Conflict: Indigenous People, Palm Oil, Conservationist and Carbon Trading

November 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm 3 comments


Read the interview below, it is a good example of how the energy shift is going the wrong way. Everyone wants a piece of the Indonesian Rainforest: logging companies, palm oil companies, carbon offsetting companies and conservationist companies such as WWF. In the name of “reducing carbon emissions” some of these companies are taking over the rainforest without consulting the Indigenous People living there and without taking in account their knowledge of how to preserve the forest. Increased demand on biodiesel is promoting the establishment of massive mono-culture plantations in the Rainforest, threatening biodiversity and the livelihood of the local people.

Interview with Feri Irawan, Walhi Jambi, 4th October 2007. Walhi is the Indonesian Forum for the Environment and Friends of the Earth Indonesia
by Almuth Bernstinguk

Jambi province on Sumatra, according to Feri, is a centre for the
plantation industry: Acacia for pulp mills and oil palm for the palm
oil industry. There are plans to further expand the plantation
industry. We are very worried about this, because forests have been
destroyed on a large scale and social and land conflicts remain
unresolved. Massive deforestation continues in the rainforest areas
in Jambi, including in national parks.

The largest active companies in Jambi are:
– Sinar Mas (through its pulp and paper subsidiary APP)
– Raja Garuda Mas (through its pulp and paper subsidiary APRIL)
Both corporations have several subsidiary companies in the palm oil

All those are international corporations with connections in the
international pulp and paper market.

Sinar Mas has concessions for one tenth of the whole land area of
Jambi, where they have planted acacia for pulp and paper
production. Furthermore, Sinar Mas owned palm oil companies (PT
SMART and others) have been granted concessions for 15% of the land
in Jambi for planting oil palms. This means that Sinar Mas alone
holds one quarter of all land in the province. If the concessions
granted to other pulp and paper and palm oil companies are inlcuded,
not much land remains for settlments, forest and agriculture. The
results are many enviornmental and social conflicts.

Jambi’s four national parks (12 Hills – Bukit Dua Belas-, 30 Hills –
Bukit Tigapuluh -, Kerinci and Berkad) are threatened by illegal
logging and oil palm plantations. Illegal logging is happening in
all national parks. The wood ends up on the international market,
via Singapore, or in the Indonesian pulp and paper industry. Local
companies, the military and politicians are involved in this
business, as are internatinal corporations.

We urgently need to raise awareness and campaign against the high
demand for paper and the export of tropical hardwood. We have only
had few successes. This year, WALHI Jambi, together with Watch
Indonesia! and Rettet den Regenwald achieved some success in the
Bukit Dua Belas national park We succeeded in closing down Tanjung
Johor, the largest logging company inside the national park, and the
main supplier of Plyquet, a German firm in Bremerhafen.

Oil palm plantations dominate the landscape in Jambi. Palm oil
plays an important role in the economy. However, the negative
impacts outweigh any benefits. Local people are losing their
livelihoods. Monocultures are destroying biodiversity.

Oil palm plantations have even been set up inside the national
parks. The main cause is the biodiesel boom. Indonesian NGOs are
involved in environmental education and awareness raising amongst
the people. They are also trying to put pressure on their
government against those developments. There is an urgent need for
international NGOs to put pressure on the EU governments, in order
to limit the demand for palm oil, so that at least the National
Parks are not destroyed any further.

The national park concept itself is questionable. Zoning has been
worked out at the Green Table and has closed parts of the forests to
the local population, which has prevented their traditional use of
the forest. The law restricts access to the protected areas
according to zoning: The core zone cannot be accessed, whilst
certain activities are permitted in other zones. The core zone is
often identical with the intact forest, and in Bukit Dua Belas that
is the traditional sacred land of the Forest Nomads or Orang Rimba.
Two years ago, that national park has been divided into different
zones. Zoning has created new problems for the Orang Rimba: They
are banned from certain core forest areas. Surveillance by
Indonesian authorities is leading to human rights abuses. The
public human rights commission, KomnasHAM, alerted by Indonesian
environmental groups, has studied the situation and submitted a

NGOs have also been given responsibility for managing forests. A
few international NGOs supervise the National Parks, which leads to
further problems with the population. Recently, a new NGO, founded
by Shall, `London Tiger’ has appeared in Bukit Dua Belas and has
installed video cameras in order to control the paths of the animals
(tigers). The Orang Rimba feel that their daily life is being
disrupted by permanent surveillance and have already destroyed some
video cameras. Nature conservancy has been put into conflict with
human rights. For the Orang Rimba this means yet another conflict
with the government.

Bukit Dua Belas is just one of many negative examples for the
management of national parks in Indonesia. Another one is a WWF
protected area in Kalimantan which burnt down completely one or two
years ago. Nobody looks after it any more. This is the result of
concepts which are being drawn up without the participation of the
population. Rainforest protection needs the involvement of the
people. The local people, in particular the indigenous peoples,
such as the Orang Rimba in Jambi, have their own (`natural’) and
effective (`sustainable’) zoning system.

There is another new and worrying development: Large companies, such
as Shell and Lambourghini, are buying up forest for the trade in
carbon emissions, or rather in emissions certificates. All over
Jambi and other Indonesian provinces, new contracts have been signed
for carbon trading, including some which follow the Avoided
Deforestation model[which will be discussed at the climate
conference in Bali]. The companies are securing their rights to the
land, whilst the population is excluded from the negotiations.


Q1 Is there a legal basis for having plantations inside national
parks? Are they being set up without permission, using the common
means of corruption and cover-up, or are they being legalised by
regional governments?

Feri: The plantations are illegal. National parks are actually
government land, but large corporations cooperate with the state.

Q2: Should EU biodiesel targets be scrapped? Are biodiesel, and oil
palm plantations, always bad? Are there any exemplary plantations?

Feri: I hope that the large investment will be stopped, because all
existing mega-projects are being managed badly and none of them are
sustainable. They destroy the environment and are an existential
threat to the people. Indonesia currently has 6.5 million hectares
of oil palm plantations. Another 20 million hectares of oil palms
and 10 million hectares of jatropha are planned for biodiesel.
Those plans threaten the rainforest, on which 45 million people
directly depend for their livelihoods. 3.5 million new jobs have
been promised in the palm oil industry. Most of the new jobs will
be for day labourers without any employment contract, or for
contract workers with monthly contracts. They earn hardly anything
and can be sacked at any time. The day labourers on the plantations
suffer from many illnesses, including skin diseases, respiratory and
lung problems, due to the high use of Paraquat.

If an oil plantation is being set up on indigenous people’s land,
for which the government hands out concessions, then the local
people have to leave. According to the model of core-plasma
plantations , they are to create their own oil palm plantations
around the core plantation, `plasma plantations’ on their own land,
without keeping ownership of their land. They live in feudal
relationships. Such small farmers have no chance: There are already
many problems and conflicts on the plantations, which are not being
resolved by companies and by the government, for example conflicts
over land rights, over land which has been illegally acquired by
companies, conflicts over the destruction of the environment and
ecosystems which are being destroyed for ever.

Before millions of hectares of new plantations are created, there is
a need for fundamental land reform, as the basis for everything
else. The problem lies in land rights. All the land belongs to the
state. Community land rights are not guaranteed. WALHI therefore
demands that investment in palm oil has to be linked to
environmental and social safeguards and conflict resolution. And
there must be no new large-scale plantations. There have already
been several meetings about this problem with large investment funds
that are prepared to set up a framework for social and environmental
investment. The investment funds need help with that, such as
external pressure on the banks.

Right now important decisions are being made at the EU level, which
will drive the establishment of new mega-plantations. Those must be
stopped. All sides have to cooperate more closely, politicians and
NGOs, in order to stop the negative developments.

Europe should reduce its dependence on palm oil. Energy use must be
reduced and energy efficiency improved. Calculations suggest that
efficiency and moden technology alone can reduce energy use by 20%.
The lack of efficiency puts a further environmental and social
burden on Indonesia. Tackling this should be our first priority.
It will not be enough, however. There must be a revolution in
energy use.

Q3: How useful is certification? How useful is the Roundtable for
Sustainable palm Oil (RSPO)?

Feri: Palm oil certification is neither sensisble nor effective,
since the basic social and environmental problems have not been
resolved. The RSPO is not the right instrument for solving those
problems, because membership is voluntary. In November, the
Indonesian RSPO committee will come out with their own label. Some
companies, such as Unilever, will soon bring out a label which
customers might regard as certification. All this is greenwash.
The label is not binding and thus cannot be controlled.

Other proposals, for example by the German Environment Agency have
obligatory criteria and stronger control mechanisms.

The companies which are in the RSPO have economic interests, for
example Syngenta, the company which produces Paraquat. They are
not interested in environmental, social and health criteria. My
view is that the RSPO serves to legitimise massive economic
interests. This is why the RSPO permits the use of dangerous
chemical such as Paraquat. This should not be allowed under any any

There is another problem with the RSPO: Small holders are RSPO
members as independent small farmers. However, no small holder is
truly independent. They are completely dependent on the
infrastructure of the large companies. They are financially
dependent, too, since nearly all small farmers have fallen into
debt. The mere fact that small farmers can be RSPO members is
greenwashing for the negative impacts of the energy and agricultural

An example: Plantations in Indonesia have to, by law, employ
transmigrants. This means a change in the structure of the
population, which disrupts the whole social relationship.
Everywhere, horizontal conflicts are being created within the

WALHI Jambi thus rejects the RSPO initiative. From our experience,
the RSPO criteria are not sustainable, not balanced and not

Q4: Which models are suitable for national parks? Nature
conservancy integrated into `debt for nature swaps’? Or emissions
trading? Are the examples or successes:

Feri: There are a number of projects. Indonesia has been granted 12
million (Euros?) debt relief by Germany for Leuser National Park
(North Sumatra and Aceh). I cannot say yet whether the project will
be realised as badly as many others. The existing nature
conservation projects suffer from the fact that they are focussed on
one species or one area. Very often, the population is excluded.
For example, the core zones of national parks, which are being used
intensively by forest communities, who are being excluded. Or the
WWF conservation project `Heart of Borneo’, devised without the
participation of the population. Another example: In the Orang-utan
conservation project run by the Zoological Society Frankfurt in
Sumatra, there is no cooperation with Indonesian NGOs. There is
hardly any communication/coordination amongst NGOs. This is being
worked on, however.

The concept of focussing conservation on individual species should
be rethought in principle and be changed. The main aim must be to
preserve the whole ecosystem.

Q5: How does WALHI Jambi’s lobby and try to achieve their aims?
What are your strategies?

Feri: In Jambi we work practically. Our main activity is supporting
and empowering the population. We support them in conflicts over
land right, raise awareness of legal rights, organise protest.
Since 2001, the peasant and environmental movement in Indonesia has
prevented 1 million hectares of oil palm plantations. This year we
succeeded in getting Sinar Mas to return several thousand hectares
of illegally acquired land to farmers in Jambi. We are facing a
backlash from the government, the police, the military. They
organise counter-demonstrations and terror. This is another reason
why international cooperation is very important for us.


Entry filed under: Climate change & Communities, Indigenous Resistance, Rights, and Survival.

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