Indigenous Papuans have borne the negative impacts of top-down development for decades - from Indonesia's disastrous transmigration scheme, in which indigenous forest land was taken for agricultural schemes involving imported Javanese labour1, to the giant Freeport/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine. Since the 1970s the Freeport mine has carved up Papua's mountains to get at the valuable minerals, and has dumped billions of tonnes of mining waste downstream. 'Development' has also meant dividing up Papua's indigenous-owned forests for logging and for oil and gas exploration. Though it attempts to present a community-friendly face, the BP-operated Tangguh gas project in Bintuni Bay shares with all these projects the fact that it is large-scale, decided and directed by non-Papuans and is largely aimed at benefiting outsiders2. Underlying all of these imposed projects, is the stark fact that Papua's political status is an imposition in itself, as Papua's 1969's 'Act of Free Choice' - on whether or not to be part of Indonesia - has been shown to be a total sham. This means that any opposition to such schemes from local people is open to interpretation by Jakarta as security problem to be countered with military force.
Given this historical mix of imposition, export-orientated resource exploitation and military enforcement, it is not surprising that poverty levels among the indigenous population remain high - despite the fact that Papua's income has risen steeply after the introduction of regional autonomy revenue-sharing rules. Since 'special autonomy' for Papua was Indonesia's means of undermining calls for independence, the fact that poverty levels remain so high is troubling the Jakarta government. Earlier this year, president SBY issued a decree aimed at speeding up development in Papua. But, as yet another top-down initiative, this is unlikely to bring positive results while more fundamental problems are left untouched3.
The latest schemes being talked about for Papua are a major expansion in oil palm plantations and setting aside forests for international carbon markets. The first of these appears to be very much in the mould of previous schemes (top-down, export-orientated, involves overseas companies, takes over indigenous-owned lands and is being promoted by Jakarta). The second is different in two main ways: it aims to create income by protecting a resource, rather than directly exploiting (and exhausting) it, and it is being promoted not by Jakarta, but by Papua's governor, Barnabas Suebu. From a purely environmental perspective, the idea of protecting forests for carbon credits may be attractive, but there are serious questions over how effectively such schemes will protect the forests at all, and what implications they will have for local forest-dependent communities whose forests are targeted (see also DTE 74).
The BKPM data states that land already taken for oil palm schemes covers around 90,000 hectares in Papua, and around 30,000 in West Papua. According to Department of Agriculture data, Papua has three oil palm production units with a processing capacity of 120 tonnes of fresh palm oil fruits per hour7.
Sawit Watch, the Indonesian NGO network working on oil palm issues, puts oil palm expansion plans for Papua at the higher figure of 3 million hectares, but has lower estimates for existing plantation cover at 40,889 hectares. According to these figures, Papua's expansion plans are second only to West Kalimantan (5 million hectares) and are the same as those of Riau province in Sumatra8.
A much higher figure for land available for biofuel development (oil palm, plus other biofuel crops) is given by Indonesia's National Team on Biofuel Development, which puts land available in Papua at a staggering 9,262,130 hectares, at least three times higher than in any other province9.
The Jakarta government says that biofuel development will only go ahead on non-productive forest land, but in Papua, as elsewhere, it is clear that timber-rich forests are being set aside for such schemes.
Using just the lower estimates for land targeted for oil palm, this means that between one fifth and one third of Papua's 9.3 million hectares of 'conversion' forests are likely to be targeted for oil palm under government plans. Papua is estimated to have around 17.9 million hectares of intact forests of a total official forest zone of 39.7 million ha10, but these are diminishing fast as destructive logging by legal and illegal operations takes its toll11.
Some of the plans for Papua are well-advanced. In April, governor Suebu said that he had agreed to release a million hectares of indigenous land for oil palm investment, at the request of three investors alone. Two of these are Indonesian (Sinar Mas Group, Medco Group) and the other is Malaysian (Felda). The focus would be biodiesel markets, he said, and would make Papua a source of energy for countries starting to run short of fossil fuels. "Now is the era of green energy, no longer fossil energy", he said12.
Sinar Mas, the huge pulp and paper conglomerate whose interests include south-east Asia's biggest paper pulp plant, has plans for oil palm mostly in the southern part of Papua, in the districts of Mappi, Boven Digul and Merauke. This company, which is in a joint venture with China's CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation), has signed memorandums of understanding for 200,000 hectares in each district13. (CNOOC is also a shareholder in the BP-operated Tangguh gas project in Bintuni Bay, West Papua.)
But, according to a document seen by the Straits Times, Sinar Mas' 'wish-list' plans are much more ambitious, covering a massive 2.8 million hectares: 603,000 ha in Merauke, 637,000 ha in Mappi and 914,000 ha in Boven Digul plus large areas in three other districts north of the central highlands: Sarmi (313,000ha), Keerom (186,000ha) and Jayapura (163,000ha)14. In all cases, except Mappi district, these figures exceed the official figure for land available for oil palm development as set out by Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM)15.
Other investors interested in buying into Papua's oil palm for biofuel rush are reported to include:
A company called Trans Pacific, a joint venture between Indonesian, Singaporean and Chinese investors, is also reported to be interested in developing biofuel from sago16.
For Indonesia as a whole, according to Business Watch Indonesia, by early 2007 as many as sixty agreements on biofuel development projects, including 14 foreign investors, had been signed17.
A report by ICG, published in July this year, reveals chronic problems with existing plantations developed by Korean investor Korindo in Boven Digul district, in the southern part of Papua. These problems relate to land rights, access to resources and the influx of non-Papuan workers. ICG estimates that if Sinar Mas goes ahead with its projects in southern Papua (200,000 hectares in three districts), each project would require 60,000 workers, meaning in Boven Digul's case, "an influx of 42,000 non-Papuans - a number larger than the entire district's current population."18
Recent reports from the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights indicate how such explosive situations can turn violent. In July the group reported that a West Papuan man was dying in hospital after being tortured by members of the military at a military base at Asiki, near the Korindo concession. The following month, the group reported the death of a non-Papuan Korindo employee in a clash between company workers and indigenous Muyu. Local people had previously reported the death of at least one Papuan killed by the military. "The recent violence ...appears to be as a result of longstanding dispute[s] over land rights between Korindo and local indigenous traditional landowners," said Matthew Jamieson of IPAHR. "Ultimately the conflict over the expansion of oil palms is driven by international demand for bio-fuel. This will involve the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest and with it the indigenous populations who have lived in and managed these forests for thousands of years", said Jamieson19.
Papuans have little recourse to the law due to the continuing low status of indigenous rights under Indonesian law. This means indigenous groups have almost no effective protection from competing land use rights awarded by district, provincial or central authorities. Despite a general provision for respecting customary rights under Papua's Special Autonomy law, their legal status has still not been clarified. A required special regional regulation (Perdasus) on land rights and forestry which was drafted in 2006 (see DTE 69) has not yet been debated by the provincial parliament20.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, palm oil plantations are associated with pollution problems and pesticide use, which have a disproportionate impact on women's health (see DTE 66). It is reasonable to expect that these problems will also exist in current and future plantations in Papua.
One fundamental problem, long associated with oil palm schemes throughout Indonesia is the use of oil palm projects as a front for gaining access to valuable timber. Regional governments have often complained about the 'cut and run' tactics of companies who commit to providing jobs and creating income for the local economy by developing large-scale plantations (not just oil palm, but pulpwood and other cash crops), but which are only really interested in selling off the hardwood from the natural forests in their concessions. Now that oil palm prices have skyrocketed, with the new demand for biofuels, there is more of an incentive for companies to actually develop the plantations after logging the timber. However, with a company like Sinar Mas, which owns pulp mills whose capacity for processing timber far outstrips the legal supply, accessing Papua's forests is likely to still be a major motivation for investment (for more background on Sinar Mas-APP's pulp project see DTE 52, DTE 56 and DTE 61).
The ICG report also notes a cautious approach towards Sinar Mas investments in the three southern Papuan districts: "Although district governments have signed memorandums of understanding with a dozen prospective plantation investors, no formal permission has yet been granted. The provincial government is in the process of developing strategies to minimise social disruption before opening up more land, including a stipulation that indigenous Papuans must be given priority for labour and work contracts." The group notes that Sinar Mas itself may be judged incapable of managing 600,000 ha because it has planted only 12,000 ha of 40,000 ha of land it was granted as long ago as 199223.
Indonesian MPs have also raised suspicions about the motive of large companies making biofuel investments in Papua. Ishartanto, for example, member of a national parliamentary commission on forests and plantations, said the programme was over-ambitious. Providing enough seedlings for just one million hectares would be problematic, let alone finding enough workers and managers. He estimated that developing 300,000 hectares alone could take 12 years - and that would be in an area with good infrastructure, unlike Papua. He said such investors were interested in the timber, using land to raise capital and, while incapable of developing the land themselves, wanted to prevent access by others24.
But even the supposedly 'green' approach of avoided deforestation does not bear too close an examination. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 30-year-old Australian millionaire, Dorjee Sun, has been instrumental in persuading Barnabas Suebu to take up avoided deforestation so enthusiastically.
After the governors' joint statement on forest protection in April, Mr Sun bought a controlling stake in the Carbon Pool Pty. Ltd., a small Australian company. In 2006, this company bought farmers' rights to over 12,000 hectares in Queensland and sold the resulting carbon credits to Anglo-Australian mining multinational, Rio Tinto in one of the world's first avoided-deforestation trades. According to WSJ, Sun wants to interest Rio Tinto in carbon schemes in Papua and Aceh and the company itself is "keen to look at other opportunities".
It really would be some dreadful irony if Rio Tinto - a major investor in the highly destructive Freeport mine in Papua, set about offsetting its carbon emissions (or continuing to pollute) by buying credits generated by Papua's forests.
Since the Freeport mining operations have destroyed large areas of forest, some might say that this would be paying something back to Papua and Papuans, but at what price? If Papua's forests are to be traded for carbon credits - who will decide which forests should be set aside? Who will benefit? How much will go to Jakarta? How much will go to Papua? And how much, if anything, will go to indigenous Papuans whose forests are to remain protected?
According to Papuan commentator Neles Tebay: "If the government is really committed to accelerating development in Papua, then President Yudhoyono should pursue a more dialogical method based on three fundamental principles: peace, democracy and dignity, as proposed by the president himself in December 2005."28
This should apply to governor Barnabas Suebu as well as the Indonesian president, when planning large-scale oil palm developments and setting aside forests for carbon trading. If the principles of human rights and free, prior and informed consent continue to be ignored, these schemes will more than likely fail to improve the lives of Papuans. Instead, there is a risk that they will sustain the current cycle of conflict over resources, military aggression and human rights abuses suffered by Papuans for so long.
Palm oil in Papua
|District||Used for oil palm (ha)||Available for oil palm (ha)||Status of land|
|Boven Digul||-||300,000||State and community|
|Jayapura||51,589||90,000||State and community|
|Keerom||6,000||100,000||State and community|
|Mappi||-||800,000||State and community|
|Merauke||500||400,000||State and community|
|Nabire||-||35,000||State and community|
|Paniai||-||60,000||State and community|
|Puncakjaya||-||100,000||State and community|
|Sarmi||31,738||-||State and community|
|Waropen||-||50,000||State and community|
|(Source: BKPM website accessed 27/Oct/2007; data updated Jan 2007; regionalinvestment.com/sipid/id/commodityarea.php?ic=2&ia=91)
Note: some of these figures may conflict with other sources: eg in the ICG report which states that in Boven Digul district, Korindo has cleared around 4,000 ha of a 7,000 ha oil palm block in the southern part of the district. See Indonesian Papua: A Local Perspective on the Conflict, Crisis Group Aisa Briefing No 66, July 2007, p.7)
Thanks to Watch Indonesia! for contributions to this article