Tag Archives: PT Selaras Inti Semesta

Merauke Burns – but were the plantations to blame?

By AwasMIFEE

First Published: November 20, 2015

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The rains have finally arrived, putting out the forest fires that raged across Indonesia through the last few months. Forest burning takes place every dry season, but this year an especially strong El Nino phenomenon meant that the dry season was longer and dryer, and the fires were especially bad.

The worst crises were, as in other years, on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where human pressure on the forest is high, and deep peat soils mean that fires can burn for months. However this dry season there were also significantly more fires than usual in southern Papua, in Merauke and Mappi regencies. Timika, nearly 600 kilometres away, suffered from smoke haze as a result.

Merauke has become in recent years the main focus for the growth of industrial agriculture in Papua, due to various incarnations of  a central government project, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, and associated oil palm plantations. But is there a link between these development plans and the fires? awasMIFEE presents two articles to address this question. The first is an analysis of satellite photographs in two of Korindo’s plantations where clear evidence of fire on is found on newly-deforested land, by Sam Lawson of Earthsight. This article aims to complement that research by looking at the link between fire and deforestation in other plantations over the last four years, and the wider situation in Merauke.

Many fires outside plantation areas.

Fire hotspot data shows that the fires were found throughout the southern part of Merauke, where the vegetation is made up of mixed forest and grassland. Some of these fires were within plantation concession boundaries (unsurprisingly, since undeveloped plantation concessions cover well over a million hectares, more than a quarter of Merauke’s land area). There were a few concentrations of hotspots in areas where plantation companies are known to be active (Medco’s timber plantation in Zanegi village and woodchip factory in Boepe, Rajawali’s sugar cane plantation near Domande, PT Agriprima Cipta Persada and PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia’s oil palm plantations in Muting). However, as there were also many, many other fires away from these areas, there is insufficient evidence to conclude in these cases that fires were started by the companies.

Another important point is that some of the highest concentrations of fires were in areas where there are no plantations planned – such as Dolok Island, and the western part of Mappi Regency. It’s also worth pointing out that there were also a lot of fires across the border in Papua New Guinea, especially along the Fly River which flows close to the border.

The conclusion is: while it is certainly possible that some of the fires were connected with agricultural development, the high number of hotspots outside areas earmarked for plantations means it is likely that many of them were started for other reasons.

The big exception: Korindo.

In the more densely forested north-eastern part of Merauke, there were less fires. However when you look at where those fires were, you see a very strong pattern – many of them were clustered within oil palm concessions. What’s more, the hotspots (marked in orange) show a very strong correlation with data on areas deforested in 2015.1

Merauke Plantation Fires 2015

Three of those concessions are owned by the Korindo Group. PT Tunas Sawa Erma (which has been operating since 1998 but has not developed the whole concession) PT Dongin Prabhawa (which started land clearance in 2011) and PT Papua Agro Lestari (which appears to have just started clearing land in the last few months). Another is PT Bio Inti Agrindo (operating since 2012), which is owned by Daewoo International Corporation, but known to have a close relationship to Korindo.

Here’s a closer look at two of them: PT Dongin Prabhawa and PT Bio Inti Agrindo:

PT dp dan PT BIA 2015

This is quite strong evidence to indicate that these companies may have been using fire to clear land, a practice which is illegal in Indonesia. This evidence is further reinforced if we look at fire data for previous years.  It appears that there have been fires in the concessions each year, and the fire locations closely follow each successive year’s cutting plans. The implication is that Korindo and Daewoo International companies appear to have been regularly using fire to clear land since 2012.

The following maps use a different source of deforestation data – tree cover loss data from the University of Maryland – which gives an indication of which bits of forest were cut each year, and this is overlaid with the hotspots detected by NASA MODIS satellites the same year. Both sets of data are available to browse on the www.globalforestwatch.org website, but due to the way that site is structured you can’t see them simultaneously like this.

Here’s some views of PT Dongin Prabhawa’s concession in 2012,2013 and 2014. The purple areas were the areas deforested that year. The orange dots are the hotspots recorded in the same year. You can see that in 2012, there were several fires in the area cleared, in 2013 fires burned in areas cleared that year and the year before, and then in 2014 fires broke out in more newly cleared blocks.

PT Dongin Prabhawa 2012-2014A similar pattern can be seen in PT Bio Inti Agrindo’s concession. Forest clearance started in the north-western corner of the concession, and moved eastward, including in 2014 clearing the corridor that eventually connects the larger eastern block of the concession. There were concentrations of hotspots in 2012 and 2013 in the western block, at the same time that deforestation was taking place there.bca bia 2012-4

Just to the north of PT Bio Inti Agrindo is PT Berkat Cipta Abadi, another Korindo subsidiary which started clearing in 2012. Here too, the fires closely mirrored the deforestation pattern, with a particularly high concentration in 2014.


  1. Deforestation data is from Sam Lawson’s analysis of Landsat satellites, tracing the difference between images dated late January 2015 to late October 2015.  ↩

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