory (when, and which palm oil producer is planning to build a factory in Mimika? Where will the labour come from? In particular, from which ethnic groups? What about local indigenous people? Will this just be more nonsense?)

tepi sungai

PT PAL has held cultivation rights title (HGU) from the central government since 2010 to develop a 39,000 hectare oil palm plantation. Before the central government issued this land title, former Bupati Klemen Tinal (now Deputy Governor of Papua), had issued a permit or recommendation back in 2007. Games like this can hurt the local people, so many people hope that the government in Jakarta and the Bupati of Mimika will revoke PT PAL’s permit to operate on Amungsa and Kamoro lands in Timika, Papua.

3. Workers

There are more non-Papuans working for the company than there are Papuans, despite its promise to prioritise workers who are indigenous Papuans, especially Amungme and Kamoro people. However the facts on the ground show that this is not the case.

The company has promised that 80% of its workforce should be Kamoro and Amungme. Also, several employees have been complaining (their names will not be published here) that their pay is insufficient and not fair remuneration for the work they do on the oil palm plantation.

4. Education

PT PAL has promised that it would build educational facilities. The company has publicised that it would take care of the education of its employees’ children. But from our monitoring of the workplace, the company has not yet built a school, and so employees’ children are still not being educated at the company’s premises. Despite the injustice and the excessive destruction of the forest and environment, the company cannot even keep to its original commitments. It would be better to put a stop to this company now rather than let the destruction of the Amungsa and Kamoro forest continue.

5. Healthcare

On the monitoring visit to PT PAL, it was observed that some workers were often falling ill. This is caused by the lack of decent housing for the workers. Yet the company has still not built a housing complex. The illnesses people are suffering from include malaria, colds and flu, respiratory problems and stomach problems. PT PAL pays no attention to these cases and lets the workers’ sicknesses persist without medical attention.

However, in the company’s presentation in the Hotel Rimba Papua, it was said that the workers were healthy and not suffering from illnesses. PT PAL has been lying to the public in order to gain their trust and continue and expand its operation,

Several employees (unnamed), when interviewed, demonstrated some of the ailments they had suffered while working for the company. It was upsetting to hear the community’s complaints about their workplace. PT PAL had also promised to build a health centre, but I didn’t see any evidence of this. In fact there is none. Once again, PT PAL has been lying to the public while it destroys the Papuan forest.

6. Location

PT PAL’s plantation lies between the Kamoro River in the East and the Mimika RIver in the West, along the Timika to Paniai road.



The Indonesian government thinks that the oil palm industry will bring sufficient economic security to people throughout Indonesia. Actually, these companies are just destroying the forest and environment of our homeland. This destruction can be clearly seen in the land of Papua.

The Indonesian and local Papuan government don’t think properly, and show their indifference and stupidity as they deliberately destroy the forest without thinking about the impacts of global warming around the world. They don’t even think about the majority of indigenous people, in this case Papuans, whose lives are dependent on natural resources. The Indonesian and Papuan governments destroy the forests, leaving indigenous Papuans to die of hunger, as it becomes hard to find food and water. In other words, the Indonesian and Papuan governments are deliberately killing indigenous Papuans.

The arrival of oil palm companies in the land of Papua brings no benefits to local indigenous people. They feel that an oil palm plantation is no longer their habitat. They feel that these oil palm companies represent an extreme form of colonisation. They even feel that the destruction of the forest means the destruction of the Papuan way of life throughout the Land of Papua. For this reason, indigenous Papuans hope that the governments of Indonesia and Papua will try to find techniques of environmentally-friendly development which does not destroy nature. From the experience which exists in Papua, the call goes out: let’s make the Papuan forest a space for the production of red fruit for the whole world.

Timika, 24 July 2015

Author: Pastoral staff for the Timika Diocese, in Papua


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  8. Media Lokal Timika Express, edisi 16 Maret 2015

  9. Media Lokal Timika Express, edisi 11 Juli 2015

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