The Palm Scribe

Sawit Watch urges government on need for resolution of agrarian conflicts

JAKARTA – Non-governmental organization Sawit Watch is urging the Government to urgently conduct an inventarization, mapping and delineation of regional boundaries, both administratively and customarily, so as to be able to address and overcome agrarian conflicts arising from the expansion of palm oil plantations.

Land clearing in West Papua. (Photo: Fuad Arrasyid/The Palm Scribe) Land clearing in West Papua. (Photo: Fuad Arrasyid/The Palm Scribe)

“The RSPO and ISPO certification are not yet effective enough to reduce land conflicts and deforestation from expansion of palm oil plantations,” Maryo Saputra, the head of Sawit Watch campaign division, told the Palm Scribe in a telephone interview.

The government is also asked to monitor and evaluate permits and concessions accorded to operating palm oil companies to ascertain that their operation are in line with the prevailing standards and procedures.

Sawit Watch is also urging on the government to form an institution to settle tenurial conflicts in synergy with customary institutions, in order to accommodate and accelerate conflict resolution.

The call was made in response to the intense expansion of palm oil plantations across Indonesia, which already has the most extensive palm oil plantation surface in the world with around 16.1 million hectares (Sawit Watch, 2017).

The process of conversion of land, forest and settlement into palm oil plantations continues to take place across the country. “The development of palm oil plantations is no longer confined to Sumatra and Kalimantan islands but has already expanded to eastern Indonesia such as in the Moluccas, Sulawesi, West Papua and Papua,” Maryo said.

The extent of palm oil plantations in Papua province, has already reached 958,094.2 hectares involving 79 companies., This expansion, according to Maryo, is estimated to continue considering that the available land in Papua remains large.

In Papua, the expansion of palm oil plantation has led to the loss of the right of the local population on their land and source of livelihood. “The environmental impacts such as flooding or forest and ground fires, are already proof that can be observed by the media,” he said.

Sawit Watch deems that agrarian conflicts are triggering the criminalization of local communities which are trying to defend their land, and open conflicts between people, companies and the government.

A press release issued by Sawit Watch on Wednesday, January 9, 2017, said that foreign exchange earned by the state from the palm oil sector stood at more than Rp 200 trillion last year, or about the same as revenues from oil and gas in the same period. However, the high level of revenues from this sector has prompted the government to issue more and more permits for palm oil investors.

“The permit process is also not transparent … so that it give rise to opportunities for corruption,” said Maryo. He cited the case of the district heads of Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan and Buol in Central Sulawesi, who have been arrested by the anti-corruption agency KPK on suspicion of having accepted bribes in relations to permits for palm oil plantations.

“If the local government are not careful in issuing permits, it would not be impossible for the beautiful forest and nature in Papua to become more tales to tell to their grandchildren in the future,” Maryo said in the press release.

Sawit Watch said it understood that investment in palm oil plantations may be important in developing a region but more importantly, is the need to protect the people from the various problems that may arise in this sector.

No matter how high the revenues that can be derived from investment in palm oil plantation, they would never be worth their future impact on children and grandchildren in Papua.

Sawit Watch therefore urges the government no longer issue permits in this sector and to force companies to instead conduct intensification or further develop existing plantations rather than seek to expand their concessions.

“People must also be involved in the development of plantation so that once the concessions rights expires, the land can be returned to the people and they can continue the business,” Maryo said.

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