ICEL

ICEL

In Indonesia, a Company Intimidates, Evicts and Plants Oil Palm Without Permits

A farmer in Maroangin shows where the company planted oil palms on his rice fields. Image by Ian Morse for Mongabay.
  • A state-owned plantation company, PTPN XIV, is evicting farmers to make room for an oil palm estate on the eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
  • In 1973, the company got a permit to raise cattle and farm tapioca on the now-disputed land, but it expired in 2003. After a long hiatus, the company has returned to claim the land. It says the government has promised to give it permits in the future, but has started operations anyway even as local communities resist.
  • The case is one of thousands of land disputes simmering across Indonesia, as President Joko Widodo attempts to carry out an ambitious land reform program.
  • The president has also ordered a freeze on the issuance of new oil palm plantation permits, but the level of enforcement remains to be seen.

MAROANGIN, Indonesia — One day in March last year, Rahim was shocked and furious to find an excavator rolling through his rice field, turning the bright green grains into piles of mud. The 51-year-old farmer took photos of the incursion and demanded to know why his family’s livelihood was being uprooted.

Rahim had been farming the land for 15 years, but the workers on the scene said he was trespassing on land that belonged to a company. No company held a license to operate there, much less evict residents, but Rahim didn’t know that. Now he was being told that rows of oil palm trees would be planted where his rice was growing.

“When I can’t farm rice, how is my family supposed to eat?” Rahim said at his home in Maroangin, a village on the eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The father of four recalled having cried as he watched the rice, almost ready to harvest, disappear before him. A harvest that size could have supported his family for months. Many of his neighbors also reported having their farms and pastures taken over by the company, state-owned PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) XIV.

Like countless other farmers across Indonesia, Rahim doesn’t have a deed to the land he says his family has occupied for generations. That leaves him with scant legal defense to claims laid on it by the state or private companies.

Read moreIn Indonesia, a Company Intimidates, Evicts and Plants Oil Palm Without Permits

With Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

Panoramic view of the Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. (Image by Richard Jones/Flickr ; Mongabay)

 

  • The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
  • The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
  • Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.

 

JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government took a controlling stake in the operator of one of the world’s richest gold mines at the end of 2018, proponents hailed the move as a historic step toward national and economic resource sovereignty.

The breathless media coverage of the transaction, which saw the government take a 51 percent stake in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), previously majority-owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, framed it as the “return” of a prized asset — the Grasberg gold and copper mine — to the Indonesian public after decades of foreign control.

But little was said about the long legacy of toxic pollution from the mine, or how exactly the new arrangement, at a cost of $3.85 billion to Indonesia, would finally bring real benefits to the indigenous people on whose land the mine sits, and who remain among the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

 

Inheriting a pollution problem

Under the terms of the acquisition, a 41.2 percent stake in PTFI goes to state-owned smelting company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, better known as Inalum. A 10 percent stake is held by the government of Papua province, where Grasberg is located. That latter stake, in turn, is managed 60:40 between an Inalum-controlled company and a province-owned firm. Freeport remains the operator of the mine.

But along with ownership in one of the most coveted mines on Earth, Inalum and the Papua government have also inherited a pollution problem stemming from the mining waste, or tailings, churned out by PTFI over decades.

“Does the completion of the divestment deal mean that the environmental problems can be resolved? No,” said Merah Johansyah Ismail, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO. Following the takeover, he says, the national and provincial governments will also have to take the brunt of the fallout from the environmental damage caused by the mining operations.

Read moreWith Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem