Food estate plans back with a vengeance for Southern Papua.

The awasMIFEE website was set up in 2012 to provide news on the implementation of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, a 1.28 million hectare megaproject which had been launched by the Indonesian government in 2010. A decade later, the expansion of rice and other food crops has not been realised on the scale imagined, even though the MIFEE project has had one main impact on the ground, through the impulse it has given to the expansion of palm oil plantations in the north-east of Merauke Regency. Nevertheless, the fantasies of the Jakarta elite to flatten the forests and savannahs and drain the wetlands of swathes of southern Papua have not gone away. The spectre of the megaproject was raised once again in 2015, when President Joko Widodo visited an experimental rice project run by the Medco group. Now, since July 2020, the government has been seriously trying to revive the plans once more

Claiming that agricultural expansion is needed to counter a threat to food security posed by the coronavirus pandemic, in 2020 Indonesia relaunched a nationwide program of food estates, modern and industrialised agricultural projects on a vast scale. The first project was to be in Central Kalimantan, on peatlands which were the site of another failed megaproject, the Mega Rice Project. Appointed to a key role in the project, the military has already started clearing forest for a cassava plantation in another part of Central Kalimantan.

Further food estate areas are being proposed around Indonesia, in North Sumatra, South Sumatra and East Nusa Tenggara Provinces. Potentially the largest food estate however, is reserved for southern Papua – not just Merauke Regency but also including parts of Mappi and Boven Digoel Regencies. The area currently being considered is over 3.2 million hectares, virtually all of which are natural forests, savannahs and wetlands, within the territory of several indigenous groups who have not yet been consulted.

The plans have been roundly criticised by enviromnentalists, indigenous and peasant movements. A new report, published recently by a coalition of NGOs which details the current state of the food estates around Indonesia  appeals specifically to banks, development agencies and other institutions not to support these reckless plans. The report is available in English and Indonesian, with one page summaries also available in the following languages: English, Indonesian, Chinese, German, Korean and Japanese.

Indonesian NGOs have also produced other useful resources on the new food estate programme:

  • Pantau Gambut has produced an excellent website, focussing specifically on the Central Kalimantan food estate, and debunking many of the myths around food security put out to justify the programme. (in English and Indonesian)
  • Madani has a in-depth briefing of the current state of the food estate in all parts of Indonesia. (in Bahasa Indonesia)
  • The Indonesian Center for Environmental Law has a briefing on legal aspects of the food estate programme, and the new legislation which has been created to facilitate it. (in Bahasa Indonesia)


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