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Indonesians Food Estate will Clear a Area of Jungle 10 Times the Size of Singapore

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Download Indonesia wants to turn itself into a global food producer.

To do that the government plans to turn 1.6 million hectares of land, in the eastern most province of Papua, into fields for crops such as rice, corn, soybean, sugar and palm oil.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and jungle-clad Papua is its poorest region.

Supporters of the project say it will reduce Indonesia’s dependence on imports.

But it has sparked concerns about widespread forest destruction and the marginalisation of local farmers.

Liza Desylanhi went to the proposed site in Merauke to investigate.

In the second of her two part series she hears from the opponents of the project.


The Gatzi dance of the Malind tribe is performed at the offical opening of the mega food estate.

The minister for Agriculture, Suswono, is here but there is still no clear map of the land the project will use.

This lack of information is creating fear and anxiety amongst the traditional owners of this area.

Albert Gebze Mouyen is an elder of the Malind tribe- the largest group in the area.

“We are all confused. We are all in the dark. We don't know who is responsibe for the project, where they are going to come from. We just know the vague situation. We were invited there late in the process to the opening and we just watched. There has been no information given to the people who will be affected.”

Cornelia's family owns 20 hectares of land close to the food estates pilot project.

“I'm scared, I'm scared for my brothers. I am scared they will take my land. Where will my children and grandchildren run to?”

Another local Lodi Biluk Mouyen is also scarded.

He  is worried that the estate will destory the jungle. That’s what usually happens when a company comes into Papua he says.

“The forest is our source of life. We must protect our land and our forest. If we don't then where will our descendants go? I think the food estate will come and kill our people.”

The government claims that un-forested scrubland in areas classified as production forest would be used to develop the estate.

But a Jakarta-based environmental NGO, Greenomics, said huge areas of healthy forest will need to be cleared to develop a food estate of the size they are talking about.

Using satellite images and data from the government the group calculated that 700,000 hectares of forest would have to be clear.

That’s an area 10 times the size of Singapore.

Marco Wattimena is with the international Green group WWF. He says the wetlands and savannahs of this area are not empy land.

“We have a very unique savannah style forest here it’s the only one in Asia. It's one of the vastest savannah areas in the world. If it’s destoryed where will all the animals go to feed? The ecosystem will be broken. This will also have an impact on climate change.”

Indonesia has vowed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent by 2020 if international funding is made available.

The countries tropical forests act like "lungs of the planet" but Indonesia is destroying its forest at the highest rate in the world.  

In this area each family has a symbol or totem taken from nature.

The Gebze family is the coconut trees, while the Balagaize family's totem is the eagle.

Johannes Wob is a lecturer from the Yalke Maro Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.

“The food estate comes here and brings in different plants. Like rice, there's no rice totem. The majority of the clans in Kiman have birds as totems. If you plant other trees then the birds can't live there. What is this all for? Is it for properity? What prosperity?”

Martinus Gebze shows me a piece of land he says belongs to his family.  

Now a mega-Indonesian company PT Medco Group is using it to carry out food research.

Martinus says a village elder agreed to the deal but it was not discussed with the community.

Often elders are too easily satised with a pig roasting ceremony he says and they don’t fight for fair land prices.

The government says companies will only be able to rent the land.

After 30 years investors are meant to hand the land back to the people.

But Leonardus Moiwed from the Secretareiat of Justice and Peace at the Arcbishops office of Merauke fears that this will create land conflicts.  

“The tribes here know their boundaries by natural signs and boarders. When the companies borrows the land for up to 30 years then give it back, what will they give back? The young people here will have no idea of the boundaries. They will be gone. We will end up killing each other.”  

But the Regent of the area Johannes Gluba Gebze says that elders and environmental activists are worrying too much.

“It's only 30 percent from the entire area of Merauke. 70 percent will be a conservation area and used for other needs. What will these people eat, do they expect magic? Those people are just over reacting.”

Merauke Distrcit Secretary, Josef Rinta Rachdyatmaka promises that sacred land will also be protected and the people will get their share of the land we rent he says.  

However local farmer Lodi Biluk Mouyen is still not concvinced.

“They promise to make a bridge tommorow, but the next day they say they won't.”

With all these concerns the Papuan Indigenous Society sent a letter to the President Yudhoyono demanding the President end the project.

But stopping the mega food estate will be an uphill battle.

Last Updated ( Monday, 04 October 2010 10:52 )  

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