West Kutai, East Kalimantan. Thousands of residents in two West Kutai villages are protesting efforts by a palm oil firm to clear land for a plantation, arguing they will be left with no land of their own to farm.
Masyarani, a Muara Tae tribal elder representing the villages of Murate and Lempunah, said on Sunday that all 600 families in the villages were opposed to the incursion by palm oil company Borneo Surya Mining Jaya.
“We were never involved in the discussions between the district administration and the company about the land,” he said.
“So why all of a sudden are they clearing us off our own land? We will stand firm against them.”
Masyarani said BSMJ was the latest palm oil firm to come into the area.
Three other companies have already cleared land in the area for their own plantations, each time resulting in the villagers losing more of their land and with no benefits to show for it.
He said that the commercial farming activities had also taken an environmental toll, with the local groundwater supply becoming contaminated.
“Three companies have already come in here, yet we remain poor and our land has been lost,” Masyarani said.
“All we have to show for it is increased pollution and plenty of promises, but nothing concrete.”
BSMJ was awarded a concession in January 2010 to clear 476 hectares of land in the area for a plantation. Another palm oil company, Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa, was awarded a 683-hectare concession at the same time.
The Muara Tae people are also protesting MWJP’s activities in the area on the grounds that they were never consulted by the authorities before the concessions were awarded. They argue that because the forest in question is ancestral land, the district administration should have sought their permission before awarding a plantation permit for the area.
The district authorities, however, point out that the area has not been formally designated an ancestral forest.
The MWJP case came under international scrutiny earlier this year when it was revealed that the Norwegian government had made a $6.7 million investment in the firm’s Malaysian holding company.
The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency pointed out that the investment was “ethically compromising” because the Norwegian government had also pledged Rp 1 billion ($106,000) for Indonesia as part of a program under which Indonesia would freeze issuing any new forestry permits for primary and peat forests for two years.
Isal Wardana, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), agreed that the district authorities should have done more to encourage companies to optimize their existing land rather than grant them new tracts of forest to clear.
“There should be no more new permits or expansion of plantations,” he said. There are 203 palm oil concessions in East Kalimantan, covering 35,200 square kilometers, 17 percent of the province.