Tag Archives: Working Conditions

Investigative Report into Oil Palm in Nabire Regency, Papua

By Father Santon Tekege, regular West Papua Media contributor, with AwasMifee
originally published June 25, 2014
Based on a Field Visit 13th March 2014
General Description of PT Nabire Baru in Nabire
Several companies’ plans to invest in the oil palm sector in Nabire have met with local opposition. People from the Yerisiam and Wate ethnic groups have staged several peaceful actions in Nabire against one of these companies, PT Nabire Baru(1). The chief of the Yerisiam ethnic group, Fr S.P. Hanebora has said that they have kept asking for support for their opposition but so far no organisation has stepped forward to support them.

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“Because of this, we are asking NGOs and Churches to work together with us to oppose this company. The indigenous people’s opposition has been very clear, but the company has continued to work: cutting down the forest, clearing the land, preparing 2 million oil palm saplings to be planted on an area of 32,000 hectares in Kampung Wami and 8000 hectares in Kampung Sima, in Yaur (Yaro) district, Nabire Regency.

Currently, the Papuan Natural Resource Management and Environment Agency (BAPESDALH) has refused to give PT Nabire Baru a permit to continue developing oil palm plantations around Kampung Sima and Wami, Yaur District. That means that there are currently 1,800 employees who have been abandoned with no wages or anything to live off. The Papuan BAPESDALH has written at least twice to PT Nabire Baru. In its second letter dated October 2012, as in the previous letter, the oil palm company was requested to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (AMDAL) immediately. Until that occurs, the company may not proceed with its operations3.

We were able to produce this general overview based on reports we received in Wami and Sima. I also visited the company’s premises themselves. I approached several people to discuss the situation and also entered the company’s work area, even though it was tightly guarded by police officers from the Nabire Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) who were stationed both at the access road and around the company’s premises. In the interviews, local people and company employees related their respective struggles with the company.

Some effects of PT Nabire Baru’s operations include converting the forest vegetation into oil palm, a deterioration in the quality of surface water, air quality and noise. Locally temperatures have increased, changing the microclimate, environmental health, an increase in population as the workforce increased, and disruption to local security. According to these informants, these negative impacts are only recently being widely realised, and they intend to re-analyse the situation by taking the data to the community to observe the actual current situation.

In the meeting several indigenous leaders from the Yerisiam people, and also human rights activist Gunawan Inggeruhi, said that people in Wami and Sima were always divided according to whether they were pro- or contra- the company. We always hear opinions that are coloured by verbal arguments and push and shove between people. Some people openly oppose the oil palm industry “They have been working for two years. What’s more, our forest was destroyed before an environmental impact assessment (AMDAL) was completed. Why are they only carrying out the AMDAL two years later? Why so long?” one resident asked.

Other residents are more inclined to submit to the company’s plans – since the forest has already gone, oil palm can now be accepted. Human rights activist and Yerisiam intellectual Gunawan Inggeruhi believes that since PT Nabire Baru first arrived, they have been seen to ignore the indigenous people’s [land] rights. “Don’t start all these programs when it is not the time to do so, while the issue of people’s land rights has also still not been resolved.” Complete payments for ancestral land have still yet to be made in both Wami and Sima. Local people are complaining about the company’s actions: “The company is also bringing people from outside Papua to work there. Meanwhile, the company is not paying adequate attention to us as the local indigenous landowners, as was stipulated in the original agreement to develop education and healthcare.” “Now we have a school building but no teachers. A healthcare building exists, but there are no staff to run it. That is how PT Nabire Baru has deceived us.”

Several points came out of their reports, as follows:

A. The location of PT. Nabire Baru’s operations in Nabire Regency, Papua: PT. Nabire Baru’s operations are located in Wami and Yaro districts in Nabire Regency, and also in Sima district. The amount of forest which will be used is 32,000 hectares, on which they intend to plant four million palm trees. Two million saplings are already ready to be planted out and workers are placing two million more into pots. Another 8000 hectares will be planted with palm trees in Sima District. When the company arrived, it built a school building, but as of 2014 there were no teachers.

According to the Yerisiam people’s traditional leader, the Sima area is sacred land. However it is now being converted to an oil palm plantation: “We feel that our relationship with our nature and forest has been destroyed by this company. Sago trees, our forest like the mother which gave us life, forest birds, all are no longer to be seen, and we also feel the loss of plants that were good to eat and that ensured a cool environment. “

B. Number of workers: 1800 people were employed in December 2012. However, by 2014 this number had increased to 1900 according to company managers. There are more non-Papuans amongst the workforce than ethnic Papuans. Some of the non-local workers are not long-term inhabitants of the area, but were brought there from outside Papua by the company’s owner. Those who are fully involved in the company tend to be the non-Papuans. Indigenous Papuans, on the other hand, are distinctly less active in their work for the company. A situation like this means that the Nabire local government’s desire to provide economic security for the people has been proved a failure. The author of this study believes that the company and government are deliberately marginalising indigenous landowners in Wami and Sima.

C. Employees’ Situation: Employee’s pay situation: Daily pay for a worker is 63400 Rupiah. They receive their monthly wages in two fortnightly instalments. If in those two weeks, the employee is absent from work, their wage is reduced in line with the number of days they were absent. When the field supervisor (Ard. Yafet Magai) was asked about this, he said that local people were frequently absent from work, meaning that the company would always reduce their wages. Because of that, the wages received by non-Papuans were always much higher than those of the Papuans, who often missed work. That is the situation regarding wages between Papuans and non-Papuans. However, no employee wages have been paid since January 2013. Workers have not been working since January 20134

Worker’s health condition: According to the head of the local clinic and othe medical staff in Wanggar, two main ailments are affecting workers, as follows:

1. Malaria, workers are suffering from the tertiane and tropicana strains. Patients are sickening because of insufficient rest and an irregular eating pattern. This group of patients can be helped by medical staff as fast as possible, usually recovering after a week or two.

2. Pulmonary infections (violent coughing which produces phlegm). This group of patients takes some time to get better, even though their body maintains its strength.

D. The company becomes a threat for the people of Nabire: Nabire Regency comprises 81 villages and 14 sub-districts. The principle commodities according to data from the Papuan branch of the National Statistics Agency in the farming and related services sector are cocoa, coffee, cloves, and cashew nuts, and there is also some corn and cassava. This data reveals an aspect of why local conditions in Nabire are not appropriate for oil palm plantations.

According to Benyamin Karet, the second assistant to the Nabire Regional Secretary in December 2012: the land for oil palm which is being disputed, is actually in the former forestry concession of PT Jati Dharma Indah (JDI). JDI are still claiming that this land belongs to them until their forest management permit (HPH) expires in 2017. If the two companies both try to claim the land, it is certain that in the end it is the local community that will feel the effect. Such a situation also means that the local government must have engineered the process to get permits for PT Nabire Baru

From the perspective of environmental impacts: International NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have campaigned a lot around how oil palm plantations always produce land conflicts which result in the loss of life. This is connected with irregularities in the permit process which are based on corruption. Examples of cases are in Mesuji, Lampung province in Sumatra, or in Papua in Keerom, Merauke and Lereh near Sentani.

From the economic perspective: Oil palm plantations in Wami and Yaro are not certain to bring economic security to local people, because company owners tend to employ workers from other areas, meaning that the desire to create economic security for the local community is sometimes only an empty promise. It is plain to see how transmigrants in the land of Papua are able to supply the cities’ needs, especially for fruit and vegetables, but also for other requirements. Many of them are even being recruited as workers on oil palm plantations. Meanwhile indigenous Papuans’ levels of adaptation and economic security are stagnating as they are further marginalised. Government plans for assimilation and technology transfer do not take place smoothly and according to plan.

1. Community Landowners’ opposition in 2007

Wanggar Pantai tribal leader Alex Raiky and other indigenous leaders in Wanggar Pantai, who are also supported by other indigenous people in Yaro district, have made clear that a letter about planting oil palm on the ancestral land of the people of Wate, dated 16th April 2007 and addressed to the leadership of PT Jati Dharma Indah, was an endorsement. However it should not be regarded as a guarantee of cooperation between the Wate ethnic group and PT Harvest Raya. That statement was conveyed to the Nabire Regency head via the head of the Forestry and Plantation service, Ir Marlan Pinem, in a meeting between the Wate people and PT Jati Dharma Indah in the meeting room of the Forestry and Plantation Service on Monday (17/9/2007), and the indigenous people were supported by the head of Yaro District Stefen Elbe.

Jumali, PT. Jati Dharma Indah’s division head, said in that meeting that the company that was planning to develop oil palm in the area at that time [PT Harvest Raya] was a joint venture between JDI and a Korean investor. The investment capital would come from the foreign investor and JDI’s involvement was due to the forest management permit they held. This permit would expire in 2017. Because of this, Jumali explained, if indigenous landowners were to reject that investor, the company would not make further plans and would withdraw from Nabire. A similar sentiment was conveyed by the head of the Nabire Forestry and Plantation Service, Marlan Pinem, who said that if the indigenous community rejected an investor in Nabire Regency, that company would not be able to start a business in the area. Pinem gave an example from his own experience, that previously PT Gudang Garam had wanted to invest in the Nifasi Area, and had even already brought heavy machinery to the area, but in the end had left because the indigenous community had opposed the company.

The statement from the Wate indigenous people, which was signed by indigenous community leaders from Wanggar Pantai Nicanor Money (indigenous head of Wanggar Pantai), Adrianus Money (head of Neighbourhood Unit (RT) 2), Yosius Way (head of Neighbourhood Unit 1) and Safter Money (Wanggar Pantai village head), who all stated that they all opposed any kind of cooperation with JDI, the company with the forestry permit. The reason was that as long as JDI had been working on their land the company had never given them any kind of contribution that would guarantee the neighbouring indigenous community’s continued livelihood and economic security. In the three-way meeting the indigenous people made clear that this rejection did not only come from the Wate ethnic group in Yaro, but also indigenous groups in Sima and living in the SP B transmigration zone in Wanggar. The head of the forestry service Marlan Pinem promised that their rejection would be dealt with in a way which reflected the community’s aspirations. He could say that because the right to make decisions lay with the forestry and plantation service at the Papuan Provincial level. Because of that attitude, PT JDI did not continue to work or develop the new company. Even though their forest management concession has yet to expire, PT JDI has not carried out any work in the Nabire area since 2010.

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2. Wate and Yerisiam Community opposition in 2012 and 2014 Opposition also came from the Papua Provincial Administration in the form of two letters from the BAPESDALH office to PT Nabire Baru. As in the first letter, in the second letter dated October 2012, the oil palm company was requested to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment immediately. Until this occurred, the company was forbidden from continuing work. However, direct field observations show that the company has already taken over the indigenous land, by clearing 32,000 hectares of land. The development of oil palm from 2012 to 2014 can be seen in the photos accompanying this report.

The plans of several companies to invest in the oil palm sector has been opposed by the people of Nabire. This includes PT Nabire Baru – the Yerisiam and Wate ethnic groups have staged several peaceful actions in Nabire to demonstrate their opposition. Even though the people expressed their opposition, the company continued work regardless: felling the forest, clearing the land and preparing two million oil palm saplings to be planted on 32,000 hectares around Kampung Wami, and another 8000 Hectares around Kampung Sima. Conculsion

I have written this investigative report based on the Yerisiam and Wate community’s complaints and opposition to oil palm companies in District Wami and Sima, in Nabire Regency. Workers expressed a range of complaints, as did those concerned about the environment, including the Church. The reason was that there are two companies which both claim the same area.

The two companies in question are PT Jati Dharma Indah (JDI) who’s forestry concession is only set to expire in 2017, and PT Nabire Baru which has already started work, resulting in 2 million oil palm seedlings ready to be planted out. The process finding a settlement for local indigenous landowners has also not been concluded. The indigenous People of Nabire strongly oppose the game that is being played between the two companies, the Nabire Regency government and the Papuan Provincial Government. For this reason, the indigenous community is worried, to the point of trauma, about the attitude and behaviour of the various vested interests which are driving this horizontal and vertical conflict.

With the situation as it is, it is essential that the various parties, including the two companies and the provincial and regional governments, sit down together with the indigenous people of Nabire Regency and discuss possible resolutions to the problem, before conflict breaks out in the city. That’s what I think!!!

Author: Pastoral staff of Timika Diocese, Papua

[awasmifee note: PT Nabire Baru is a subsidiary of Carson Cumberbatch, a Sri Lankan company, via its plantations business The Goodhope Company. Other linked subsidiary companies involved in Nabire are PT Sariwana Unggal Mandiri and PT Sariwana Adi Perkasa]


1 Interview with Oktovianus Douw (Supervisor) and head of the company’s field leadership Yafet Magai in Kampung Yaro, and Human Rights Activist Gunawan Inggeruhi in Nabire City on 13th March 2014

2 Interview with Fr. S. P. Hanebora, 13th March 2014

3 Tabloid Jubi, 23 January 2013

4 See Jubi 23 January 2013: The Papuan Provincial Natural Resource and Environmental Management Agency (BAPESDALH) will not issue a permit to PT Nabire Baru (PT NB) to continue developing an oil palm plantation in Kampung Sima and Wami, Yaur District, Nabire Regency. The result will be as many as 1500 workers left without work.

One of PT NB’s workers Matias Iyai, said that the company had stopped working some time ago. “We are not working any more,” he said when met in Nabire on Wednesday (23/1).

Matias Iyai cited an explaination from the company leadership, that they were waiting for a decision from the Papuan Provincial Governor. This decision was conneted with the lack of environmental certification in the form of an Environmental Impact Assessment (AMDAL). “They say it’s an administratve matter. But I don’t know if that’s true or not. What is clear is that we keep demanding our rights , because our wages have not been paid” said Matias Iyai.

1500 workers are suffering right now because the company stopped working. They haven’t got what is owed to them, on top of which it is difficult to find new work. “Regarding our rights, we weren’t paid approriately for the hard work we did each day. Previously we were paid 65,000 Rupiah. Then that was cut back to 63,000 Rupiah,” he said.

Workers once held a demonstration at PT Nabire Baru’s offices to demand an explaination why daily pay was only paid out twice monthly. However, at that time the leadership did not give a constructive response. “All this time we’ve been working like slaves. The pay wasn’t all that much. Which means that many people have left, they don’t want to work for this oil palm company any more,” Iyai said.

The Papuan Provincial BAPESDAHL ( Papuan Natural Resource Management and Environment Agency) office has sent letters to PT Nabire Baru. In its second letter in October 2012 (as it had in the first), the company was asked to carry out an environmental assessment immediately. Until it did, the company must stop all work.

The people of Nabire have challenged the plans of several oil palm investors. That inclues PT Nabire Baru, which the Yerisiam and Wate ethnic groups have opposed by holding several peacceful actions in Nabire. The leader of the Yerisiam ethnic group, Fr. S.P.Hanebora has even had to fly to Jakarta to look for support from NGOs, the government and the House of Representatives.

Despite the community opposition, the company has continued its operations, clearing the forest and prepaaring 2 million oil palm saplings to plant in an area of 32,000 hectares in Kampung Wami and in Sima around 8000 hectares.

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

Three Years of MIFEE (part 2): First Villages Feel the Impact as the Plantation Menace Spreads.

First Published October 23, 2013 by our friends at awasMIFEE

looking over BIA concessionThe forest villages of Merauke are as remote as it is possible to imagine in the twenty-first century. Nowhere in Indonesia is further from Jakarta – 3700 kilometres as the crow flies. 662 km of forest and a high mountain range separate Merauke from the Papuan capital, Jayapura, which is also the focus of most of West Papua’s social movements. Many of the villages are not accessible by road, and have no electricity or telecommunications links either. Local indigenous people, who mostly identify as belonging to sub-ethnic groups of the Malind people, get most of what they need from the forests, grasslands and swamps that cover the area.

When a convergence of national and local political interests decided that this area was to be intensively developed as a new centre of industrial food and biofuel production, the Malind people faced an immediate threat to their cultural survival. Since the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) was officially inaugurated three years ago dozens of companies have applied for plantation permits, and proceeded to try and get control over the Malind People’s ancestral lands.

As the area is so remote, and as so many different villages and companies are involved, the impact on the Malind people can easily go unnoticed by those outside the area. Therefore the most basic act of solidarity with the Malind people as they face this huge upheaval in their livelihoods, is to make sure their isolation does not allow the companies to force their way in with impunity, and where possible, allow their voices to reach the wider world.

That is exactly what awasMIFEE has been trying to do since the website was launched in early 2012. However, we realise that not all readers follow the blog posts as obsessively as they are written, and for that reason, felt it might be helpful to provide a summary of the different ways MIFEE has been affecting communities.


Under Papuan law, indigenous people have rights over their ancestral land, known as ulayat rights. If a company wants to use that land they have to negotiate access with the ulayat rights holders first. According to Malind tradition, different clans hold the rights to different areas of land, which also become their hunting grounds and place where they look for other foods. Each clan has a chief and companies will try to get the signature of the clan chiefs, by fair means or foul.

The first companies to make deals often did so through simple deception. For example, in Zanegi village in 2009, Medco gave the villagers 300 million rupiah and a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’. The people interpreted this as a friendly gesture. They did not realise that they were signing away rights to their land, and also agreeing to be compensated for the wood on the land at 2500 Rupiah per cubic meter, a fraction of the price they would get selling individual logs to wood traders.

In other places companies have continued to try to deceive communities by referring to money as ‘appreciation money’ (uang penghargaan) ‘money to open the door’ (uang kelok pintu), ‘ex-gratia payments’ (uang tali asih) and so on. The people are led to believe that the money is a token of encouragement, rather than a legally binding land deal. This has been recorded in villages such as Kaliki and Domande by Rajawali Group companies, and in Bupul and Muting by AMS Ganda group companies.


A slightly different form of coercion has been seen in Kampung Selor and Kampung Onggari, where local people have reported that companies brought clan leaders to Merauke city where they were put up in hotels and provided with money to buy alcohol and the services of prostitutes. Later, when they were drunk, they were asked to sign a land release agreement.

Although the whole village will lose out if the forest is gone, normally companies only focus their efforts on trying to convince community leaders (administrative and traditional village leaders and clan chiefs) to sign away the land. These community leaders have been flown by the company to visit other plantations, in one case (Wilmar) as far away as Sumatra.

Companies have also made promises to build village facilities and these have rarely been honoured. A typical list might include schools, clinics, churches, new houses, roads, electricity supply and sports facilities. However once the deal is signed the new facilities fail to materialise. Or only a church is built.

By the time other companies were ready to make deals, other communities had heard of what happened in Zanegi and were more wary. Some villages decided that they would demand what they considered fair compensation for their land, based on the community’s real needs over the nominal 35-year lifetime of a plantation. For example, in May 2012 four villages said they would only permit Korindo subsidiary PT Dongin Prabhawa to operate if the company gave them 100 billion Rupiah. Sums a plantation company is never going to pay. Making these high demands can be understood as a strategy to resist the plantation plan, but from a community which doesn’t believe that it still has a chance of refusing to sell its land and preventing the company from moving in. Some of those villages have reportedly since settled for a lower sum, others continue to resist.

This feeling of coercion is underlined by the fact that each company is accompanied by military or military police (Brimob) who are present each time the company describes its plans to the community or negotiates a land release agreement. Even if the military are ostensibly present as security guards or witnesses and do not directly threaten the people, their presence alone can be sufficiently intimidating to create the impression that refusing the company’s plans is not a realistic option.

In other cases the military threat has been more direct. Using a technique reminiscent of how plantation companies obtained land in Sumatra during the Suharto era, threatening people as communists, MIFEE companies have been accused of trying to politicise the struggle, by threatening communities that they will be treated as OPM separatists. The military’s violent and indiscriminate repression against alleged OPM members in West Papua is well-known, and is enough to cause widespread panic. These allegations have been reported from the concessions of one of the main oil palm companies, where the guards are all Kopassus members. Most recently, PT Mayora caused panic in Yowid village by making similar allegations. As women and children were preparing to take refuge in the forest, some village elders felt they had no option but to sign the document PT Mayora presented them with.

The amount of compensation that companies have paid has varied, but recently has tended to settle on a standard of 300,000 Rupiah per hectare (about $30). Once shared out between all the families in the clan this is really not very money to compensate the loss of their land which had sustained people all their lives. Even worse, the money is delivered in a lump sum so it is usually finished very fast.

Here is a comparison which shows the low regard in which indigenous communities are held. Siti Hartari Murdaya, one of the owners of a MIFEE company, was recently convicted in a graft case for bribing the district leader for a permit for a 4500 hectare oil palm plantation in Buol, Sulawesi. She paid 1 billion Rupiah  for the permit, which works out as 222,000 Rupiah per hectare. Her company, Hardaya Inti Plantations has yet to reach a settlement with the villagers in the area, but other companies have paid a maximum of 300,000 Rp, not much more than she paid this one official.


As the companies move in, local people learn about poverty. Throughout their history, the forest has always been there, with abundant sago groves to provide sustenance and forest animals easy to hunt. Selling forest products such as gambier resin provides some money to buy other essentials. With the forest gone, food is hard to find, ironically for a project that was supposed to ensure a nation’s food security, and people become dependent on the cash economy.

The descent into poverty has been seen most clearly in Zanegi village. With the forest gone, food is hard to find. Interviewed for the video Mama Malind Su Hilang (Our mother is gone), Moses Kaize said that before Medco moved in, a hunter could find meat within about an hour. To hunt a deer now, it would take a full day or even two. Even to find sago the villagers have to travel to temporary camps far from the villages, their sago groves destroyed by the company that promised to preserve them. The village is often empty as everyone is away. Those that find work with the company have no security, they are without contracts and paid enough to feed a family, no more.

Children are reported as suffering from malnutrition, and this has sharply increased since the company moved in. In the first six months of 2013, five young children died of malnutrition or respiratory diseases in Zanegi village.

There are reports that in recent months Medco has started to take responsibility for the disasters it has created in Zanegi and Boepe villages. The company has apparently started supporting teachers and ensuring healthcare and supporting the village economy by preparing land and providing seeds and fertilisers for people to grow vegetables which they can sell through the company.

The process of impoverishment can start before the forest is felled however. As infrastructure is built to support MIFEE and company personnel, their military guards and more transmigrants move onto the Malind people’s land, they also consume forest resources such as meat and fish. This makes it harder for the indigenous people to obtain their subsistence needs from the forest, and face increasing pressure to engage more with the money economy, including selling their land to the companies.

An example is the Inggun Swamp, which was recently split in two by a new road. Original plans were for a bridge to cross the swamp, paid for from the national budget, but in the end earth and concrete were piled up to split the swamp in two. There was no environmental assessment to examine the road’s effect on the local hydrology, ecology, or the subsistence needs of people in nearby Kampung Wayau. Visitors to the area have reported meeting local policemen riding out on their motorbikes to go fishing in the swamp, using the new roads. As such areas become more and more accessible it is likely that people from the urban areas come to hunt and fish. The people from Wayau have not yet agreed to surrender their land to the Wilmar or Hardaya group companies, but if the integrity of the local forest is diminished, their choice is also reduced.

When through choice or coercion communities do eventually sell, the money they receive is a pittance if it is seen as a replacement for all the forest could provide for decades to come, but at the moment it is handed over it is a considerable amount, paid in cash. People know they should use the money wisely, but what options do they really have for investment? More often than not the money is finished almost immediately as traders come up from the city and persuade people to buy goods for vastly inflated prices, leaving the community with nothing once more, except the small compensation for wood as the trees are cut.


Plantation development brings widespread environmental destruction which also directly affects communities. In Zanegi pesticides from Medco’s tree nurseries have entered the swamps, causing the respiratory diseases that contribute to infant mortality and also skin problems.  Villagers further upstream along the Bian and Kumb Rivers also have experienced similar symptoms, possibly caused by the oil palm plantations and transmigration areas in those rivers’ headwaters. Big fish and even crocodiles have been reported as dying in the Bian River, near to Korindo and Daewoo’s oil palm plantations, and also in the Kumb and Digul Rivers. Villagers in the upper Bian River area report that they can no longer use the water for drinking, cooking and bathing, and now have to walk for miles to find clean water.

Forests in the Bian valley around PT Bio Inti Agrindo’s concession have also been cleared for oil palm by burning. This illegal practice is widespread all over Indonesia, and is most famous for causing the annual smogs over Sumatra which reach as far as Malaysia and Singapore. Local impacts include air and water pollution, and wildlife killed in the fire.


Nearer the coast, not far from Rajawali’s sugar plantations, streams near Onggari and Kaiburze have been drying up because of new irrigation canals to service the plantations and agricultural development in the transmigration zone. Birds are reported as disappearing from villages around the MIFEE area, their voices are no longer heard as before.


A major impact of MIFEE has also been the conflicts it has provoked between villages, clans and individuals. In Malind society, people know which land each clan has rights to. While they have no maps an unwritten geography has been developed through their history, belief system and collective memory. When the developers move in they bring with them maps drawn up in a Merauke Government office, GPS and other machines to check their position and large amounts of money which they will give to the head of whichever clan can claim each piece of land. Conflict emerges when the precision equipment unearths old disputes. A common example is when one village or clan is recognised as the land owner according to customary law, but another clan or village has been allowed to use the land, even though they have no ownership rights.

When Medco built its wood-chip mill in Kampung Boepe, villagers from Kampung Sanggase accused the company of compensating the wrong people, that the land actually was part of their village’s area, and the people of Boepe were only using it. A long conflict ensued between Medco and the people of the two villages, with Medco eventually settling paying the people of Sanggase as well. Another conflict occurred around Rajawali’s area, where the villagers of Domande who had released their land to the company became engaged in conflict with those from Kampung Onggari, who had resisted signing over their land. In Selil, two clans from different tribes have contested the land which PT Bio Inti Agrindo plans to use for an oil palm plantation. After tribal wars long ago the resolution had been to describe this land as ‘borrowed land’, which the borrower has no right to sell. Normally this would not be a problem, but when the company moves in to develop the land, both groups want compensating. The potential that this conflict could erupt in violence remains high.

Such a conflict starts with suspicion and distrust, adding to the stress of the pressure for change coming from the company, and potentially dividing and weakening the opposition to resist. Violence is also not uncommon. What makes it worse, local people have a strong belief in suanggi or black magic, which is thought to be the cause of all deaths. If someone should die in a village, people will wonder who might have ordered the death.

Once again, the most tragic story comes from Zanegi village. A villager, who also worked on the Medco plantation, had been accused of using suanggi to kill people. Village leaders assembled for an adat meeting, and decided that he would have to be killed to prevent more deaths. Police found out and arrested fifteen people, and seven were eventually sentenced to prison. Whatever the rights or wrongs of their decision, the arrests have only exacerbated the problems for the community as a whole. Many of those arrested were outspoken critics of Medco and other companies, but also having to support prisoners financially has made the village considerably more dependent on Medco and its compensation money than before. A long-running blockade of Medco’s logging operations lost all its momentum around the time of this case, and the company keeps clearing forest as before.

On top of this, three of the seven people sentenced have died while being detained in Merauke prison. Local people put it down to suanggi of course, and indeed it has been reported that the last two deaths were sudden, without a sickness. The relationship between this conflict and the company are complex, but undeniable.

Conflicts can emerge at an even earlier stage, before compensation is paid, even at the moment a company first arrives on the scene. When a company first sends representatives into an area, they often to persuade or employ certain individuals to become pro-plantation and promote their interests, deliberately causing conflict within a village. Villagers in several villages in Tubang, Ilwayab and Okaba have accused two companies PT Astra and PT Mayora of deliberately pursuing this strategy, moving in to the area at an early stage in the investment process in order to create divisions and manipulate suspicions. In some villages they recruited middlemen to act on their behalf, who collaborated with security guards to accuse others of being OPM rebels, as described above. In the same area, villagers from Woboyu village were concerned when they heard news that Welbuti villagers had agreed to work together with PT Astra to map customary land boundaries. There had been an agreement between all the villages in the area not to work together with the companies at all. Any village perceived to break that village could be the trigger for a conflict to erupt, and, because of the belief in suanggi, this could quickly become deadly.

In fear that such conflicts could quickly spiral out of control, people from the area took action in the city, occupying PT Mayora’s office. They argued that the way the two companies had come into the area and started surveying and approaching local people without prior information, was a strategy to cause fear and conflict between local people. If a company wanted to move in, it should sit down first with all involved to discuss their plans. In this particular case, the regency leader said he would command PT Mayora and PT Astra to stop work until further discussions could take place.

Working for the company.

In order to be able to make a living once their land is gone, villagers are lured with promises of work once the plantations are operational, but in reality many of the jobs have gone to migrants who already have training or experience to work on plantations. Local people do not always receive work, and when they do, many times it is without a contract, just hired daily when there is work to be done. Examples of jobs which local people have been hired to do include work connected to corporate social responsibility programmes, supporting survey teams, drivers, security, porters, plantation workers putting seedlings in polythene bags or preparing demonstration plots, stripping bark and operating chainsaws.

When wages are paid they conform to the regional minimum wage for unskilled labour, 1,710,000 Rupiah per month or 70,000 Rupiah per working day. However, in rural Papua prices are much higher than elsewhere in Indonesia, which means that this money is only enough for the most basic day to day expenses such as food.

However, villages where companies have not yet moved in see the change in economy from forest-based to wage labour as a threat to their identity. Malind people see themselves as Anim-ha – ‘the real people’. Now people have coined a phrase when they think about a time that they will be dependent on shops for their food and everything they need for their traditional customs – no longer ‘Anim-ha’, they will be ‘Plastic Malind‘.

In a submission to the UN Commission on Racial Discrimination, twenty-seven organisations made the case that working for MIFEE companies amounts to forced labour, which can legitimately be regarded as a contemporary form of slavery. The basic argument is that when indigenous people’s land is taken from them without their free, prior, informed consent, their traditional livelihood becomes untenable and so they have no option other than to accept whatever work the company, the sole employer in the area, chooses to offer them – in the case of MIFEE, menial and low-paid. If they were offered land as smallholders, as Merauke local government claims to want, the situation is little better, there the same dependency on the company, but it becomes a kind of feudal serfdom.

Women in a Changing Village Economy

A study by the Sajogjo Institute has focussed on the particular issues facing Malind women when the companies move in. It examined the typical household economy before companies move in, where the tasks are divided by gender, the role of both women and men are important. Men hunt, but women have the main responsibility for fishing, and for processing sago starch, although they may be helped by the younger men. While men have the primary responsibility for forest gardens, women also help out. Women also are responsible for main household tasks such as collecting firewood, cooking and cleaning.

malind women

When the forest is gone, the people are dependent on the company to give them work, and in the case of Medco in Zanegi, most of the jobs have been for men. Indeed the company has made it policy not to employ village women after a non-Malind women working as kitchen staff got pregnant by another worker. Women could still get informal work from subcontractors looking after newly planted trees, but when the study was conducted, all the workers were from the outside settler community. Local Malind women claimed they were scared of wild pigs.

Women are also largely excluded from participation in decisions of whether or not to sell the land to companies. Although the Malind usually refer to the land as representing a mother, land ownership under the clan system is patrilineal with a very limited role for women, who have land use rights in certain circumstances, but no land ownership rights. An often-repeated phrase is “to speak of land is to speak of customary law”. Customary law, however, is the terrain of men. Using business logic, when it wants to negotiate a land deal, the company will approach the land owners, ie the male clan chiefs, without considering women’s use rights.

Although they do not have a say in land deals, women are likely to suffer most from the effects of poverty when the companies move in. This has also been seen in Zanegi, where in times of food shortages, women let their husbands and children eat first, and maybe only eat once a day. For the rest of the day, they chew tobacco and betel nut, building up debts with the village store until the next payment for wood compensation arrives, and they are clearly becoming thinner because of this.

Meanwhile, the young men who find work sometimes spend their wages on alcohol and prostitutes. As a result of this five women in Zanegi have tested positive for HIV, probably infected by their husbands. School-age girls have also become targeted for sex by young people working for the company.

Becoming Plastic Malind

Some of the most significant impacts of MIFEE are those that it is most difficult for those of us who are not Malind to grasp, such as changes in social relationships, in identity, in the paradigm in which they are forced to see the world, and eventually in cosmology. To even conceive of the loss of the forest is hard for Malind people to comprehend, because they are the forest, they describe it as their mother. Each clan has totem animals which they are responsible for, for example the Samkakai clan is connected to tree kangaroos. If the forest is gone the kangaroos are gone, if the kangaroos are gone then what becomes of the Samkakai clan?

Here are some words from the Malind Woyu Maklew Anim intellectual forum (SSUMAWOMA) which express the importance of the Malind culture to their sense of identity:

“The Malind Anim culture is not just a dance, a ritual or a carving. It is not a mere representation of a culture, decorated in mud, leaves and vines or other forest fibres. If the Malind Anim culture is not protected and nurtured it will disappear, and with it the Malind Amin people’s sense of self. The Malind Anim culture is indistinguishable from the ways of thinking, feeling and acting that encompass the Malind People’s existence as a whole.”

As companies and more outside migrants move in, this culture is places under stress. Sometimes in subtle but important ways. For example, as transmigrants have set up new villages, they have been given names in the Indonesian language. However these places already had names connected to Malind geography, history and spirituality. When those names are changed, that history gradually becomes forgotten.

Another example: in many parts of Indonesia people like to relax by drinking the sap of the coconut and certain other palm trees, which naturally ferments within a few hours to produce an alcoholic drink, but this has never been part of Malind culture. However, as a short film from Papuan Voices has documented, now a strange new fruit appears to be growing on many coconut trees as people place jerry cans amongst the branches to collect the sap. Elsewhere, police officers bring stronger alcohol to villages which they share with village leaders. Today it is free, maybe tomorrow it will be for sale.

With such an onslaught of plantation companies moving in across the whole Malind land, the survival of the Malind-Anim as a people is under grave threat. In some cases the threat is to people’s direct physical well-being, as has been seen so tragically in Zanegi, in others it is through a process of cultural attrition which severs people from their heritage and leaves them marginalised as underpaid labourers on the very edge of the economy. In almost all cases it is against their will, yet the companies are still there, still looking for a way in.