Ecological Annihilation in the Aru Islands.

[awasMIFEE note: this article is about a planned 500,000 hectare mega-plantation in the Aru Islands. Although they lie due south of West Papua, administratively they are part of Maluku Province. It was in Aru that Alfred Russell Wallace first observed the fauna which the archipelago shares with Papua – birds of paradise and marsupials such as kangaroos – which gave him the key to developing the theory of evolution. Now almost the entire land surface of the island group is planned to be turned into a sugar-cane plantation.

The company involved, Menara Group, appears to be venturing into plantations for the first time, previously its main activity was creating software for the banking sector. However, they are going for it in a big way. As well as the 500,000 hectare sugar-cane plantation in Aru, reportedly producing sugar for export to Malaysia, the same company has also obtained permits for 400,000 hectares of oil palm in Boven Digoel Regency, which borders Merauke to the north. In May 2013 awasMIFEE published a report of how the Auyu people in that area were confused when the Menara Group started distributing money there, claiming it was a ‘permission fee’ to use the land.

A new website has published many articles on the plantation plan and resistance to it (mostly in Indonesian). An Avaaz petition against the plantation has also been launched: ]

Ecological Annihilation in the Aru Islands

For many years the ocean’s riches around the Aru Islands have been depleted without bringing any meaningful increase in the islanders’ standard of living. Now six of the Aru islands are threatened by a 500,000 sugar-cane plantation involving 28 different subsidiary companies of the Menara Group from Jakarta which want to cut all the forest. Are we going to sit back and watch it happen?


In late August, more than 1000 people took to the streets of Dobo city, Aru Islands Regency, Maluku province. They had marched from the Yos Sudarso field around Dobo city, before finally moving towards the Forestry and Plantation Service office, the District Legislative Assembly and Aru Regency Government to demand the relevant authorities revoke the permits of the Menara Group and other similar companies that are currently exploring the forests in the area. The huge demo, which included students and indigenous people amongst others, was triggered by news that around 500,000 hectares of forest in six of the Aru Islands have been designated as the site of a future sugar-cane plantation. If this plan goes ahead – and permits in prinicple as well as recommendations have already been issued – then the forests of Aru, home to birds of paradise, kangaroos and black cockatoos, will vanish. Not only this, the Aru Islands are a main buffer for the ecological balance on nearby islands.

The last remaining stronghold of mangrove forest in Maluku also will be wiped out if 500,000 of the Aru Island’s 650,000 hectares are converted to sugar-cane.

If this whole island group is converted to sugar cane, we can assume that “environmental annihilation” is a definite threat. That’s to say nothing of the adverse social impacts the development would bring. The forest on these islands has supported the local indigenous people for time immemorial.

Moreover, the area to be exploited will affect sites which according to local beliefs cannot be touched, and should never be damaged. That is what has provoked the anger of Aru’s indigenous people. They were trying to meet with the Governor of Maluku, but failed as he was in Jakarta at the time. After they couldn’t meet him, on Tuesday 9th September they came en masse to the research and development board of the Maluku Protestant Church to tell of their feelings.

“If a fisheries company wants to invest in Aru, we will welcome them with open arms. However, planting sugar-cane will destroy the forest and plunder our ancestral lands,” sail Selpianus Kwalepa, secretary of the Jargaria Indigenous Association.

He came together with Z. Sair, the leader of the Jargaria Indigenous Association, Yoseph Gaite, the leader of Ursia, Saleh Jerumpun, the leader of Urlima, NGO activists and others. They felt insulted because the land had been handed down from their ancestors and until now had always been well looked after, and now others were trying to get hold of it without getting permission from its true owners.

“It’s strange isn’t it. If I would go into your house silently and then just start taking things, you would be angry with me, right?” Selpianus said in the Maluku dialect to Reverend Jacky Manuputty, head of the Maluku Protestant Church’s Research and Development board.

From provisional data that organisation has collected, the proposed land for sugar-cane exploitation includes land administered by 28 villages spread throughout the Aru islands. The concessions in each village vary in size, the smallest being 11,590 hectares and the largest 20,000 hectares. The boundaries of each of these concessions has been laid out by the permits in principle that the Aru Regency leader has issued as well as in the recommendations issued by the Maluku Governor for each of the 28 companies.

Many people have wondered whether these permits and recommendations have followed the proper Environmental Impact Assessment process. Indeed, a cursory analysis are a strong sign that these permits and recommendations conflict with the Presidential Instruction 10/2011 about a moratorium on new forestry permits for primary forest and peatland signed in May 2011.[awasMIFEE note: not sure about this since land for sugar-cane is a specific exemption to that piece of legislation].

After that law was drawn up, the Maluku Governor signed the permits for the 28 companies on the 29th July 2011. Curiously, there were no plans for any large-scale plantations in the Aru Islands’ land use plan. What is happening in the Aru Islands is only one of hundreds or even thousands of similar cases that have sprung up since the enactment of the regional autonomy Law number 22/1999 (which was later replaced by Law number 32/2004). With these pieces of legislation, the authority to grant permits for mining or plantations was devolved from the central government to the regions, whether at the provincial, regency or village level

It is strongly suspected that such licences are like an ATM machine where local government can take as much money as they want from investors (see Ferdy Hasiman, “Demokrasi atau Borjuasi”, Kompas, 21 September 2013) Therefore it is not surprising if the massive exploitation of natural resources that causes such “ecological annihilation” continues to spring up all over the place Even more so because of the motive to grab as much profit as possible to recuperate what was paid out to ensure a successful election campaign. Does this “ecological annihilation” really have to happen on Aru? Are we going to sit back and watch it happen?

Source: Lantan Bentala No. 171/ThVII/23 September – 6 Oktober 2013, Republished by

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