Spread of palm oil production threatens livelihoods in Indonesia: report

January 28, 2015

An environmental NGO on Wednesday said that Indonesia’s growing palm oil industry poses significant threats to livelihoods and the environment in rural provinces.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Ecosoc Rights warned that a lack of regulation in the industry, particularly in Central Kalimantan province, is leading to land and human rights violations.

“The oil palm industry is managed without paying attention to the rights of local people and communities,” the group said in a report released on Tuesday.

“When human rights violations happen because of oil palm plantations, the companies fail to provide a complaint mechanism and to deal with the issues properly, such as offering compensation to victims.”

The report was the product of two years of research in three districts of Central Kalimantan province comprising an area of 15.4 million hectares.

“The direct impact of the existence of oil palm plantations in Central Kalimantan is the loss of forests, tribal lands, swamps and rice fields as well as local people’s farms,” Sri Palupi, director of the institute, told ucanews.com after the launch of the report.

She added that the easy procurement of business permits has further facilitated the spread of plantations.

“It’s easy because many tribal lands don’t have certificates [of ownership],” she said, adding that nearly 60 percent of the 1.5 million hectares of tribal land in the province don’t have certificates, according to data from the National Land Agency.

The report further noted the physical threats to the geography of the province, since plantations substantially alter the area’s flora and fauna — in particular, the destruction of forests upon which tribal communities rely for their livelihoods.

Wanto, a villager from Kabuau village in Central Kalimantan who goes by a single name, said communities have no say over how their lands are sold.

“Can you imagine, [they] paid us 1.5 million rupia (about US$125) for one hectare of tribal land,” Wanto told ucanews.com. “It was them that decided the price, not us.”

Fadhil Hasan, chairman of the Palm Oil Producers Association, acknowledged that some companies were guilty of rights violations due to the manner in which they had acquired lands.

“Not all companies are like that. There are good companies, which follow the rules and pay attention to local people and communities,’ he told ucanews.com.

San Afri Awang, chairman of the Forest Research and Development Agency within the Ministry of Forestry, said the palm oil industry posed a dilemma for the country.

“Oil palm plantations are beneficial for economics, but they destroy the environment,” he told ucanews.com.

He added that the agency would review all permits given to the plantations.

“If there are violations, we will take immediate action. We also hope that communities will make reports [if there are any violations].”

While the report focuses particularly on Central Kalimantan, Zenzi Suhadi, a campaigner for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said the issue is much more widespread.

“Other provinces in Kalimantan and Sumatra islands, and even Papua island, now have issues over oil palm plantations. The pattern is almost the same: an expansion supported by security personnel and the government’s weakness in controlling the companies,” he said.

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