CIFOR: Indonesia’s Papua agro-energy program must go low-carbon

BOGOR, Indonesia (10 October, 2013) — Large-scale land acquisitions connected to a major food and energy development program in the Indonesian province of Papua, could be improved to better meet socio-environmental sustainability standards, according to the findings of a studyby scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program, which was established in 2010, is aimed at expanding and accelerating economic development in Indonesia by cultivating food and energy stores on up to 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of land in the district of Merauke in Papua.

Developed in stages, the first phase of the project involves around 600,000 hectares (1,483 acres) of land. With an initial injection of about 1 trillion Indonesian rupiahs (approximately $110 million) by the Indonesian government and significant investment from the private sector to add to that, the program is expected to result in substantial infrastructure development and job creation.

However, the CIFOR study reveals the need to bolster environmental and social safeguards to prevent the risk of deforestation, biodiversity loss and social tensions, while also ensuring the program meets its food and energy objectives.

“We found that most of the land allocated for MIFEE has been reserved for timber and oil palm plantations, leaving relatively little land for food crops such as rice, soybeans, corn and cassava which would contribute to the enhancement of food security, as the program is intended to achieve,” said Krystof Obidzinski, a CIFOR senior scientist and lead author of the paper.

“About half of the proposed MIFEE plantation area is located in primary and secondary dryland forests, and local governments are taking steps to ensure most official forest estate zones are excluded from those targeted for plantation investment,” he said.

Available studies indicate there is a wealth of biodiversity in this part of Papua which may be threatened by land investments if not controlled and monitored properly.
Scientists used proxy data gathered from the western Indonesian island of Sumatra – the closest comparable dataset available – and concluded that the conversion of these lands could emit up to 524 million tonnes of carbon emissions; accounting for 70 percent of the entire carbon emissions under MIFEE.

The potential emissions of significant levels of carbon present a sizeable challenge to the province, given that Papua is drawing up a regional action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has established a taskforce to oversee low carbon development in the province.

Indonesia has made a pledge to cut emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels nationwide.


“Papua has huge potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from land-use change in Indonesia,” Obidzinski said, referring to Papua’s 25.8 million hectares of mostly undisturbed forest, which makes up 83 percent of the province’s total land and almost one third (27 percent) of Indonesia’s natural forest area. Keeping these forests standing will maintain significant carbon sinks and biodiversity in the region.

Policymakers are expected to pass a provincial spatial plan that aims to maintain 94 percent of the forest in Papua and designate at least 60 percent of it as protected forest. Yet for effective monitoring and enforcement of the plan, stakeholders agreed that greater socialization about emissions reduction among the public and government officials is needed.

At a recent CIFOR-led workshop, representatives from government, private sector, academic circles and non-governmental organizations gathered in Merauke to identify the opportunities, challenges and steps needed to achieve low-carbon development in the region.

“When MIFEE and Indonesia’s Masterplan for Economic Development entered the arena, people did not think (about) whether or not (it would be) in line with our efforts (to establish) low carbon development,” said Agus Rumansara, head of the Papua Taskforce for Low Carbon Development.

“The meaning and aims of the regional action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been well understood by many of the local government working units,” added Frederick Norotumilena, head of the Environment Sub-Division at the Papua Regional Development Agency (BAPPEDA). “However, we are trying to socialize staff step-by-step, filtering down to the district level.”


The difficulty of putting national policy into practice at the local level is due to a lack of technical understanding and overlapping data on concessions — permits allowing resource extraction, the report said. The absence of regulations at the local government level have meant that environmental impact assessments carried out by companies and monitored by government officials – which safeguard against environmental degradation – have become mere formalities without much impact on environmental sustainability on the ground.

Heru Komaruddin, CIFOR researcher and co-author of the study, emphasized the need for several key factors: better coordination between central, provincial and district government levels for improved spatial planning and effective permit processing; encourage the use of non-forested, degraded land for plantations through fiscal incentives; and establish criteria and verifiers for low carbon development by which communities, academic institutions and the private sector could monitor.

Indeed, the role of the community, particularly customary groups in MIFEE must not be sidelined. As plantations open up and people move to work on them, stakeholders must ensure quality of working conditions and that large-scale migration does not add to conflict over land rights and competition over livelihoods.

“MIFEE will always require share of the land from the community,” said Anselm Meo, a Catholic priest of the Agung Merauke Diocese, referring to the fact that 84 percent of villages in the province are settled in forest areas. “When the community lets go of their rights or gives permission to use their land, they do so with certain expectations of what share of the benefits they may gain.”

It is important therefore, that MIFEE prioritizes communities’ free, prior and informed consent for investments and encourage inclusive, participatory mapping exercises to enhance clarity on land tenure, he said.

Additionally, Meo calls for the training of local people to cultivate their land with MIFEE-related commodities and make use of the market that MIFEE provides. “This is far more strategic than giving management to companies and investors, with communities benefitting only in the form of compensation, which is not very empowering.”

Across the board, there was an appreciation by all stakeholders of the forest being a fundamental part of Papuans’ identities.

“They identify themselves as with the nature,” Meo said, adding that nature is seen as a mother… “(the) forest as their land has provided life for them until today.” Indeed, keeping this in mind will be an important part of achieving inclusive, green growth in Merauke and Papua as a whole.

For more information on issues discussed in this article, please contact Krystof Obidizinski at

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID Regional Development Mission in Asia (RDMA), the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID) and the Netherlands Development Cooperation.


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