The expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia is endangering not only the country’s peat land but also the livelihood of its people as the government failed to uphold its own policies and regulations Human Rights Watch said in its latest report.
“Authorities in Indonesia are allowing palm oil companies to destroy peat land and cause other environmental damage in disregard of the rights of local communities or the consequences on the environment,” said Julian Nnoko-Mewanu, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher on women and land who wrote the organization’s latest report.
Nnoko-Mewanu added that the government must make sure that companies abide by the laws and regulations on the protection of people’s right on land, regulations on the environment as well as play their role in overcoming the climate crisis.
The 71 page-thick report, “Why Our Land? Expansion of Oil Palm Plantation in Indonesia is Endangering Peat Land and People’s Livelihood,” that was released Wednesday (3/6) looked at the expansion of oil plantations by PT Sintang Raya, a subsidiary of South Korea’s Deasang Corporation, in peat land in West Kalimantan.
It studied three villages — Seruat Du, Mengkaleng Jambu and Olak-Olak — whose villagers lost agricultural land or source of livelihood because of the expansion of PT Sintang Raya’s plantation.
Residents of the three villages have been in the area since the 1970s, brought there under the government’s “Transmigration” program which moved millions from densely populated Java, Bali and Madura islands to less populated areas.
The report said that the company expanded its plantation without any significant consultations of the local population and without providing adequate compensation for the loss of agricultural land or livelihood of local residents.
The report also said that police there had not only harassed but also intimidated villagers who resisted or protested the expansion and even took some to court,
The villagers have been questioning the legality of the permit issued by the government to PT Sintang Raya in 2008, saying that neither the government nor the company had consulted them about the expansion, including over the takeover of their land or source of livelihood, nor given them adequate compensation for the loss of their land or source of livelihood.
Some villagers have already taken the company to court and an appeal verdict issued by the Supreme Court in 2014 had ruled that PT Sintang Raya had to return the land to some villagers, but the verdict had not been implemented.
Local people have also reported an increase in pest attacks and sea water intrusion since the plantation had operated. The sea water intrusion has raised the salinity of the soil and led to bad harvests
Human Rights Watch said that the expansion of the plantation had also led to the destruction of one of the most important carbon absorber in the world. Indonesian peat land is sequestering some 80 billion tons of carbon or about five percent of the global carbon reserves. The opening of peatland for plantations is significantly increasing Indonesia’s glasshouse gas emissions, it said in the report.
A local resident was quoted in the report as saying that more than 100 people had complained to PT Sintang Raya that they had never been consulted but she had been robbed of her land. They had also reported the same complaints to the district head and police but nothing had been done since.
“The National Land Agency, together with the Team for National Agrarian Reforms established by the President should investigate and issue sanctions on oil palm companies which had failed to consult the local population and pay compensations to the impacted people,” Nnoko Mewanu said.
Nnoko-Mewanu added that the failure of the state to enforce its own policies and regulations was harming the rights of people and worsened climate change.
“All people will suffer if the government fails to conduct its supervision,” Nnoko-Mewanu said.