Kampuh villagers want a fair deal

Down to Earth No. 72 March 2007

This is a summary of an interview with a representative of Kampuh village, Bunti subdistrict, Sanggau, West Kalimantan - a community which has been affected by the oil palm company PT MAS II. This company has now been taken over by Malaysia's Golden Hope, although many of the field staff remain the same.

The community's problems with the company can be divided into two phases: the original plantation and its extension.

Negotiations for the land were between the company and the village's official representatives. There were no consultations with the whole community. The village head (who was 'selected' not elected) is seen as the 'spearhead' of the company, rather than acting in the community's best interests.

Members of the community were each asked to hand over 7.5 ha of their land to the company for development as oil palm plantation. This used to be used for rotational agriculture to grow rice and other food crops. The company promised each family 2 ha of oil palm plantation as 'plasma' (smallholder plots) in return. In fact, they were only given 1.5 ha. Members of community were told that the remaining 0.5 ha would be handed over later but, after two years, they are still waiting.

In addition to issues of land procurement, the community feel they have been misled over the economic benefits of oil palm. Farmers were told that their 1.5 ha plots of oil palm would generate an income of about Rp1,000,000 per month (approx US$100). However, they receive much less than this. The company deducted 30% per month to repay credit each month. Other monthly deductions are also made, for example, for transporting palm fruits to the factory. The company pays the remaining amount to the farmers via the village co-operative (KUD). However, the KUD also makes deductions: the wages of its staff are paid from the proceeds of the farmers' palm fruits. So each farmer only receives about Rp400-500,000/month (US$40-50).

This is not enough to keep a family. If a family has 3 or 4 children, they can only attend primary school if there is one in the village, because the parents cannot afford transport costs. Many have to leave school at 12 years old for the same reason.

The company wants to open up more land for oil palm plantation in the same area in 2007, using the same procedure. It calls the official village head and secretary and tells them what it wants to do, then asks them to tell the community.

However, the community has learnt by experience. It wants to keep its remaining land but, in practice, finds it very difficult to oppose what the company and the village officials are doing. Most of the community has little education; people do not realise that they have the right to question the process or to refuse to hand over their land.

Many people in the community do not speak out, but that does not mean they consent. They just feel powerless. They would like the more educated members of the community to be involved in the negotiations and to negotiate directly with the company.

Meanwhile the company is going ahead surveying the amount of land still available in the village for conversion to oil palm plantation, although there is no genuine community consent.

"We are not against oil palm plantations or development. We just want a fair deal."

(Interview 19/Nov/06)