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

Redamazon, 12 November, 2007

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 Marianne Klute (Watch Indonesia!), translated by Almuth Ernsting, UK

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 sector.

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 settlements, 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 report.

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 Shell, “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 Lamborghini, 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 circumstances.

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 policies.

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 population.

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

Q4: Which models are suitable for national parks? Nature conservancy integrated into “debt for nature swaps”? Or emissions trading? Are there 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.

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