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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.

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