West Papua food estates threaten indigenous people, warns TAPOL

Indonesia's food estates land grab
Indonesia's food estates land grab ... could lead to ecological ruin and further sideline the indigenous population in West Papua. Image: TAPOL

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

Plans to establish “food estates” were announced by the Indonesian government at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic because, it said, it wanted to ensure Indonesia’s food security.

But as AwasMIFEE! and TAPOL show in their new report released today, Pandemic Power Grabs: Who benefits from Food Estates in West Papua?, these plans would seem to benefit agro-industrial conglomerates and oligarchs with close connections to figures in the government.

Based on previous and current plans, food estates could lead to ecological ruin and further sideline the indigenous population in West Papua, says the report.

The report details planned food estates and the involvement of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

A second linked report will examine in more detail the involvement of the Ministry of Defence and the military in food estates.

Pandemic Power Grabs argues that the strong support for corporate plantation agriculture by the government in southern Papua and in other areas of Indonesia has the potential to increase corruption.

The Minister of Environment and Forestry has also seemingly backed off commitments to stop deforestation in Indonesia made at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021.

Long-term impacts of Merauke failure
In the same week that the Indonesian government banned palm oil exports in the face of a global shortage of cooking oils, the report shows that while plans in southern Papua from 2007 for a Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) failed, MIFEE had serious long-term impacts.

As the report states, MIFEE became a “major enabling factor behind the growth of oil palm plantations in the area which have severely impacted [on] West Papuan communities socially, economically and ecologically.”

The report includes:

  • A chronology of past top-down agricultural development plans in West Papua
  • How plans for food estates could potentially lead to the flourishing of corruption
  • How this potential corruption is being facilitated by new legislation which gives new powers to the central government to grab land for food estates, also circumventing environmental safeguards
  • That the growth of the plantation industry in West Papua over the last decade has highlighted many of the potential negative consequences indigenous people are likely to suffer under the current plans
  • That it is not only indigenous communities’ livelihoods that are threatened by food estates but also their culture.

‘Enduring land grabs’
TAPOL chairperson Steve Alston commented: “Communities in southern Papua province have for more than 15 years had to endure land grabs and clearances for massive plantations.

“We have supported local NGOs to campaign for indigenous peoples’ rights and AwasMIFEE! has publicised and tirelessly reported on the situation.

“But despite it being within its power to review and halt food estates, the Indonesian government has failed to listen to local communities. They have been promised jobs on plantations but then sidelined as transmigrants from other parts of Indonesia have replaced them.

“The food security reasoning for food estates is actually very thin, what we’re seeing instead is cultivation of cash crops for exports, with the government taking a role to support this goal.

“In a time of global crisis for food production, we urge the government to act now to halt plans for food estates which dispossess Papuans of their land, lead to deforestation and will eventually ruin the land of Papua.”

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