Tag Archives: oil palm. palm oil

Oil palm plantation development & forest fires in southern Papua, September-October 2015

by Sam Lawson, Earthsight via AwasMIFEE

First

Summary:

Analysis of satellite data clearly demonstrates forest fires burning in areas undergoing conversion for oil palm in two locations in southern Papua. One of these areas is intact primary forest, while part of the other is on peat soil. The concessions concerned are both owned by the large Korean conglomerate Korindo.

It is illegal in Indonesia for companies to clear land using fire, and oil palm concession holders are also legally required to have in place appropriate fire prevention and fire-fighting measures. Though on its own the evidence below does not prove any wrongdoing by the company or its subsidiaries or contractors, it should justify further investigation by the Indonesian authorities.

location map

Figure 1: Southern Papua, showing boundaries of oil palm conversion concessions (yellow), forest clearance for oil palm during September-October 2015 (red) and location of case studies below.

Case Study 1: PT Papua Agro Lestari (Korindo group)1

Between 1st September and 9th November 2015, more than 230 fire hotspots were detected by the NASA MODIS satellite within an area of intact primary forest undergoing plantation development near the PNG border in PT Papua Agro Lestari, Merauke district (see Figure 2).

PT Papua Agro Lestari

Figure 2: Fire hotspots 1st Sept – 9th Nov 2015 in PT Papua Agro Lestari (yellow boundary). Red boundary shows area of forest cleared for plantation development up to 24th October 2015. Green background shows that the area was previously intact primary forest.2

Landsat images confirm the existence of fires within this area, and clearly show how they are related to oil palm plantation development.

On 6th September 2015, a fire is clearly visible burning in the plantation (see Figure 4). The next cloud-free image, from 24th October 2015, also shows a fire burning, in an area which was still primary forest 7 weeks earlier (Figure 3).

In just 7 weeks between during Sept-October 2015, 1000 hectares of primary forest were cleared, a much faster rate than could plausibly have been achieved by other means.
PT PAL satellite6-9-2015

pt pal satellite 24-10-2015Figures 3 & 4: Fires visible in oil palm plantation under development in PT PAL, September & October 2015

Case Study 2: PT Tunas Sawaerma (Korindo)

During the same period, more than 100 fire hotspots were recorded by the NASA satellite in an area currently being cleared of degraded primary forest for oil palm in PT Tunas Sawaerma, a concession in Boven Digoel district which is also owned by Korean conglomerate Korindo (see Figure 5).

PT Tunas Sawaerma

Figure 5: Fire hotspots 1st Sept-9th Nov 2015 inside Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma oil palm concession (yellow). Red/orange boundary shows area of forest cleared for plantation development up to 24th October 2015. Blue line indicates peat soils. The orange boundary shows the areas cleared between 6th September and 24th October 2015 (( Sources: Peat soils – Wetlands International, 2004. For all other data see reference for Figure 2 ))

Again, Landsat satellite images confirm the existence of fires within this area of recent development. An image from 24th October clearly shows a large fire within the area under development. Comparison with an image from the beginning of September shows that the area concerned remained forested previously, though new plantation roads had been cut (see Figures 6 and 7).

Many of the fire hotspots in the Korindo concession are on peat soils, as is some of the area newly cleared by fire during September/October 2015 (see Figure 5).

PT TSE satellite 6-9-2015

PT TSE satellite 24-10-2015

Figures 6 & 7: Fire visible in forest area in process of development into oil palm, Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma. The images were taken on 6th September 2015 (figure 6) and 24th October 2015 (figure 7)


  1. The Linked-In page of the Assistant Manager of Plasma (Smallholder) plantation development at PT PAL identifies the company as being part of the Korindo group – https://www.linkedin.com/in/yovita-natalia-b5168882  [awasMIFEE note: previously on this site it had been thought that ownership of PT Papua Agro Lestari had been transferred to the Daewoo International Corporation. Although the situation is confusing, and there appears to be close cooperation between the two companies, several pieces of evidence indicate that the company is still part of  the Korindo Group]  ↩
  2. Sources: Background – Degraded (light green) and intact (dark green) primary forest, from Margono, B. Primary forest cover loss in Indonesia over 2000–2012. Nature Climate Change,doi:10.1038/nclimate2277; spots – NASA MODIS fire hotspots, “NASA Active Fires.” NASA FIRMS. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on 15th November 2015; concession boundary – Ministry of Forestry GIS portal map of Forestland releases, accessed 9th November 2015; extent of new oil palm development (red/orange line) – based on analysis of Landsat satellite images from 25/1/15, 6/9/15, 24/10/15.  ↩
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Manokwari Tastes the Bitterness of Oil Palm

By Pietsau Amafnini at Jasoil
First Published: March 2, 2014

Little by little, people start to taste the bitterness of oil palm.

It came as a big shock to both the indigenous people and residents of the transmigration settlements in SP8 to SP10 Masni and Sidey, Manokwari regency. Heavy rain all night long eventually meant that by the morning of 16th February 2014 the calm atmosphere of the night before had been turned to panic. Nikson Kasi, a volunteer for Jasoil Tanah Papua, reported that in his village Mansaburi, floodwaters were assailing the village. The Wariori River, which passes through PT Medco Papua Hijau Selaras’s oil palm plantation, had burst its banks with the volume of water from the mountains upstream.

At least 139 houses in Mansaburi village, Masni District, Manokwari, West Papua Province were swept away by the floods. There were no fatalities, but damage to property is estimated at billions of Rupiah. Even sadder is the news that people’s crops and livestock were also washed away by the floods as they charged through the oil palm plantation.

According to Nikson’s account, the floodwaters rose at about 04.30 AM. The river’s levees were breached and a flash flood struck houses that lay behind them. The Mansaburi village head, Robert Gasang confirmed that 139 houses had been destroyed by the current. The 700-or-so residents were forced to evacuate to escape the rising waters of the Wariori river, as heavy rain continued for the next two days, even though the level of flooding receded.

“We’re just worried, what it next time the rain continues for two or three days? Well now we’ve tasted the bitterness of oil palm after this flood”, said Demmy Safe, an activist with Jasoil Tanah Papua whose home is also close to the site of the flooding. Nikson continued, “even though there were no fatalities, the flood has wiped out people’s gardens, including rice, chilli, beans, tomatoes and other plants. Farm animals were also swept away by the floods”

Local residents, who came as part of transmigration programs or on their own initiative, say that previously, when the only plantation was that of PTPN II Prafi, flooding wasn’t particularly often seen. Now flooding has become a constant threat to the people because forests have been cleared [by Medco] as far upstream as the mountains, and so people have started to be worried that the floods will keep coming back. Especially in the rainy season like now, we always have to be on our guard, because when the big disaster comes it will not give notice beforehand.

Translated by awasMifee

[translator’s note: this article claims that houses were swept away (hanyut) by the floods. I’ve kept that dramatic term in my translation, although would point out that other media accounts have said that houses were merely severely damaged. (rusak parah).]

SKP: An Oil Palm Plantation is Threatening the Kamoro People in Mimika

from Bintang Papua

February 15, 2014

The Justice and Peace Secretariat (Sekretariat Keadilan dan Perdamaian – SKP) of Timika Diocese in Papua are worried about how the environmental impacts of PT Pusaka Agro Lestari clearing forest for an oil palm plantation could affect the survival of the Kamoro people along the coast of Mimika Regency.

The co-ordinator of SKP in the Timika Diocese, Saul Wanimbo, told the Antara News Agency on Thursday that clearing the forest near to Iwaka and as far as the headwaters on the Timika-Paniai road to make way for PT PAL’s oil palm plantation could affect the Kamoro people’s survival.

The Kamoro people have always relied on sago palms, canoes and rivers, the key elements of their continued existence.

“I can’t imagine how it will be for the Kamoro people living along the shore in five to ten years time. They are bound to suffer as a result of the presence of oil palm upstream,” said Saul.

He said that the SKP Timika Diocese was in the process of compiling the necessary data and information to hold a seminar on the effects of oil palm investment in Mimika, to which they would invite experts and government bodies.

Based on the experience of Keerom, Jayapura, Manokwari and Sorong, where oil palm has been developed since the 1980s, he said, this industry brought absolutely no economic benefit to Papuan indigenous communities.

“We want to ask what benefits oil palm has brought to build up the economy of Papuan indigenous people over the years? Not one Papuan has seen a positive economic improvement as oil palm plantations have moved in,” said Saul.

According to him, the lack of economic benefits which indigenous Papuans have received from oil palm is due to the Papuan methods of farming, which are still very traditional if compared to other areas. Farmers in Papua, he says, are not yet familiar with techniques of permanent cultivation, and still keep shifting their cultivated plots from one area to another.

As well as this, he said, the majority of ethnic groups in Papua still rely foodstuffs that they obtain from the natural environment .

If forest areas are destroyed, felled in the interest of new oil palm plantations, then the ecosystem which supports the people’s livelihood will be damaged or even lost for ever.

“We are asking that local government act wisely and treat this problem seriously. Maybe the effects are not yet visible, but in a few years we will reap the problems. The government must be firm and put a stop to this investment if it doesn’t want the people to suffer”, said Saul.

He added that SKP groups throughout Papua have declared war on oil palm investment because it also provides no benefits for forest conservation.

Despite several workshops and seminars to which experts and decision-makers were invited, local governments in Papua seem incapable of taking on investment in the guise of oil palm.  According to data from the Mimika forestry service, PT PAL plan to develop a 38000 hectare oil palm plantation from Iwaka District to West Mimika District.

The company is in possession of a cultivation rights permit (HGU) from the government and a permit to operate from the Mimika Bupati since 2007.

English Translation by awasMifee

[awasMIFEE note: In 2011 PT Pusaka Agro Lestari was bought by the Noble Group, a company which trades in agricultural commodities, and has only recently started investing in oil palm plantations. PT Pusaka Agro Lestari is its second plantation in Papua, after PT Henrison Inti Persada in Sorong]

Medco in Manokwari: stepping up the pressure on land and community

From AwasMifee

January 20, 2014

Medco moved into Manokwari in 2008 to start an oil palm plantation. At that point it could still be counted as one of the pioneers of oil palm in West Papua.   A few years later, as large expanses of land for new plantations become increasingly hard to obtain in Sumatra and Kalimantan, more and more companies have been turning their eyes eastward to Papua’s vast forests. Yet given the huge inequalities in Papua, it is unlikely that any of these new plantation developments will be without its problems.

In the case of Medco, the new plantation has increased the pressure on land in a relatively densely populated agricultural area, potentially also increasing tensions between indigenous Papuans and transmigrants.

The land around Manokwari is mostly mountainous, except for one long broad plain stretching along the coast and into the interior. Much of this land was allocated for transmigration programs in the 1980s, and some of the migrants who came were employed as smallholders on the first oil palm plantation in Papua, run by the state-owned company PTPN II, which got its permit to operate in 1980.  Other  transmigrants farm food crops in this area, which is the only large area suitable for lowland agriculture near to Manokwari city. Many local Arfak people also live in the area, they are also farmers but tend to use the technique of shifting cultivation, while the transmigrants stick to their allocated two hectares.

This is the environment which Medco’s subsidiary PT Medcopapua Hijau Selaras moved into, occupying some of the forest areas unused by PTPN II and the transmigrants, and also westwards further along the plain. This agricultural environment and its mixed population structure is a very different context from some other areas where oil palm is expanding in Papua, such as the sparsely populated forests the Korindo and Daewoo groups chose for their plantations near Merauke.

Everywhere in Papua, the consent of local communities which hold customary land rights have to be obtained before a company can operate. However this is often treated as a formality, rather than giving communities a real choice to decide the future of their land. Medco has met this requirement by compensating traditional leaders at a rate of Rp 450,000 per hectare. The company also offers local Papuans smallholdings of two hectares of oil palm, which they would manage and then sell the fruit to the company.

450,000 per hectare is not much (around A$45 dollars). One place we visited told us that the chief had received 30 million Rupiah for the villages’ land (he wasn’t sure of how many hectares that was for). That meant signing away rights to the land for 35 years. However, in one year, he claimed, the farmers could make 30 million growing chilli on just a portion of that land. They felt cheated.

What’s more, negotiations and payment are made to the tribal chief only.  It is customary amongst the Arfak people that the chief receives all compensation paid to use the land, and does not share it with other families. However the whole community who lose their land to theplantation. In many places chocolate trees have been cleared, and the owner was not individually compensated. The Arfak people we spoke to did not make a problem of this however, or show any bitterness towards the tribal chief. Indeed they complained about how Medco had not followed through on its promises to build a new home for the tribal chief, seeing it as a betrayal of trust by the company.

In fact, it may be low, but 450,000 Rupiah is a higher level of compensation than any other oil palm plantation in Papua. The highest rate in the cluster of plantations around Merauke is Rp 300,000 per hectare, but some communities were convinced to sell for Rp 50,000 – 70,000 back in 2007. In Sorong, the Mooi people were cheated out of their land for Rp 6000 per hectare. However, in those other cases, the land is mostly forest. Medco’s area in Manokwari is either agricultural land or could be potentially used as agricultural land. If it were not being used for oil palm it would be used by small farmers to meet the food needs of this growing city. As a comparison, one hectare of paddy fields on Java would be sold for around two billion rupiah.

Before Medco came, there were existing tensions over land, which squeezing the communities yet further is likely to exacerbate. The problems arose because when the government originally brought transmigrants from other islands including Java and Timor, it didn’t seek agreement from the local customary landowners or provide compensation. Although it is now generally recognised that retrospective compensation must be paid, in many cases the cash is not forthcoming.

In some cases, the transmigrants have settled the issue themselves, paying off the required amount in monthly instalments.  Others quite rightly argue that the government brought them there, and so they are holding out for the government to meet its responsibility and pay up. But in that situation their future is very insecure, especially if they are smallholders on PTPN II’s plantation with just two hectares of palm trees which are rapidly becoming unproductive, and no clear title over the land.

The indigenous people are also in an increasingly precarious situation, in part because Medco has also taken so much land, making it harder to make a living from shifting cultivation as they have always done.

In general, the indigenous people and the transmigrants are aware of the other side’s difficult situation and endeavour to remain good neighbours without conflict breaking out. However it is inevitable that tensions are present, and without a resolution it could explode at any time.

The new plantation also brings environmental problems. Apart from clearing the lowland forest, the plantation is already causing severe problems with erosion and flooding. One river had widened by over 100m in just a few years since the forest was cut down and replaced with oil palm. Flooding has also intensified in a transmigration area between PTPN 2 and Medco’ s plantations, so much so that the government has erected flood danger notices along the edge of Medco’s concession. Floodwaters now regularly enter their houses.

Taking all the low lying land for an oil palm plantation means also that the Papuan farmers are moving into nearby mountainous land for their shifting cultivation plots. Clearing the forest on these steep slopes also increases the risk of flooding and landslides.

There are also a number of issues for the Papuan and transmigrant workers who are taken on by Medco as day-labourers. They are paid a flat 68,000 Rupiah per day, which is a low wage taking into account the high cost of living in Papua. Workers also reported that the company didn’t provide any safety equipment to day-labourers or small-holders who were
spraying weedkillers and pesticides.

Medco still wishes to extend the area it is cultivating, westwards towards Kebar district and eastwards back towards Manokwari city. However, it has reportedly met with opposition from indigenous people and also difficulty expanding the area of its permit: the original
location permit covered 13,850 hectares, but the land released by the forestry ministry was only 6,791 hectares, and in 2011 the company said it had paid compensation on 5930 hectares.

This article was first by our partners at awasMIFEE.

Indigenous People Demand Companies Give Work to Papuans

January 10, 2014

Source: Bintang Papua

Translation by AwasMifee

Four companies in Muting and Ulilin Districts of Merauke Regency have been asked to give work to indigenous Papuans, and especially holders of customary rights over the land the companies are using. The four companies that are operating in the two districts are PT Bio Inti Agrindo, PT Cahaya Bone Lestari, PT Agrinusa Cipta Persada and PT Berkat Cipta Abadi. All four companies are involved in the oil palm sector.

Imanuel Basik-Basik, the Traditional Chief of the Malind Bianim in Muting, said that these four companies had been in operation for two
years but were still not recruiting indigenous Papuans to their workforce, in particular the customary rights holders. This is despite a
written agreement between the companies and the customary land rights holders to recruit local Papuan labour, said Imanuel Basik-Basik.

“Documents exist in which all four companies promise to recruit local
Papuan labour once the company started operations, but until now there has been no follow-up on this”, said Imanuel Basik-Basik.

Based on data from the Merauke forestry and plantation service, these four oil palm companies are operating on customary land belonging to the Malind Bianim indigenous people of Muting, with respective operational areas of:

  • PT Bio Inti Agrindo 40,000 hectares,
  • PT Cahaya Bone Lestari 403 hectares (under a self-management scheme),
  • PT Agrinusa Cipta Persada, 33,540 hectares,
  • and PT Berkat Cipta Abadi 14,525 hectares.

Efendy Kanan, the head of the Forestry and Plantation service pointed
out that of the four companies operating in the two districts, one was
self-managed. “PT Cahaya Bone Lestari is a self-management corporation where the profits from the production are shared with 30% going to the customary rights holders and 70% to the company. This is because about 363 hectares of the land worked by the corporation belongs to local residents, while 60 hectares belongs to the local government,” revealed Efendy Kanaan.