Tag Archives: palm oil

West Papua Oil Palm Atlas: The companies behind the plantation explosion

From our hardworking partners at AwasMIFEE

April 30, 2015

West Papua Oil Palm Atlas:
The companies behind the plantation explosion.

-a comprehensive investigation into the oil palm industry in West Papua,
published by awasMIFEE and Pusaka, together with local Papuan
organisations Belantara Papua, Bin Madag Hom, Jasoil, SKP KAME and Jerat
Papua, and Sawit Watch.

Available for download: https://awasmifee.potager.org/?p=1205

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Indonesia’s oil palm industry is moving east. With large tracts of land
increasingly difficult to find in Sumatra and Borneo, plantation
companies are now focussing their attention on Indonesia’s eastern
frontier: the small islands of the Maluku archipelago and especially the
conflict-ridden land of West Papua.

In 2005 there were only five oil palm plantations operating in West
Papua. By the end of 2014 there were 21 operational plantations. This
rapid expansion is set to continue with another 20 concessions at an
advanced stage of the permit process, and many more companies that have
been issued with an initial location permit. If all these plantations
were developed, more than 2.6 million hectares of land would be used up,
the vast majority of which is currently tropical forest.

Almost without exception, these plantations have caused conflict with
the local indigenous communities who depend on the forest – lowland
Papuans are mostly hunters and gatherers to some degree. The conflicts
have centred around community’s refusal to hand over their land, demand
for justice in the cases where they feel the land has been taken from
them by deceit or intimidation, horizontal conflicts between
neighbouring villages or clans, action by indigenous workers who feel
they are exploited, or aggression by police or military working as
security guards for the plantation companies.

The West Papua Oil Palm Atlas, published by awasMIFEE, Pusaka and six
other organisations, is an attempt to provide a picture of this
developing industry. Who are the companies involved? Where are they
operating? Which areas will be the next hotspots? The aim is to be part
of a process to push for more open and accessible information about
resource exploitation industries in West Papua – currently local
administrations and companies are often reluctant to share information
about permits, meaning that communities often know nothing of plantation
plans until a company shows up, trying to acquire their land.

Indonesian law does recognise communal land rights for indigenous
customary communities, but in reality those communities often face
considerable pressure to give up that land, and are rarely given more
than US$30 per hectare in compensation. It is hoped that this
publication can become a tool for indigenous peoples and social
movements who wish to understand the oil palm industry and defend their
forest against these land grabbers, as they themselves should be the
ones to determine what kinds of development will benefit their communities.

For environmentalists and supporters of indigenous struggles around the
world, we hope that this will also be a useful insight into the dynamics
of the plantation industry and the threats it is causing in the third
largest tropical forest in the world. Using the excuse of the conflict
around the independence movement, the Indonesian government makes it
very difficult for international observers to access West Papua, and
this has probably also resulted in a lack of awareness internationally
about the ecological threats. Yesterday (29th April) human rights groups
throughout West Papua, Indonesia and in over 22 cities around the world
held demonstrations for open access to Papua, which has long been a
demand of many Papuan movements. Publishing this Oil Palm Atlas is also
an attempt to break the isolation of Papua, by focussing attention on
the issue of indigenous land rights, in a context where local
communities which choose to oppose plantation companies often feel
intimidated by state security forces which back up the companies.

Direct download link:

English:
http://awasmifee.potager.org/uploads/2015/04/atlas-sawit-en.pdf
Indonesian:
http://awasmifee.potager.org/uploads/2015/04/atlas-low-resolution-Final-id.pdf

JUBI: Saifi Community Rejects Palm Oil Plantation in Sorong Selatan Regency

Secretary of Sekanoi Customary Council, Simson Sremere (Jubi)
Secretary of Sekanoi Customary Council, Simson Sremere (Jubi)

from our partners at Tabloid Jubi’s West Papua Daily

14 September 2014

Sorong, Jubi – Residents in Salfi Sub-district of Sorong South Regency  rejected the local government’s plan to invite a palm oil plantation company to their area, said Customary Council community leaders.

“We absolutely reject it, because it would affect to the sustainability of our dense forest,” the Secretary of Sekanoi Customary Council Simson Sremere said. He further said the palm oil plantation would threat and damage the forest sustainability in their customary area.

“In addition, the deforestation for the palm oil plantation could threaten the habitat of various animals in our forest,” he said.

The presence of a palm oil company could have an adverse effect on the local economy and marginalise the local community as the company would  tend to hire  migrant employees.

Meanwhile, a youth leader from Sayal Vilalge, Maikel Ajamsaru asked the South Sorong  Government to decline the MoU with the major investment companies who threat the ecosystem within other regions in South Sorong Regency.  “Local government must review some agreements with the future investment companies,”  Ajamsaru said. (Nees Makuba/rom)

Problems faced by Sinar Mas plantation workers in Lereh, Jayapura

translated by our partners at awasMifee from a SKP Jayapura report

SKPKC Jayapura staff organised a meeting in the Juk-Lereh church which was attended by around 20 employees of PT Sinar Mas. The meeting was a response to the Taja parish priest Hendik Nahak’s request to address problems facing workers at Sinar Mas’s oil palm plantation.

Father Hendrik explained that there are quite a few problems that occur in the oil palm plantation, but they are covered up by the company. The problems relate to, for example, workers’ rights, recruitment, clean water and habitable accommodation. Father Hendrik’s explanation was confirmed by the workers present in the meeting. They made clear that these problems had been ongoing for some time and were frequently ignored by the company.

Problems that often arise include recruiting company workers by using supervisors who find the workers, making all sorts of enticing promises. People who want to work for the company are asked to sign agreements to accept all company decisions concerning their wages and other working conditions.

There are also problems concerning housing and clean water. The company brings new workers to the site without taking their accommodation needs into consideration, meaning that 3x3m2 houses are being inhabited by two or even three families. People have to rely on rainwater for their everyday clean water needs because the nearby river is polluted by fertilizer which is sprayed by aeroplane. Then when wages are paid, money is docked without explanation, meaning that quarrels sometimes break out between workers and supervisors.

Source: SKP Jayapura

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.

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.