Rhinoceros beetles and unwanted smallholder schemes: the problems facing villagers in Korindo’s North Maluku plantation.

Sanusi’s eyes were full of tears on Wednesday (6/9/2017) has he told of the sad state of affairs in his village, Gane Dalam over the last three years. Rhinoceros beetles have been attacking their coconut farms, and the damage to the plants has spoiled the harvest.

Sanusi is the head of the Copra Farmer’s Group, who had come with another farmer, Hardi Salman, to the North Maluku branch of Walhi to recount the problems they are facing.

“Since Korindo’s oil palm company moved into our area, our plants are plagued with parasites. Dozens of coconut farmers’ harvests are affected,” he said.

They had come on a boat with an outboard motor from Gane Dalam to Labuha in South Halmahera. Three hours journey over difficult seas, after which they caught the passenger boat to Ternate in the afternoon.

On arrival in Ternate, they went to the Walhi office there. They complained to the environmental NGO in the hope that of getting the attention of the local or central government.

“I came here in the hope that our voice from the small island (Gane) will be heard by the local or national government. Only those who care about the fate of farmers will look at us”, he said.

He explained that previously from one hectare of coconut trees, farmers could make anywhere between 100 and 800 kilograms of copra. Now the highest harvest was only 50 kilograms.

“The harvest has been ruined for many farmers”. Read More »

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Gama Plantation: Building on deforestation and conflict

While the forests of Indonesia’s outer islands continues to diminish year by year, the concrete ‘forest’ of skyscrapers around Jakarta’s Central Business District continues to sprout relentlessly. These two trends are not unconnected – much of the capital needed to build the urban architectural marvels came from the exploitation of natural resources, and the indigenous communities which live on the lands where they are found.

In 2016, Jakarta’s newest tallest skyscraper, the Gama Tower, opened for business for the first time. At 69 stories and 285 metres high, it is intended for offices and a luxury hotel. It’s a project of the Gama Corporation, who also have in their portfolio of planned developments the second tallest building in Western Europe, 1 Undershaft in London.

Gama is an abbreviation of the names of two brothers, Ganda and Martua Sitorus, who have both built their fortune on palm oil. Martua is one of the founders of Wilmar, South East Asia’s largest agribusiness corporation. Ganda’s career has been more low profile, but he has also developed a portfolio of plantation assets, in a group formerly referred to as Ganda Group or Agro Mandiri Semesta Plantation.

Now the AMS Ganda Group appears to have been rebranded as Gama Plantation. Recent job adverts have described the group as having plantations in Jambi, Riau, Aceh, Kalimantan Barat, Kalimantan Timur, Sulawesi Barat and Papua Provinces.

The two Papuan concessions believed to be linked with the group are PT Agriprima Cipta Persada and PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia, which have concessions between Muting and Bupul villages in Merauke Regency. The exact ownership structure of these two companies is unknowable, since the companies are 95% owned by an offshore company. However, it is a reasonable working assumption that Ganda or Martua Sitorus and their families control the majority stake. ((The association between the two concessions and Gama Plantation’s predecessor AMS Ganda Group is not believed to be disputed. Evidence for the link can be found, if needed, in court proceedings related to the group, staff linkedin profiles and job adverts.))

Their plantations still being young, neither of these two Papuan companies has yet built a mill to process their fruit, and so is not trading in palm oil. However Wilmar, of which Martua Sitorus is still a director and shareholder, continues to buy crude palm oil from other Gama Plantation companies. Since the two Papuan concessions are continuing to clear forest, and have opened a series of conflicts with local indigenous communities through unacceptable land acquisition practices, this is therefore in violation of Wilmar’s own ‘no deforestation, peat or exploitation’ policy.

Here’s a summary of some of the important issues:


Clearance work is ongoing in the two plantations. In 2017 most of the deforestation took place in PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia, which had cleared an estimated 2000 hectares of forest between December 2016 and late August 2017.  Read More »

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Poumako incident: lethal military violence against indigenous fisherfolk defending their livelihood

On 9th August 2017, a member of the Indonesian armed forces shot dead Theo Kamtar in Poumako Port, Timika. This incident was part of a dispute where indigenous fisherfolk felt their livelihood threatened by better equipped migrants from other islands in Indonesia, who were dominating the catch. Elements of the state appear to have sided with the migrants, and eventually crushed their resistance with lethal violence.

Poumako sebelum kejadian

Here is the report of the investigation into the incident carried out by the Justice and Peace Secretariat of the Timika Catholic Diocese.

The situation before the incident.

In recent months a dispute has emerged between traditional indigenous fisherfolk who hold customary rights, and semi-modern fishermen, that come from outside Papua (migrant fishermen), who normally use large nets or seines to trawl for fish. Because they use these large nets, often hundreds of metres long, the indgenous fisherfolk’s catch is starting to decrease dramatically, especially when the semi-modern fishermen are working close to indigenous fishing areas.

In an attempt to find a way out of this situation, the indigenous fisherfolk took the initiative to arrange a meeting. In the meeting they proposed two options: either the migrant fishermen would not be allowed to catch fish in the waters near the river mouth, or the indigenous fisherfolk and migrant fishermen would share out the roles – the indigenous people’s job would be to catch fish in the river and out to sea while the migrants would sell them on. Aside from these two options, a third choice was discussed, that the migrant fishermen could still go out and look for fish, if the area they used was sufficiently far out to sea.

The issue was officially discussed three times in the last three months. The first meeting took place in mid-June at the Poumako port in Mimika. The second discussion in July was at the East Mimika sub-district office and the third on 1st August in the Mimika Marine and Fisheries Agency district office, in the Bupati’s office building. All stakeholders attended all three meetings.

However, on the 7th August, the Head of the Mimika Marine and Fisheries Agency, Leentje A.A. Siwabessy, held a closed meeting in the agency office meeting room, which solely discussed the migrants’ fishing operations.

According to the Meeting Report (document reference 253/435/2017) issued by the Marine and Fisheries Agency (which was later claimed to be the outcome of this meeting), seven village heads from East Mimika sub-district were present (from Hiripau, Tipuka, Poumako, Kaugapu, Mware, Pigapu and Wania villages) and relevant officials, including Captain Rohi King (Operational Section Head from the Timika Naval Base), Ipto Barnabas (Water Police Unit Head from Mimika Police HQ), Kopda Usman (village military representative for Poumako village), Rachel Latuheru (Fisheries and fish farming section head in Mimika Regency), Wesly Simanungkali (Conservation and Monitoring section head) and Lucky. J. Wokas (Section chief or coastal marine and small islands of Mimika Regency). This time local fisherfolk were not invited to the meeting, nor were the Kamoro People’s Institution (Lemasko) or other stakeholders which had been present in the previous three meetings. Local fisherfolk and LEMASKO were not made aware of this meeting or its outcomes.

However, on the evening of the 8th August 2017, one of the migrant fishermen came to the house of the head of neighbourhood association (RT) 9 in Pomako to say that the migrant fisherfolk had been given a permit to catch fish and they were going out to sea.

Then on 9th August 2017, a shooting incident took place in front of the Harbour Police office (KP3 Laut) which left one person dead and two civilians and one soldier wounded.


Wednesday, 9th August 2017

03.00-05.00 am

People around Poumako port heard the sound of a fishing boat’s engine. The sound could easily be recognised as coming from the boat of one of the semi-modern fisherman who had been prohibited from going out to sea while the local government was still facilitating an agreement between themselves and the indigenous fisherfolk.

06.00-07.00 am

The indigenous fisherfolk went to the berths used by the migrant fisherfolk. Their suspicions proved correct. They could see for themselves that around 20 motor boats belonging to migrant fisherfolk had gone to sea to catch fish.

07.00 -09.00

The indigenous fisherfolk stated to coordinate amongst themselves and decided to go out and find the migrant fishermen and warn them not to catch fish in the area. However, because the passenger ship KM Tatamailau was scheduled to arrive at around 10 am, and the majority of adult men also worked as baggage porters in the port, they agreed to go and look for the migrant fishermen after KM Tatamailau had left.

However, on the other side of the port, Andreas Kaokapaitiparo (head of Hiripau village) and Jhon Johanis Yakiwur (head of Poumako village) came to ask the head of neighbourhood association 9 Poumako to discuss the issue of the permit issued to migrant fishermen at the Poumako police post. They were accompanied by two on-duty police officers, and several indigenous fisherfolk were also present. The document, which was said to be a permit, was read out so that everybody could hear.

Notwithstanding this, the indigenous fisherfolk were unsatisfied and protested. Their problem was that indigenous fisherfolk, community leaders and LEMASKO had not been invited to speak, find agreement and take the decision together. The issue triggered a quarrel which the police were able to mediate. Once they had left the police station, the neighbourhood association head suggested to the two village heads that they go home so as not to invite trouble. They both left using public transport.

11.30 am

After KM Tatamailau left Poumako port, all the younger indigenous fisherfolk started making towards the river mouth. They used about ten longboats, with an estimated four-to-six people in each boat. They went towards the river mouth which they guessed would be the place the migrant fishermen were looking for a catch. This movement of young people made some of their parents quite worried, including a mother who felt she had to go out to sea to advise the young people about the dangers of trying to settle such issues at sea, especially since the boats they were using were not particularly suitable, given the inclement weather. After hearing this advice, the young fisherfolk called off their plan and chose to wait for the migrant fishermen at the port.

13.00 pm

Several of the longboats that had left to chase the migrant fishing boats started to come back. As they came back, they pulled up alongside the migrant fishermen’s boats. Some of the young people climbed aboard the migrants’ boats. There were around two young indigenous people on each boat.

Around 14.30-15.00 pm

Gradually the migrant fisherfolk’s boats came back to the port, together with their indigenous escorts. Not long afterwards, the head of the migrant fishermen telephoned the head of neighbourhood association 9 Poumako to say that indigenous fisherfolk had confiscated and were holding migrants’ boats. Wanting to ensure the safety of the confiscated equipment, two of the migrant fishermens leaders, Sami Werinusi (a member of the Mimika Regency Guards (Satpol PP) and co-ordinator of the migrant fisherfolk) and Budi (a businessman from boat company Camar Papua), accompanied by some other people, went looking for the neighbourhood association head. Once they had met him, he was asked to discuss the issue at the harbour police office.

At that time, the migrant fishermen had already filled the police office, and even the road leading to it. For this reason, the majority of indigenous fisherfolk chose to remain outside the police post premises, mainly around the long row of kiosks across the street.

For unknown reasons, Sami Werinusi got angry and left the police post without excusing himself. He approached one of the indigenous fisherfolk, snatched the bottle he was holding and struck him on the head with it. Upon seeing this, the indigenous fisherfolk got angry and tensions rose towards Sami Werinusi and the group of migrant fishermen. Push and shove was inevitable. At that moment three shots were heard. Theodorus Camtar, who had been standing near the flagpole, was the target of one of these bullets which left him dying. Meanwhile two other young men, Rudi Safan and Gerardus Namipok were shot in the arm and hand respectively. The shots came from Chief Brigadier Yusuf Salasar (a member of the intelligence unit of Military Command Post 174/ATN). He opened fire whilst concealed behind the outside corner of the police post building.

Seeing this, the indigenous fisherfolk were angry. They chased Sami Werinusi who took refuge in the police station. Inside the station, they tried to get hold of Sami Werinusi and also went looking around the police station for the person who had fired the shots. In their efforts to do this, facilities both inside and outside the police post were destroyed. At the same time, second corporal Andi (a member of the intelligence unit of Mimika District Military Command 1710) was stabbed. Once the situation was under control, the police evacuated Theo’s body and the other victims to the Mimika General Regional Hospital.

16.00 pm

Accompanied by police and family members, Theo’s body and one of the wounded arrived at the Mimika general hospital. Theo’s body was held for several hours to carry out an autopsy, and then brought home by his family to Asmat village, Poumako.

Thursday 10 August 2017

11.00 am

Augustina (a female Papuan community leader) lead the prayers in the deceased’s home. The body was then blessed by the parish priest of St Emanuel Mapurujaya parish, Pastor Yonas Purnama OFM, and taken to the final resting place. At around 12.40 pm, Pastor Yonas Purnama led the burial ceremony in the Kaugapu public ceremony.

Situation after the incident.

The general situation for indigenous people in Poumako is slowly getting back to normal. Everybody has started to go about their daily activities as before, apart from the family of the deceased, Theodorus Camtar. Despite this, an atmosphere of mourning is still the dominant mood.

However the indigenous people are also being haunted by a feeling of anxiety and threat. The cause is a number of attempts to install fear they have received by telephone from different sources, including members of the Water Police Unit of Mimika Police HQ, members of the intelligence unit of Mimika District Military Command and the military police unit. In these telephone conversations they are asked about the whereabouts of fishing boats or equipment which is supposedly missing. They have been ordered to find and return them, if they don’t want to face new problems and further dealings with authority.

It is important to be aware that the principal issue in this bloody incident has not yet been deal with. All parties are urged to show restraint and let the police or competent institutions carry out investigations. The fact that a person was killed should not be obscured by spreading trivial stories concerning manufactured goods which can be replaced. Apart from the issue of the shooting, there is also a need to reveal which actors are involved in the fishing business around Poumako, which has already claimed victims.

This investigative report was compiled by a team from the Timika Diocese Justice and Peace Secretariat

Source: Suara Papua http://suarapapua.com/2017/08/31/ini-laporan-investigasi-skp-keuskupan-timika-dalam-kasus-poumako-berdarah/

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Korindo strikes back against NGO campaign.

The outlook for the plantation industry in Papua has started to show signs of change recently, both because of a sustainability drive in the palm oil supply chain, which has forced many companies to suspend deforestation plans, and better-informed indigenous communities increasingly opposing companies’ attempts to acquire their land. Not all companies are taking these challenges lying down, however.

Korindo is a Korean company which has dominated the Digoel valley in Merauke and Boven Digoel for decades through its logging concessions which supply its plywood factory in Asiki and several oil palm plantations, which have expanded rapidly since 2012. Alarmed by the rate of deforestation it was noticing on satellite images, Mighty Earth, a US-based NGO, produced a report intended to spark a campaign against Korindo. The first target was palm oil traders with sustainability commitments, who were asked to refrain from buying Korindo’s palm oil, citing issues such as deforestation, evidence of illegal burning and abuse of indigenous people’s rights in Papua and on the island of Halmahera, Maluku.

Korindo responded to the pressure by publicly declaring a moratorium on new land-clearing to ensure it didn’t lose customers for its palm oil, but promptly violated this by continuing to clear primary rainforest in its PT Papua Agro Lestari concession. No longer trusting the company to keep its word, Mighty stepped up the pressure, focussing on Korindo’s other business interests, including its wind turbine business in the US. They also successfully persuaded the FSC to investigate Korindo’s certification for its plywood products, by pointing out that by clearing primary forest, the company was violating the conditions of the certification. Most recently they have focussed on pressuring Samsung to abandon a recently-announced joint venture with Korindo.

It seems like the combination of challenges to its various business interests has hurt Korindo significantly. Apparently determined to continue clearing forest, the company has gone on a major propaganda drive, and its strategy has been to portray the NGO as an obstacle to community development. The company’s main argument has focussed on one of the plantations, PT Dongin Prabhawa, on the border of Merauke and Mappi Regencies. Korindo is claiming that it has to continue to deforest to meet its commitment to provide 20% of the plantation area to the local people in the form of small-holdings, known as a plasma scheme, which is an obligation for all plantation companies under Indonesian law.

On 24th July, the company organised a ‘stakeholder meeting’ in Jakarta. However the only stakeholders present were those who supported the company. The company brought several indigenous members of the co-operatives it had formed to manage these plasma schemes to speak at the meeting. Other local people had signed statements opposing what they described as the ‘moratorium from the LSM’. The company also brought the Bupatis of both Merauke and Boven Digoel to the meeting, who spoke in favour of the scheme.

In a sign that this meeting may have been part of a wider backlash against the moves by several major palm oil traders to eliminate deforestation from their supply chain, other speakers included Firman Soebagyo, a member of parliament who is head of the working committee preparing a new law on oil palm plantations, a law which NGOs judge as superfluous and pandering to oil palm industry interests. Nyoto Santoso also spoke, a professor from Bogor Agricultural University who has also recently had to deal with severe criticism from NGOs – they have revealed that he has a history of writing partial, incomplete, biassed or even downright false environmental and social impact assessments, including in Papua for the Noble and Goodhope groups.

While it is totally reasonable for local people to demand the 20% smallholding area they have been promised, the company is not being entirely honest by portraying this as the main issue at stake here. There is no reason, other than possibly the cost, why these schemes could not be developed in areas already cleared. The reason why Korindo felt forced to declare a moratorium is because major palm oil traders have issued policies declaring they will not buy from companies which deforest.

But is this really a clash between the global agenda to halt tropical deforestation and a local desire for economic development? It’s not as simple as that. Another serious problem with Korindo’s operations was highlighted in a press conference held in Merauke on 9th August, the Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Villagers from Nakias, whose customary lands are part of PT Dongin Prabhawa’s concession, alleged that they had never given the company permission to use the land, and that the people who had received compensation money from the company were not the real customary landowners. Korindo did not carry out a participative process to ensure there was consensus on customary land boundaries, or that there was agreement between all members of landowning clans, and this has caused a long running conflict between the indigenous people living in the area.

The upshot is that the land Korindo wants to use for its plasma programme is actually still subject to a land dispute. Opponents of the plantation feel that Korindo is creating divisions by persuading certain individuals to support its side. For example, Melkior Wayoken, the elected village head of Nakias village, alleged that a villager masquerading as the village head had stolen the village seal to sign a document supporting Korindo, and then joined the company’s trip to Jakarta to speak on its behalf.

Linus Omba also spoke on behalf of the Wambon Tekamerob indigenous association, which represents Mandobo people living the Merauke-Boven Digoel border, near to another Korindo concession, PT Berkat Cipta Abadi, as well as Posco Daewoo’s PT Bio Inti Agrindo companies. He stated that there has also been a long running conflict between the Mandobo and Marind ethnic groups who dispute which group holds the customary rights to the land.

Outside the press conference, someone from Salamepe village explained that how company had sought to divide the clans, by choosing individuals who they thought could support them, without waiting for all the clan members to reach a consensus. These individuals were then taken to Merauke city, a day’s journey from the plantation site, to sign the land surrender documents, away from the village where other villagers might object.

These conflicts can be very serious. People in Merauke do not tend to engage in physical violence, but have a strong belief in black magic known locally as suanggi, and some aspects of customary law require the use of such curses. In PT Dongin Prabhawa’s area several local sources have claimed that dozens of people have died as a result of this, but it has not been documented independently, maybe because black magic is not regarded as credible outside indigenous societies. After people started dying, other clan elders felt they had no choice but to sign, to calm the threat of black magic. Most of the elders who signed the land release certificate are now dead, as are some opponents of the company. No independent investigation into these deaths has taken place, and the cultural and spiritual impact of plantation development in Merauke has never been seriously studied by any outside party, even though unexplained deaths have occurred around many new plantations.

Faced with such conflicts, a responsible company would aim to resolve the conflict first, before bringing a group of supporters to lobby on its behalf in Jakarta, a move which is likely to aggravate existing community tensions. However, Korindo has shown no sign of even acknowledging that these conflicts exist. It has also not made public the indigenous land ownership maps which it based its compensation on.

A second ‘stakeholder dialogue’ was organised in the Swissbel Hotel in Merauke on 15th August. Although is meeting also appeared to have been initiated by Korindo, the more accessible location meant that many different stakeholders were able to attend and a broader range of views were represented. Those local residents who felt cheated out of their land had a chance to speak, as did those who wanted their plasma to go ahead. Speakers from the national human rights commission, the Catholic Justice and Peace Secretariat (SKP) and the Regency-level Indigenous Association (LMA) confirmed that there were serious indigenous rights issues that needed to be addressed.

No national politicians were present at this second meeting, but high-ranking officials at the provincial level spoke about their visions of development for Southern Papua, with large plantations as a major component. Most spoke fairly generally, without demonstrating much knowledge of the specific conflicts around Korindo’s plantations. A Korindo spokesperson continued the company’s attempt to portray NGOs as anti-smallholder, and did not acknowledge the complaints about the conflict, even stating as the meeting closed “Korindo feels that we don’t have a problem – maybe there is a difference with the community”.

After almost four hours, many voices had been heard, but time didn’t allow for debate on any of the range of points raised. The discussion’s moderator, Agus Sumule, made his own summary of the meeting, which he condensed into five points:

1. The local governments in Merauke , Boven Digoel and Mappi should take immediate action to resolve issues around administrative and customary land borders.

2. Companies should take immediate action to resolve the problems involving indigenous people in Merauke and Boven Digoel

3. The local government should issue local regulations concerning indigenous land and develop plasma cooperatives within 20% of the HGU area (i.e. the core estate)

4. Government, NGOs and stakeholders (companies and customary rights holders) to engage in intensive dialogue.

5. Investment must respect indigenous land use structures and the environment and be in accordance with the law.

The recommendation for further dialogue appeared to attract murmurs of agreement from different parties, however the process has illustrated a very fundamental reappraisal is necessary to explore if it could ever be possible that large-scale plantation development represents a positive change for indigenous peoples.

This is indeed a challenge which local stakeholders need to explore, but would be a long process involving thorough investigation of the hidden impacts of large-scale development, a strong indigenous movement that can define its own agenda, and a government willing to consider a broader range of development options. It is doubtful that company-sponsored ‘stakeholder dialogues’ are the way to go about it.

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Were cement company interests behind change of forest land classification?

The Radar Sorong newspaper, on 19th April 2017, published a story about the Environment and Forestry Minister signing an agreement to change the land use designation an area of protected forest in Gunung Botak (bald mountain), Momiwaren sub-district, South Manokwari Regency, West Papua province.

According to the head of the Papua Barat Province Forestry Agency, Hendrik Runaweri, the local government recommended a change of land use designation, where 2000 hectares of protected forest around Gunung Botak would be classified as production forest, and the minister agreed to 40 hectares. It was also reported that this protected forest had its status changed to accommodate the interests of PT SDIC Papua Cement Indonesia, which has a cement works in Maruni, Manokwari Regency, West Papua Province, as a source of raw materials for cement production.

No information is yet available about how the local government or the minister managed to fulfill various conditions and procedures needed to change the land use classification of the forest, such as a study by an integrated team, a study of impacts and an agreement on boundaries involving local communities. Because of this, opinions have been voiced that the government has neglected to carry out these steps and has been overly accommodating to corporate interests.

In 2014, the Environment and Forestry Minister (at that time still just the Forestry Minister), issued decree SK710 about changes of use and function of the forest estate, and land being excluded from the forest estate, which included classifying Gunung Botak in Momiwaren sub-district as an area of protected forest. According to the Strategic Environmental Review in the Papua Barat Provincial Spatial Plan (2013), Gunung Botak is a hilly and mountainous karst area, and also a zone with a risk of disaster. In accordance with the Ministerial Regulation 17/2012 from the Energy and Mineral Resource ministry which establishes Karst Landscapes, this area of state forest should ideally be maintained with a classification of protected forest.

The Government policy to change the land use and issue a permit to exchange the forest area also disregards the land rights of the local indigenous communities and their right to participation. Community leaders and clans who claim ownership of the land, the Sayori, Ainusi, Tirirbo and Mukiri clans living in and around Siep, Yekwandi and Mawi village, have said that there has still not been any decision-making meetings with the government and companies to discuss the use of the Gunung Botak area. (Further reading (Indonesian): PT SPCI Membohongi Masyarakat Adat Pemilik Gunung Botak)

The local community explained the mythology of Gunung Botak as it related to their cultural identity and ancestors, such as the story of the Yaimeki cave or source. This is also their source of food and water catchment. This sort of knowledge and value is rarely considered when making decisions about development projects.

The government is using the pretext that the extraction of quartz sand from Gunung Botak would reduce the price of the Conch brand cement SDIC produces which currently costs 57,000 Rupiah per sack on the local market. Quartz sand is currently being brought from Kalimantan, which increases the price. However, the strange thing is, Conch cement produced in Manokwari is being sold in Tual (Maluku) at 46,000 Rupiah per sack.

This sort of change in policy which only takes into account the group’s interests and is based solely on a cost-benefit economic analysis will only bring conflict, injustice and discrimination, to the benefit of certain groups and individuals. Read More »

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Moi indigenous people block the road in opposition to oil palm

The sky was blue that morning and the sun’s intense heat would burn your skin. Hundreds of people from the Moi indigenous community in Sorong Regency, West Papua arrived at the crossroads at the entrance to the administrative centre of Klaso sub-district, blocking the street while they unfurled banners stating their opposition to oil palm expansion in their ancestral domain.

Moi people from three sub-districts in Sorong Regency took part in the road blockade on the morning of Wednesday 22nd March – Klaso, Saengkeduk and a new prospective sub-district Selekobo. It was timed to coincide with a meeting between the Sorong Regency government and oil palm operator PT Mega Mustika Plantation with the local community, which would take place in the administrative centre of Klaso sub-district.

PT Mega Mustika Plantation is one of several oil palm companies which has been issued permits by the local government. Bupati decree 66.1/127/2014 awarded the company a plantation business licence for 9,835 hectares, based on the location permit 221/2011 which had previously been issued on 23rd December 2011

According to Agus Kalalu, who is from the Moi ethnic group, this action to close the road was an expression of the people’s frustration, because none of their previous actions had been met with a meaningful response from the company or government.

“This is the fifth time that people from the three sub-districts have taken action”, Agus said.

The first action started in Saengkeduk village, and was followed by a second action in Klaben village in 2012. The third action was in front of the Sorong District Legislative Council building in 2016 and then most recently during a meeting with the Sorong Regency Forestry Agency in 2016.

David Ulimpa, a Moi indigenous community leader as well as being one of the customary landowners in Klaso sub-district, stated the reasons for opposition to the oil palm plantation in a speech, believing that it would have no effect on the community’s economic wellbeing. On the contrary it would bring hardship.

The people would not only lose their ancestral domain, they would also end up as labourers on their own traditional lands. He took as an example a case from Klamono sub-district, where PT Henrison Inti Persada, the company working in the area, has fired workers, local people, just because they were demanding their rights. Read More »

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The commercialisation of ancestral forest

In late 2016, President Joko Widodo signed a decree to officially grant legal status to the customarily-owned forest of nine indigenous communities in different parts of Indonesia, covering a total area of 13,100 hectares. This amount of land is insignificant in comparison to the millions of hectares of forest and other land which Jokowi had promised to acknowledge or give to people around Indonesia during the two years he has been in office.

The objective of establishing this customary forest is in general predominantly for conservation and President Jokowi stressed that this customary forest cannot be bought and sold, either now or in generations to come. This stipulation not to commercialise customary forest and keep it for conservation is in line with the perception that regulation is necessary and that indigenous people need protection from the threats and pressures of the power of capital.

The reality on the ground is that indigenous communities hold over their customary land is continually being gnawed away at by the power of capital through various means which result in the exclusion of indigenous communities, which can even lose their access to their land and customary forest entirely. According to Derek Hall et al (2011), there are four interconnected powers which exclude people from their land – Regulation, connected either with state laws or other forms of regulation within society; market through economic relationships which exclude the people, legitimation through government claims to make administrative decisons based on economic and political reasons or moral justifications, and force, which includes state military power or violence from non-state actors.

The majority of indigenous people, possessing low social capital, do not manage to avoid capitalist snares which over many years forcibly gnaw away at community social and economic systems, changing value systems concerning land. Concepts of land and ancestral forest, which once prioritised their social value and function, change to regard forests as sources of commercial commodities and disputes over claims of ownership between groups or individuals emerge. Being trapped into dependence on the market for their families’ subsistence needs forces them into deciding to sell commercially assets such as land, ancestral forest and other commercial property to which capital-rich investors assign a sale value.

This kind of commercialisation of customary forest which leads to the exclusion of indigenous communities has been experienced by Papuans living in Arso, Keerom Regency. In October 2011, timber company PT Victory Cemerlang Indonesia Wood Industry was able to obtain a statement of agreement to release rights over customary land from five clan leaders who owned the land. PT VCIWI plans to convert around 6000 hectares of natural forest along the Begonggi River to an oil palm plantation. The heads of the village administration, the Arso sub-district administration, the customary council and the customary chief are also all aware of this letter. The commercialisation of ancestral forest enabled by these letters of agreement to release land rights is being used as a justification to issue permits, including a location permit in 2013 and a plantation business licence in 2015.

PT VCIWI has been in the commercial timber business in the area for many years. The company has created a dependency in the community on capital resources under the company’s control. This dependency and a desire for envisaged profits have captured the local indigenous elite and persuaded them to release the land, making their ancestral forest commercially available to the company. Aside from this, the company has used techniques of deception accompanied by promises of welfare.

The head of the Keerom Customary Council, Servo Tuamis, said “The Victory company says it will us the land adjoining existing oil palm plantations PTPN II and PT Tandan Sawita Papua, in fact it is taking the customary forest that makes up the Arso people’s golden triangle”, lamenting the company’s dishonesty and that the community leaders had already signed the document.

This time round, the company didn’t need to use violence from state forces, as had been the case in the past when state-owned company PTPN II started work in the area in 1983. The new company is using non-state power, the legitimation of the clan leaders’ decision and that of traditional and local government leaders to obtain rights over the land and permits to use the land, forest and the commercial timber. The position of the elite assuming exclusive power, and the power of the company in a relationship of production has already excluded the interests of many people, including that of the indigenous people of Arso over their ancestral forest. Read More »

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Freeport: Student solidarity for change.

[awasMIFEE note: after a month where the giant Freeport mine became a topic for national debate across Indonesia once again, focussed as always on whether or not the US company should be obliged to hand over a controlling stake to the Indonesian Government,  Papuan students have been asking why no-one ever talks about the mine’s destructive impact on Papua amidst this outpouring of Indonesian economic nationalism. On 20th March, students demonstrated in Jayapura and Timika in Papua and in cities across Indonesia where Papuan students were joined by Indonesian supporters from the solidarity network “FRI West Papua”. The text below is a statement from the organisers of the demo in Jayapura, which reportedly attracted 500 people.]

Student solidarity for change.

United Student Front to shut Freeport [FPM-TF]

Shut Freeport and all foreign companies, which are the mastermind of crimes against humanity and environmental destruction in Papua.

“Allow freedom and the right to self-determination as the democratic solution for the Papuan people” 

On Monday, 20th March 2017, a peaceful demonstration tookk place, co-ordinated by students. This action took place in several areas simultaneously, including Jayapura city, Timika, Jogjakarta, Bandung, Manado, Bogor, Palu and Jakarta. The demands of the actions were to close the Freeport mine and to allow freedom and the right to self-determination.

The following is a reflection and statement of opinion written by the United Student Front to Shut Freeport in Jayapura City.

Whether or not Freeport should divest its stake in PT Freeport Indonesia, as legislated for in Presidential Regulation no 1/2017, is now becoming a hot topic for debate within Papuan society, ranging from Governor Lukas Enembe who supports Indonesian policy to institutions which have related interests, and also the Papuan bureaucracy. However, all those who support the plan to divest 51% or an extension of the contract of work, whether they are Papuans or from elsewhere, are drawing naive conclusions.

The squabble that divides the Indonesian Governent and Freeport, whether the company should divest a 51% stake or not, whether Freeport’s legal status in Indonesia should be changed to a special mining liscence (IUPK) or remain a Contract of Work, is a polemic played out between the vested interests of capital and bureaucrats claiming to speak on behalf of the people. In particular, it does not reflect the interests of the people of Papua.

This chaotic situation has already created many victims amongst the casual workers employed by PT Freeport Indonesia. They have been dismissed without their need for a livelihood having been taken into account(ie severance pay). It is very clear that it is a principle of capitalism that workers are needed in times of capital expansion and accumulation. In times of crisis, they are not troubled to think about the fate of workers.

The same is true for the social situation of the West Papuan people. PT Freeport Indonesia is known internationally as one of the biggest mining companies in the world. But what do the Papuan people get from this? Poverty, human rights violations, genocide, colonialism, and its nature destroyed by a capitalist system that produces more and more without consideration of the laws of nature and the effects on human life. Read More »

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Malalilis oh Malalilis, what fate has befallen you?

Malalilis is a village belonging to the Moi people in Sorong Regency, Papua Barat Province. The village is located quite far from the main road and with few inhabitants, but with an immense forest. What is it like now? Maybe it was because the forest was so vast and the inhabitants sparse that outsiders considered that the forest had no owner, and so cleared 40,000 hectares and planted an oil palm plantation. This area used to be part of a logging concession,but has now been converted into a lease title for cultivation. Now the Moi people in this place live a precarious live in the middle of an oil palm plantation owned by PT Henrison Inti Persada (HIP) What follows are the stories of the inhabitants, recorded when participants in the Conference for Indigenous Communities affected by Investment in the Land of Papua visited on Sunday, 4th December 2016. How sad it was….!

“We’re not against development, but as we understand it, development has to benefit us too. But what has been happening? They tear down our forest, they don’t respect us, their behaviour towards us is as if we weren’t the landowners. Some of the ways they treat us include: We’re not allowed to walk around the plantation in search of food during the daytime, they say if we want to look for food, go ahead, but just do it at night-time; 2) We are not able to keep livestock at home. They go from house to house and kill our animals, especially dogs, but those are the dogs we use to go hunting and find food”

“There’s a lot more we have to put up with. We’ve shouted about this all over the place, but it seems that all the doors are closed for us. Our young people who fight for our rights are just arrested by the police and put in prison. And then the men or women who work as labourers on the plantation, they have been fired without a reason and without severance payments. And at the same time, we no longer have the forest with which to sustain ourselves.”

“Even more cruelly, we used to work for the company when it first started, and when we were thirsty and asked for water to drink, they just said to us to drink the water from the ditch. Before the forest was felled we could drink water from pools, swamps, rivers, and even without boiling it we never got sick. Now they use so many chemical sprays and then tell us to drink the water. Where do you come from? Who are you anyway? Why are we being told to drink ditch-water full of chemical sprays?”

“They have cleared land for smallholdings [a contractual obligation to provide a new livelihood for local people- tr]. They’ve felled our forest down to the bare earth, and you can see for yourself the weeds and thick undergrowth over there. We don’t know if there’s any government looking after us or not, because it seems that they’re just leaving us on a road to obliteration. The women that work have to leave for work at 4.00am, and what about the children they leave at home, our future generation? Are they deliberately trying to wipe us out? Are we citizens or aren’t we? If a woman is suffering from period pains and wants medicine from the clinic, she has to show sanitary pads as proof before they will attend to her.”

“Now it is as if we are living in prison. If we want to leave to the city we need to report to the security post and it’s the same when we arrive back home. Being treated like this drives us to oppose the planting of oil palm trees on the smallholding land. Just leave the cleared forest, leave it alone, eventually the forest wil grow back” Read More »

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PT Agriprima Cipta Persada clears the Mahuze Kewamese Clan’s Ancestral Forest.

Titus Mahuze, a resident of Afkab Makmur village in Muting District, Merauke Regency, has complained about how oil palm company PT Agriprima Cipta Persada has cleared land and ancestral forest belonging to the Mahuze Kewamese, without meeting with the community first and obtaining their agreement.

In 2015, PT ACP started to conduct a survey of land potential and concession boundaries within the ancestral land of the Mahuze Kewamese and Basik-Basik Alizan clans. The company carried out this work without holding a meeting to reach a consensus or waiting for the Mahuze Kewamese clan to reach their decision. In April 2016, PT ACP followed this up by clearing the ancestral forest and bulldozing the land which has now been planted with oil palm.

The people did not resist and made no effort to stop the company’s work. “Our clan-members could only watch and accept submissively, there was nothing we could do”, said Titus Mahuze, the leader of the Mahuze Kewamese clan.

There had once been an invitation to engage in negotiations over its use of the land, in the presence of the Mahuzes as well as other clans that own land in the area in 2014. That meeting was attended by the village head, members of the military and Titus Mahuze, but PT ACP was not present and nor were other clan members.

“The meeting was a failure and we erected markers as a customary prohibition against using land, forest and sago groves belonging to the Mahuze Kewamese clan, but then the company cleared our forest anyway”, Titus Mahuze said.

PT ACP promised it would give compensation money for the clan’s land which would be cleared and turned into an oil palm plantation. However the Mahuze Kewamese clan has still not received this money and does not even know how much it is supposed to be, and no agreement has been reached about the use of this land – even though the trees have already been felled and the land planted with oil palm. Read More »

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