Dying from Hunger in the World’s Rice Barn as PT Medco depletes Kampung Zanegi’s Forest

Anak-Domande-150x15021/06/2013 When the MIFEE food and energy development project was launched in 2010, it was imagined that it would turn Merauke into Indonesia’s national ‘rice barn’ which could even export food around the world with all its billions of hungry mouths.

Between 2007 and the present day, around 80 Indonesian and foreign companies have been given location permits to invest in MIFEE developments. Around 18 companies have active operations in Merauke, dominated by sugar-cane and oil palm plantation companies. One of the most active is PT Selaras Inti Semesta, a subsidiary of the Medco Group which runs an industrial tree plantation.

PT SIS has been gobbling up the natural environment around Kampung Zanegi, in the Malind District of Merauke, West Papua. Thousands of hectares of forest have been felled and taken away to PT Medco Papua Industri Lestari’s factory in Kampung Buepe, in neighbouring Kaptel District. Machines in this factory then grind these wild trees into millions of wood-chips. PT SIS has a production target of between 2 – 10 million tons of wood chips every year and also needs three million tons of fuel wood annually for its operation. To produce the wood-chips hundreds of thousands of hectares of land is needed.

The wood-chip business has proved very attractive to investors, especially seeing as the government has made it easy to create these industrial tree plantations. Two companies from South Korea, LG International and Y-Han International, have bought a share of PT SIS’s business. The price of wood-chips in the global market is also high; in 2010 the standard export price was US$350 per cubic metre. Millions of tons of wood-chips from the forests around Zanegi are shipped outside of Papua to meet the energy needs of the world’s population as it is struck by an energy crisis.

PT SIS has depleted and altered the forest around Zanegi supposedly to save the world from this energy crisis, but conveniently for the company, has also opened up a business opportunity which promises billions or even trillions of Rupiah in profit.

This is in sharp contrast with the Malind people of Kampung Zanegi, who are the traditional owners of forests and sago groves that lie within PT SIS’s concession area. They are still living in poverty, it is hard to find food, maybe they only eat once a day. Most of the people leave the village from Monday to Friday, they stay in temporary bivouacs in the remaining forest which has not yet been cleared, beat sago palms to obtain the starch, go fishing in the river, go on hunting trips which inevitably take many days, needing to go far from their bivouacs to find animals. Younger villagers go to the company’s camp to work for the survey or transportation teams with low wages of Rp70,000 a day. Only teachers and schoolchildren remain in the village.

PT SIS had promised to change the fate of the Malind People of Zanegi, to bring development to a primitive people, bringing the change from a difficult life to a more comfortable one, from being spectators to taking charge of their lives, but none of this has ever materialised. There forest is cut down and there has been no improvement compared to before the company arrived, said Amandus Gebze. “We are just given compensation as if we were maggots being brushed away. The company deceived us. They only gave us 300 million rupiah in exchange for all our forest”, he said. The people of Zanegi have demanded that the compensation for wood increase from 2000 Rupiah to 10,000 Rupiah per cubic metre, but the company has paid no attention.

Now this recent poverty and suffering is really starting to be felt by the people of Kampung Zanegi. Between January and April 2013, four children died in Kampung Zanegi, suffering from respiratory tract infections, severe vomiting and diarrhoea or malnutrition. Dozens of small children are suffering from skin infections andbloated stomachs due to hunger.

Vitalis Gebze presented his son, who the doctor had sent back from the hospital in Merauke City. The child was five years old but only weighed three kilograms. Instead of the cheery face of a child, he looked like a grumpy adult, his head big with bulging, downcast eyes, his skinny body like bones wrapped in skin and with a swollen belly Walking caused difficulties. “The doctor sent this child home because he wasn’t suffering from any illness”, said Vitalis. Medical provision in the area is very limited, and the government has made no response to this extraordinary situation. PT SIS also has doctors and a clinic, but they are reserved for its employees. PT SIS’s promises to build health facilities were never realised.

Most people in Kampung Zanegi believe that the sickness and suffering affecting their children are connected with PT SIS’s presence on their land. “The company is working further upstream and so the water flows down into the swamps, the sago groves and the Sakau River which flows through the village. The people use this water for eating, drinking and bathing”, said Magdalena Mahuze, a mother from the village.

Rainwater brings waste poisoned with pesticides from the tree nurseries flows into the swamps, land and streams and even into the village, and mixes with discarded waste oil from the company’s machinery and vehicles. People drink water from the polluted swamp, but then the childrens’ bodies start to weaken and they succumb to stomach bugs, itchy skin and respiratory infections. Fish are seen to swim as if drunkenly and many die. “The water tastes different”, said Matius Kaize.

Widespread forest clearing with noisy chainsaws and wood-splitters have meant that animals move deeper into the forest. “Nowadays it is hard to find meat by hunting animals. The old paths to find animals aren’t there any more, and when hunters don’t find food in the forest, they must look further away. Which means that people’s income decreases and they themselves rarely eat meat – if they get the chance then it’s maybe only once a month”, said Bonafasius Gebze.

Bonifasius also related that people find food in the forest, such as tubers, fruits, leaves, nuts and mushrooms, as well as traditional medicines, but all of these are also becoming difficult to find as the forest around the village changes. Sometimes they are also not even able to harvest the crops they plant in their gardens because they have already eaten by hungry wild pigs and deer.

One frequently-used food source is the government’s program to provide poor people with rice and other basic foods. Although this rice aid is bad quality, people do not protest. Other foods can be bought in a village shop run by a settler from outside Papua, but the prices are high. A daily wage of 70,000 a day is only enough to buy two kilos of rice (for Rp22,0000), a kilo of deer meat (Rp25,000), spices for one meal (Rp5000), tea, coffee and sugar for a day (Rp15,000), and what’s left can buy three betel nuts (Rp3000). Often people have to also find forest products to sell to be able to supplement this with any additional basic necessities such as instant noodles, milk, snacks, or cigarettes.

“Not everyone in Zanegi works for the company. at the moment there are 26 employees but in March there were only nine”, said Vitalis Gebze, who has worked for PT SIS since 2012. Most people don’t have work, so don’t have any income and just eat what they can, mostly roast sago and boiled bananas. It is common that people go hungry because of insufficient food.

Most of all it is babies and small children that fall victim of hunger and malnutrition. The effects are, amongst others that the children become smaller and shorter, suffer from learning difficulties and falling IQs, loss of stamina or endurance, become less productive and suffering frequent illnesses. Malind people, who are known for being tall, big, strong and skilled warriors, are facing the threat of being pushed aside by development, their bodies becoming weak. Maybe they will even be wiped out as a people. Similar situations are also found in other villages in Animha and Malind districts.

Malind people in Kampung Zanegi have good reason to ask what is the point of the MIFEE project, and who does it benefit. The problems it has brought: bloated hungry bellies, malnutrition, poverty and environmental destruction are serious issues that must be resolved.

[translator’s note: (25/06) This article was written and published in Indonesian by Pusaka on their website on June 25th. As I was halfway through translating it, I received an email from the author. He had just received a text message from Vitalis Gebze, to say that the boy described in the article had just passed away. Jakarta doctors who were shown photos and a researcher from the Forest People’s Program who had seen similar cases when working for UNESCO in Africa, both confirmed that the symptoms were consistent with ‘busang lapar’ (a disease of malnutrition which could be kwashiorkor or marasmus). This brings the total of children who have died this year to five. He suggested that people contact local government offices to express concern about this situation. Here are some contacts in Papua (if calling from outside Indonesia, the Indonesian dialing code is +62, drop the first zero)

1. Pemerintah Provinsi Papua: Jl. Soa Siu Dok II, Jayapura, Papua, Telp. 0967 – 533381, 533084 dan Fax 0967 – 531044

2. UKP4B: Jl. Prof. Moh. Yamin SH. III No. 1 A, Angkasapura, Jayapura, Prov. Papua (99113), Telp: 0967 521649 dan 0967 521619.

3. MRP Papua: Jl. Raya Abepura, Kotaraja, Jayapura (99351), Telp. 0967 – 531 033 dan Fax 0967 – 531 033.

4. DPRD Papua: Jl. Dr. Sam Ratulangi No. 2, Jayapura, papua. Telp. 0967 533580 dan Fax 0967 533691

5. Pemda Merauke: Jl. Brawijaya, Merauke, Telp. 0971 321001

6. DPRD Papua: Jl. Brawijaya No. 107, Merauke (99616) Telp. 0971 – 321265 dan 323803

To send text messages to the Papuan Provincial Government: (0812 40881967).]

Source: http://pusaka.or.id/2013/06/pt-medco-menguras-hutan-kampung-zanegi-rakyat-tersingkir-dan-menderita-lapar-di-lumbung-pangan.html

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