Indonesia’s rainforests are facing “legal land grabs,” nongovernmental organizations have alleged. Its ancient communities are finding that ancestral lands are slipping into the hands of foreign companies for oil palm cultivation, as demand for the product grows in Europe, India and China.
“There are 33,000 villages in Indonesia’s forest zone and many thousand more in areas marked for agriculture,” said Marcus Colchester, a senior policy adviser at Forest Peoples Program, an international NGO.
“The government allocates these areas to companies without even consulting the communities. So concessions have been handed out over lands where these communities have lived for hundreds or even thousands of years,” he told IPS.
On Friday, Colchester flew to Medan to present the findings of his research, carried out in conjunction with two local organizations, on the impact oil palm cultivation has on the lives of Indonesian communities.
“It is being left to the conscience of the companies — whether they want to give a fair deal to the communities and recognize their rights or not,” Colchester said.
“What our study shows is that the communities’ rights are not being adequately recognized. The people lose access to the land they have traditionally depended on for forest produce, for hunting, fishing, medicines, agriculture and many other purposes.”
According to Sawit Watch, an Indonesian network against palm oil plantations, the country already has 3.2 million hectares of oil palm plantations, mainly located in Sumatra.
Oil palm is known as 'Sawit’ in Indonesia. Every year, 330,000 hectares of forest is targeted for conversion into new plantations and 650 investors, 75 percent of which are foreign companies, apply to convert forests into oil palm plantations, according to the network.
Palm oil companies and the government are both involved, alleges Augustin Karlo Lumban of Sawit Watch.
Companies first ask communities to release their lands, saying they are taking it [to] rent, he said. But later, when the same people want the land back, they are told it belongs to the state. The government, in turn, puts a business permit on the land and gives it to companies.
For the complete article, please see The Jakarta Globe.