Government still looking to Merauke for industrial agriculture development

from our partners at AwasMIFEE

First Published: April 17, 2015

Since the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate was launched in West Papua in August 2010, it has had the result of clearing the way for oil palm and sugar-cane plantations, but has failed to meet its stated aim to develop large-scale production of certain key food crops, notably rice.

Now there are signs that the new government is still looking to push for large-scale mechanised agriculture in the area, despite the frequently voiced opposition by many local indigenous Marind people.

On 6th April the Indonesian Cabinet Secretariat website posted an article saying that Medco boss Arifin Panigoro had invited President Joko Widodo to join in a harvest of rice cultivated using the ‘modern system’

According to Arifin, President Jokowi gave a positive response towards the mechanisation of agriculture using the modern rice cultivation system. Plans were even made that during his visit to Papua in early May, the President will visit the site where modern rice cultivation is being developed in southern Papua.
“I’ve already reported it all to the president, and I’m also going to invite him for the harvest,” said Arifin Panigoro.
Arifin Panigoro is pioneering the development of modern rice cultivation in Merauke as a means of increasing productivity. Modern rice cultivation is a fully-mechanised concept. As 5000 hectares can be managed by 100 people, each person would get 50 hectares. The machinery used in the process, from planting through to harvest, would be the same as is used in the United States.
Full article in Indonesian: http://setkab.go.id/arifin-panigoro-undang-presiden-jokowi-panen-sawah-sistem-modern-di-papua/

This news should set alarm bells ringing for peasant farmers all over Indonesia, where most of the rice is still farmed by families in the traditional labour-intensive way, meaning rural communities still have some reasonable degree of control over the production of their staple food. What will be the impact on these rural communities if this mechanised method which needs minimal labour should prove to be cheaper? There will be a tendency to concentrate land in the hands of corporations and many villagers, unable to compete, will be forced off the land, most likely into poverty in the city.

During his election campaign, Jokowi talked a lot about food sovereignty, a concept developed by peasant movements from around the world. Food sovereignty goes beyond the idea of ‘food security’ which tends to be understood at the national level (ie. a state ensures it has enough food, through limiting its dependence on imports), to the level of the food producers themselves. According to the 2007 Nyeleni declaration made by peasant movements meeting in Mali in 2007:

“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems”

Arifin Panigoro’s invitation is going to make Jokowi decide whether he actually believes in food sovereignty, or will fall back on the rhetoric of food security which produced the MIFEE project, where local food producers (in this case the Marind people who live from hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation) are to be sacrificed so that Indonesia can meet its goal of being self-sufficient in rice etc.

Arifin Panigoro’s Medco group of companies was one of the key actors involved in pushing for the MIFEE development in the first place, and has several interests in the area. Medco’s rice business has yet to get past the experimental stage. However another Medco company, PT Selaras Inti Semesta, was the first big investor to start clearing land, for its industrial timber plantation, in 2010.

One of the villages in Medco’s concession area, Zanegi, has become a symbol of everything that was wrong with the MIFEE project, the village that taught the Marind people that it industrial agriculture would be a disaster for them. Medco tricked villagers out of their land, giving them a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ and a small amount of money which they did not know was actually compensation for their ancestral land. Few villagers managed to hold down a job with the company for long and became dependent on the minimal compensation for wood that was being given, and travelling far from their village to find basic subsistence necessities in the remaining forest. Child malnutrition increased, and several children died of preventable diseases. Conflict and accusations of black magic saw many leaders imprisoned. The company backed down from its promises to the community. And then in the end Medco decided that the business was not profitable, and abandoned the area, after destroying much of the forest, turning it into woodchips and shipping it to Korea.

With the level of opposition and the tally of bitter experiences that have come with the plantation companies in Merauke, you might think that a fundamental reappraisal of development strategy might make sense. However there are signs that the Jokowi government is still interested in the ‘food estate’ model of agriculture. In its medium-term development plan there is no mention of MIFEE, but there is a plan to designate the Merauke area a Special Economic Zone.

Now an article published in the Jakarta Post website on 16th April indicates that several ministries are still considering resurrecting theMerauke Food Estate, and also potentially the other ‘failed’ food estates in Kalimantan. The report doesn’t give many practical details of where, when or how these developments might go ahead, but the Land and Spatial planning minister thinks that development could even begin this year.

Govt to revive food estate project in Papua
by Linda Yulisman
With its high food self-sufficiency target, the government is considering reviving the stalled “food estate” program of the prior administration by involving private and state-owned companies.The extensive commercial farming will focus on rice, corn and soybean — all are food crops laid out in the self-sufficiency goal, according to State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno. “We will synergize the whole processes from seeding to fertilizing,” she said.State-owned enterprises, such as fertilizer producer PT Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company, seedling company PT Sang Hyang Sri and agribusiness firm PT Pertani, will take the lead in the projects, Rini said.Designed in the early days of Yudhoyono’s administration in 2009, the project was meant to integrate farming and food-based energy generation to replicate the success story of Brazil’s large-scale agricultural projects.The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program in Papua is expected to cover a 1.6 million hectare area. It has attracted dozens of investors, including Wilmar International, Artha Graha and Medco Group, that are interested in growing a wide array of food crops, including rice, corn, soybean, sugar cane and palm oil.Similar to the food sovereignty agenda formulated by President Jokowi’s administration, the former government also underlined the need of attaining self-sufficiency in key corps and beef by 2014, which, in fact, it failed to achieve.MIFEE has proven to be a tough project to implement, particularly because of land issues, as the multi-billion project threatens conservation areas, such as virgin forests and water catchment areas, as well as the habitat of indigenous peoples in Papua.Concerns over human rights abuses, including violations of land rights and of the requirement to obtain free, prior and informed consent, and also over the displacement of local people by inflows of workers from outside the region have also lingered.By last year progress had stagnated in the completion of an environmental analysis (Amdel) and in provincial spatial planning, Agriculture Ministry’s director general for agriculture infrastructure and facilities Gatot Irianto told The Jakarta Post.“The stocktaking of customary land is a difficult thing and this must be endorsed further,” he said, adding that he viewed the need to make the planned food estate a special economic zone to enjoy special treatment to enable implementation. Despite the snail-paced progress in the past, Minister Ferry said the planned project could, nevertheless, begin as soon as the second half of this year.“We have already secured some potential plots of land to commence the project,” he told the Post, adding that some areas in Kalimantan were also under assessment as alternatives.With the strategic location of Merauke near the sea, it will be easy to transport the output to other areas once seaports are established, according to Ferry.Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chief Franky Sibarani said the broader Indonesian food sector might receive investments this year, notably from foreign companies.“We’ve heard about interest by American and Japanese firms to invest in growing corn and cassava,” he said.Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/04/16/govt-revive-food-estate-project-papua.html

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