Tag Archives: Merauke

New film ‘The Mahuzes’, documents conflicts between indigenous Merauke people and agribusiness

from our partners at AwasMIFEE

First Published: February 20, 2016

‘The Mahuzes’, a film about conflicts between indigenous people and agribusiness companies in Merauke, was released in Indonesian last year, and now it is available with English subtitles. It’s one of a series of documentaries produced as part of the ‘Ekspedisi Indonesia Biru’, a one-year road-trip on motorbikes by filmmakers Dandhy Laksono and Ucok Suparta, visiting diverse communities around the archipelago, often communities in struggle.

The Mahuzes follows one clan of Marind people in Muting village, where oil palm companies have started clearing land in the last few years on five massive plantations. The effects of these plantations are having a major impact – even the water from the Bian River has become undrinkable. The Mahuze clan is resisting – refusing to sell their land, erecting customary barriers to forbid the company from entering – but the company (PT Agriprima Persada Mulia) just pulls up their boundary markers. As well as these direct conflicts with the plantation companies, we see how they attempt to deal with the conflicts that inevitably arise when irresponsible companies show up with compensation money – there is an emotional peacemaking ceremony between the Marind and the neighbouring Mandodo people, but also anger in meetings that some elders in their own clan may have struck a secret deal with the company.

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate was originally launched as a massive industrial agriculture project in 2010, but it failed to reach the stated ambition in its original plan, and the cluster of oil palm plantations around Muting were some of the only developments that have actually started work in the last years. However, in May 2015 President Joko Widodo travelled to Merauke to relaunch the plan to convert over a million hectares of forest and savannah to mechanised rice production. The filmmakers also visit the site of the new rice development, revealing that once again the central government is ordering a mega project without due consideration of the local social and environmental conditions. One issue is the water – Irawan, who works for the water provider, explains that most of the water in the flat Kurik sub-district comes from rainfall. How could these conditions possibly support huge areas of irrigated rice-fields?

The Marind people’s staple food is sago, and sago palms grow abundantly in groves in the forest. As Darius Nerob explains in the film “If we plant rice, it’s 6 months before we can eat. But with sago, any day we need, we can just go and fell a tree… This tree can feed a family for half a year…. Even though the transmigrant program has existed for 33 years, Marind people have stuck with sago, they haven’t shifted to rice.”

Breaking: Police Raid KNPB in Merauke ahead of May 1 demos

POLRES MERAUKE POLICE ARREST 15 KNPB ACTIVISTS and CHAIRMAN of the PRD MERAUKE.

by West Papua Media, with sources in Merauke

May 1, 2015

Information from KNPB has just been confirmed from independent credible sources.

On Friday May 1, 2015, at 01.06 WPB (Papua time) heavily armed police officers of Merauke Polres forced entry into the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) Secretariat office in Merauke, and arrested 15 KNPB activists, together with their Mother, PRD (Parleman Rakyat Daerah or Regional People’s Parliament) Chairperson Panggresia Yeem, who were still preparing for a rally today to commemorate the forced takeover of West Papua by Indonesia.

Earlier on Thursday night , the Merauke KNPB sent an alert that an attack was imminent:

“Police and military apparatus have surrounded the KBPB MERAUKE SECRETARIAT this night.  KNPB this News.  Tonight, hundreds of Police officers from Merauke police station and members of the military from Kodim Merauke came down at 20:00 WPB.  They are placed in the driveway exit of the secretariat and PRD Merauke.  The KNPB chairman Merauke reported via phone ‘that we were surrounded by military / police with full force being placed around the secretariat KNPB Secretariat building) in Merauke.”

An independent source confirmed to West Papua Media that police were heavy-handed during the arrest, allegedly causing damage and rough treatment, however it is unknown at this stage whether any injuries have been sustained.  An urgent call from West Papua Media to the Polres HQ went unanswered.

Those 16 arrested in Merauke overnight are:
1. MS. PANGGRESIA YEEM, PRD CHAIRMAN of MERAUKE
2. GENTO EMERICUS DOP, CHAIRMAN KNPB MERAUKE
3. YOSEP MUYAN, KNPB MERAUKE MEMBERS
4. YOSEP IMBANOP, Chairman of PARLIAMENT of MUJU District
5. The CHAIRMAN of the ONGKATMIT SECTOR, KNPB

6. ZAKARIAS Y SRAUN
7.EMANUEL MATEMKO
8.YOHANES KAYOP
9. IBRAHIM DEWAP
10. JAN OBAKAM
11.IKNASIUS WAMIN
12.THOMAS PISAKAI
13. FRANSISKU PISAKAI
14 . JULIANUS TABIET
15. ISAK SOSOCHOM
and 11 other KNPB members whose names are not yet available.

Heavily armed Police have just taken all 16 people, including the matriarch head of Merauke PRD for interrogation at the Police HQ in Merauke.

The raids come after the KNPB refused to accept the local police chiefs threats (see Jubi article below) against holding democratic gatherings to mark the May 1st Day of Mourning.

More information as it comes to hand.
West Papua Media

from our partner Tabloid Jubi’s West Papua Daily

April 29, 2015

Jayapura, Jubi – The chairman of the Merauke People’s Representatives (PRD) in Pancrasia Yem said they were not afraid and intimidated by threats from security forces in Papua, especially the Merauke Police chief.

Merauke Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissionaire Sri Satyatama said police will not allow the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) to conduct activities including the prayer on 1 May 2015 and warned they would be disbanded if they ignored the ultimatum.

“The Police Chief’s statement is not big deal. He’s part of invaders. The invaders will keep doing anything to suppress any action taken by Papuans. KNPB and PRD Merauke Region will keep fighting.  We will do something on 1 May to express the injustice that had occurred in 1963,” he told Jubi on Tuesday (28/4/2015) from Merauke, Papua.

According to Yeem, KNPB and PRD Merauke Region will keep fighting to bring West Papuan people’s aspiration to decide self-determination in accordance with the mechanism of international law.  (Arnold Belau/rom)

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

Photo Essay: JPIC reveals abuses at Mam plantations of PT Dongin Prabhawa

A Report of a Visit to PT Dongin Prabhawa’s Plantation at Mam from our partners at AwasMifee and JPIC.

February 19, 2014

mam6A recent visit to Mam to monitor the latest developments around PT Dongin Prabhawa’s oil palm plantation near the south bank of the Digoel River in Merauke has revealed several concerns, from irregularities in the logging plan and ill-treatment of workers to human rights abuses.

PT Dongin Prabhawa is a subsidiary of the Korindo Group, which has several other oil palm and forestry businesses along the Digoel River.

The monitoring by JPIC MSC Indonesia revealed that PT Dongin Prabhawa had been clearing the forest and taking the wood on barges to Korindo’s plywood factory upriver in Asiki.  An employee working as logging coordinator claimed that there were some irregularities in the work – the company was supposed to only log the areas assigned in its 2012 annual work plan during 2013, but actually logged the areas in the 2013 work plan as well. Although logging was not currently taking place at the time of the visit, logs were piled up in several places, including three log piles at the port. In other parts of the concession oil palm had already been planted.

The presence of police and military in the area were giving cause for concern. It was reported that on the 12th December 2013, two policemen from the Okaba police station who were assigned as security for PT Dongin Prabhawa at Mam, confiscated liquor from three local vendors after a search. The three local people were ordered to report regularly to the police station, but the police officers resold the alcohol to local customary landowners, also getting drunk with them.

Gambling with dice also takes place around the PT Dongin Prabhawa plantation and two police officers are involved in this. Addiction to gambling and alcohol often causes serious social problems in indigenous communities and so it is highly irresponsible of the police to promote such practices, and make money from them.

The Indonesian Army and Navy are stationed at Bade, a 30 minute speedboat ride away across the river. As has previously been reported, several young men, who may have been drinking, have recently been arrested and beaten up by the military in this area.

Another case of abuse by the military was reported on 13th February. It was claimed that the previous day a company employee originally from the Kei islands in South-East Maluku, was arrested in PT Dongin Prabhawa’s Division Two and tortured by a member of the Army.

There was also evidence of a worrying disregard for worker’s health and safety. Workers stationed at Division Two are drinking water from holes dug by diggers. The workers have complained about this. What is worse, chemical fertilizers are being used close to these water sources.

During the last three months (December to February) PT Dongin Prabhawa had not given either contracted nor casual workers the foodstuffs they were entitled to.

Some photos of the area are shown below, taken in January/ February 2014. All photos courtesy of WF from Papuan Voices and JPIC MSC Indonesia.

You can view the entire set here also at Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/103590506@N06/

mam5 mam4 mam3 mam2 mam1

Forest devastation of customary land on the MIFEE estate (File photo)

Wilmar’s New ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ Policy: What will it mean in Merauke?

From our partners at awasMifee

First Published: December 11, 2013

Apologies for the delay in republishing:  No donations mean no internet for West Papua Media

On 5th December, Wilmar International, one of Asia’s biggest agribusiness corporations and the world’s biggest palm oil trader, announced a broad new environmental and social policy, including a commitment to no deforestation and the principle of Free, Prior Informed Consent when dealing with indigenous communities.

As these new ethical criteria would apply not only to Wilmar’s own plantations but also other companies who supply the palm oil, sugar and soy that Wilmar trades, it would seem that this pledge might have a big effect on the plantation industry’s environmental record – especially for palm oil where Wilmar controls 45% of world trade.

The question is, will it be implemented? This new policy was launched at the same time as a deal between Wilmar and food and household products giant Unilever, which has its own target to only use traceable palm oil by the end of 2014. As more multinationals come under pressure to use less environmentally-damaging ingredients, the commercial benefits to Wilmar of appearing to be an environmental leader are clear.

However the company has frequently been accused of violating ethical standards that is has signed up to in the past – for example as a member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and recipient of funding from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation(IFC). That means many groups with experience of the company’s track record are sceptical about this new commitment.

PT Anugerah Rejeki Nusantara: a test of whether the new policy is serious.

In West Papua Wilmar has plans for two 40,000 hectare sugar-cane plantations in Merauke and two more in neighbouring Mappi regency, and these could be a key test for the company’s new policy. If these plantations for ahead, they will clearly contravene the ethical standards. Let’s take a look at the situation with PT Anugerah Rejeki Nusantara (PT ARN), one of those plantations:

  • No deforestation. Wilmar has committed to end deforestation in High Carbon Stock and High Conservation Value forest. The definition is quite broad and includes most forest that has not been cleared within the last ten years. PT ARN’s concession is an ecologically-rich area, largely forested, with some grassland and swamps.
  • No peat. Wilmar says it will not start plantations on peat of any depth. Data from Wetlands International shows intermittent shallow and medium peat within PT ARN’s concession.
  • Respect the rights of local and indigenous people to give or withhold their Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC). PT ARN has been trying to convince communities in the area to hand over their land for two years now, but many people are still determinedly opposed. A recent study in four villages affected by PT ARN revealed that the company was falling far short of FPIC principles. Where people have clearly not consented, the company keeps making its approaches, until the community feels it really has no choice. Often Wilmar only speaks with community and clan leaders individually, which was causing the seeds of conflict within the village. Security forces brought to discussions also have an intimidating effect. There are other tools of deception too – in one village PT ARN’s Public Relations Manager even pretended to be a priest to get the people’s support.

Wilmar’s policy covers a number of other areas, such as workers’ rights and dealing with land conflict. The full text can be read here.

What about the Ganda Group?

Wilmar commits itself to stop deforestation and development on peat immediately, and will not start buying from any suppliers who are deforesting or developing peat. Existing suppliers have until the end of 2015 to comply. Of particular interest is to see how this will affect the Ganda Group (Agro Mandiri Semesta Plantations), a palm oil company which sells its produce to Wilmar.

Wilmar has a special relationship with Ganda Group, which is owned by Ganda Sitorus, the younger brother of Wilmar founder Martua Sitorus. In recent years the Ganda Group have taken over plantations which do not meet Wilmar’s previous ethical commitments to the RSPO and IFC. The most notorious case is in Jambi, Sumatra, where after going through the motions of two years of IFC-facilitated mediation to resolve a land conflict with the indigenous Suku Anak Dalam Batin Sembilan, Wilmar suddenly sold it’s subsidiary PT Asiatic Persada to the Ganda Group, rather than abide by any agreements produced by that mediation. On Saturday 7th December, the Ganda Group once again violently evicted Suku Anak Dalam communities which had reoccupied their ancestral land in the plantation.

The Ganda Group also has plans for two plantations in Merauke: PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia and PT Agriprima Cipta Persada. These companies are also accused of deceiving local villagers and paying shockingly low compensation rates, as well as clearing forest for an oil palm nursery before receiving a plantation permit. The plantations, which also involve clearing natural forest, would clearly not meet the RSPO standards which Wilmar has signed up to in its bid to be seen as a responsible company, but the Ganda Group is unencumbered by such commitments.

However now Wilmar’s policy states that it it won’t be buying from companies that are clearing forests. Does that mean the Ganda Group are going to have to look elsewhere to sell their tainted palm oil?

AwasMIFEE wrote to Wilmar on 6th December to ask whether its new ethical policy would mean that it would be cancelling its plans in Merauke. No response was received by the time this article was published.