Dayak villagers succeed in fining oil palm company

Down to Earth No. 72 March 2007

The following account was compiled by Erma Ranik of the West Kalimantan NGO, PENA.

A palm oil company, PT Airlangga Sawit Jaya, has admitted fault and has paid compensation amounting to Rp274,366,000 (USD30,485) to the Engkadik Pade indigenous community, in Landak, West Kalimantan.

The case began in May 2006, when PT Airlangga Sawit Jaya held a meeting in Engkadik village, Serimbu subdistrict, with several local government officials. The company representative told the officials that Airlangga had obtained a permit from the Landak district head, to develop oil palm plantations over a 17,000 hectare area. The area covers 15 villages, which are home to Kendayan Dayak communities. On the strength of this permit, local people were asked to hand over their land to the company.

Following this meeting, the company started clearing community land - a course of action which soon started causing serious damage. On August 1st, Engkadik Pade villagers, who had not been informed of the company takeover, found that 150 graves, where their ancestors were buried, had been bulldozed by Airlangga workers. The villagers submitted a written demand for compensation, which, according to indigenous custom (adat), amounted to Rp 274,366,000.

In response, the company sought assistance from the local government, claiming it had a land transfer statement. This document, which Airlangga manager Hendro W Ngantung showed to the community, had been signed by a village official. The community rejected the transfer document, insisting they had never given this person the right to hand over their land to the company or clear their ancestors' graves. In response to their angry rejection, a further meeting was arranged to discuss the case, by the district head, Dr Cornelius, at his office in Landak, at which he promised to settle the case promptly.

However, from this meeting in September, the case was left pending until the beginning of November, when one of the Engkadik Pade villagers read a book by PENA entitled Oil palm: fortune or misfortune? about the impact of oil palm plantations on a village in Sambas district, also in West Kalimantan (see DTE 62, for extract). The villager got the book from a member of an indigenous peoples organisation formed with PENA's help in the Niut mountains - another region of West Kalimantan threatened by oil palm, near the border with Malaysia - who happened to be passing through Engkadik Pade.

Taking PENA's address from the book, seven villagers then visited the PENA office in November and submitted an official request that PENA take up their case. Aware of the trust and great responsibility this entailed, PENA thanked the villagers but explained that, as a small organisation, they could not work miracles, could not guarantee success and lacked funds to pursue the case. However, PENA promised they would do all they could to garner support from NGO colleagues and the press to highlight the case. The organisation explained that it would be the people themselves who were the key players, with PENA acting in supporting role, but that PENA would try to assist the community uphold their rights, if they were united in this aim and were committed to peaceful means.

PENA decided to call a village meeting to discuss the best course to strengthen the community's position. This went ahead in mid December, when three PENA activists, plus PENA board chairman Silvester Thomas Dalimun organised a meeting attended by 60 villagers. PENA gave a presentation on Indigenous rights vis-à-vis Indonesia law and provided more information on the negative impacts of oil palm plantations on indigenous peoples. The villagers decided to reject oil palm in their area and to mount a 'customary blockade' of the area where the company was cultivating seedlings.

On December 22nd, villagers impounded three bulldozers owned by the plantation company, on the grounds that Airlangga had not met community demands and because negotiations had not achieved any agreement. This was when the local government authorities and the company became aware that the community was serious in its opposition. On January 3rd 2007, Landak district's 30-member Plantation Conflict Resolution Team, plus members of the Landak Dayak Customary Council (DAD) came to Engkadik Pade to try and end the blockade. Airlangga and the customary council insisted that the villagers were only entitled to Rp 7,310,000 (around USD 790). They also threatened to bring in the paramilitary police (Brimob) to secure the impounded bulldozers by force.

The villagers contacted PENA, which agreed with the local chapter of Friends of the Earth (WALHI Kalbar) to work together on the case. PENA invited a number of journalists to visit the village, resulting in articles in the Indonesian national daily Kompas on January 12th, and in the Kalimantan Review. The press reports prompted the authorities and the company to try and settle the case quickly. On January 17th Airlangga admitted it had been wrong and said it would pay the full amount of compensation demanded by the villagers. The compensation would be awarded in two ways: Rp 150 million (USD 16,220) in cash and the rest in the form of a road to the village and a 'monument' marking the ancestors' graves. The villagers have opted not to share out the cash, but plan instead to spend it on installing a clean water supply for the village.

The villagers are, of course, well aware that this is not the end of the story. The company still intends to develop oil palm plantations on their customary land. Now the community, which remains committed to opposing the plans, is working with PENA to strengthen their case against the company takeover of their lands.

For more information and updates contact PENA at