In the far south of West Papua lies a vast flat land of forests, savannah and swamps. It is the homeland of the Malind Anim people who largely still live by hunting and gathering food. But maybe not for much longer. Such a wide expanse of land that seems so suitable for cultivation has not gone unnoticed in the Indonesian capital, many thousands of kilometres away in Jakarta, and nor for that matter, further afield.
The areas around Merauke have long been seen as having great potential for large-scale plantation enterprises. While the forests of Indonesia’s other large islands, Sumatra and Borneo, have been almost entirely destroyed, West Papua remains largely forested, the next frontier waiting for its moment to arrive. For over twenty years, grand plans to develop West Papua have been suggested: US company Scott Paper was planning to start a pulp factory, Indonesian company Sinar Mas and Chinese National Offshore Oil Company proposed 600,000 hectares of oil palm plantation, Saudi Arabia’s Bin Laden group wanted to ensure the Gulf state’s future food security with an enormous rice farm. None of these mega-projects has yet materialised but the pressure on the area continues to mount. The flat and fertile around Merauke is the prime candidate for large scale development.
The latest threat to Papua’s forests is an agricultural mega-project: the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). Described as a response to the food and fuel crises that rocked the world in 2008, it aims to answer President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s appeal to “feed Indonesia, then feed the world”, and is meant to help Indonesia guarantee its food security into coming decades. This land is viewed as idle from the skyscrapers of Jakarta’s corporate and government strongholds, who believe it would be a waste if it was not cultivated in the service of the nation. That it will dispossess local people, whose food security is dependent on a healthy forest with groves of sago palms and animals to hunt, falls entirely outside their logic.
As MIFEE unfolds and becomes reality, it becomes more and more clear that the discourse around food security has been built up in order to legitimise the entrance of more big agribusiness corporations to Papua. Many of these companies belong to the conglomerates of business leaders on Indonesia’s rich list, who are typically well connected to the military and political parties. Foreign corporations also have a stake in MIFEE, from Korea, Japan, China and Singapore.
This project, imposed on the Papuan people by the Indonesian government, can only serve to aggravate the problems faced by indigenous Papuans, many of whom have struggled since the 1960s for self-determination and against military violence and other investment projects such as the Freeport mine and BP gas project. Aside from consolidating Indonesia’s interests in Papua, MIFEE will necessitate the migration of vast numbers of people to Papua, without addressing the economic marginalisation which indigenous Papuans face on a daily basis.
Such a project should be cause for concern for farmers in the rest of Indonesia as well. For rice and other food crops, peasant agriculture is the predominant mode of production across Indonesia. The concept of a ‘food estate’ which has been given a legal basis through new laws, is also being proposed in Kalimantan and Aceh. Papua, still the refuge of Suharto-era repressive practices, could become the template for a corporate takeover of agriculture across the whole archipelago.
Yet the form MIFEE will take is still not clear. Will it be as it was originally envisaged, a new agricultural hub of intensive, integrated and mechanised cultivation, the majority given over to rice and other basic food crops, and accompanied by associated food-processing facilities? Or will that vision collapse and the familiar faces of plantation industries queue up to plant their sprawling monocultures of oil-palm and sugar-cane, creating a landscape indistinguishable from what Sumatra and Kalimantan have also become?
Or is there a chance that the plans will falter once again, and the tree kangaroos, deer and cassowary will be free to roam the forests once more? It is not impossible that this could happen. MIFEE has certainly hit some setbacks, due to a lack of infrastructure and local people refusing to give up their land. For the moment, MIFEE is still going ahead, but its future is uncertain.
The purpose of this info-pack is to bring together different threads of information that have been published about MIFEE in order to create a clear picture of what it’s all about and where the project stands at the moment. Up to now, it has been difficult to get a grasp of MIFEE because there are few coherent and reliable sources available. Many media reports are based on data from different companies or government bodies which are often contradictory or incomplete. Indeed it seems that MIFEE is made to fit the agenda of whichever company or government official is talking about it. Indonesian-language investigations and reports from groups critical of MIFEE do exist, and while we wanted to provide information in English to reach an international audience, we hope that the Indonesian version of this report will also be useful.
Most of the information contained in this info-pack is from material which has already been published online, in the Papuan and Indonesian press, by campaigning groups, financial media and companies themselves. Some information has also been supplied by local groups in Merauke, and a bit of investigation, but there has not been any first-hand fieldwork in Merauke. We have tried to choose sources that are as reliable as possible, and confirm information wherever possible in order to give the most complete outline of MIFEE we can, but of course it is not possible to guarantee the accuracy of every piece of information which has appeared in the media. Nevertheless, we hope that combining information from such diverse sources results in an overview of MIFEE that is as complete and accurate as possible. In particular, profiling each company from its ownership structure down to it actions on the ground hopefully demonstrates how the mechanisms of investment are working in Merauke, and is therefore a useful basis on which to challenge those investments.
This aim of putting together this info-pack is to provide a tool for action or campaigning around MIFEE (or for that matter, the other topics it encompasses such as food sovereignty, agrofuels, the rights of indigenous communities or the Papuan people’s struggle.) The first part gives some background information about the people and ecology of the Merauke region, as well as the political context of West Papua. This is followed by an in-depth look at the MIFEE project, including a critique of the rational behind it, a description of how the project has developed and testimony from affected villages throughout the area. In part three, consideration is given to some other important aspects of MIFEE, the impact of a population flow into West Papua and how the food estate model could affect farmers throughout Indonesia. Finally, profiles are given of many of the companies which are thought to be involved in Merauke. The profiles include first attempts at tracing links with these companies’ activities globally, in the hope that these companies can also be held to account in other countries for their activities in Merauke.
Part 1: Background Information
The Malind Anim 5
Ecology of Merauke Region. 5
The Historical and Political Context of West Papua 6
Outside Investment Projects in Papua 7
Part 2 : Describing MIFEE
Establishing MIFEE’s Legitimacy: The Logic of Global Crises 8
Grand Designs for Merauke: MIFEE in Theory and in Practice 10
Reports from Villages. 14
MIFEE Ploughs on, Despite Hitting Rocky Ground 20
Repression connected to MIFEE 24
Part 3 : Some Other Concerns
Transmigration and Marginalisation. 25
Implications for Indonesia’s Agricultural Landscape 26
Part 4 : Profiles of the Companies Involved 29