Journalist's death overshadows launch of Papua food project

Journalist's death overshadows launch of Papua food project
Press Release by TAPOL and DTE, 11 August 2010

 

The death of a local journalist has increased concerns about a giant food estate launched today in Merauke, Southeastern Papua by Indonesia's Minister of Agriculture.

TAPOL and Down to Earth, the International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia are calling for a moratorium on the food project, known as MIFEE (Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate) until independent assessments of the political, economic, socio-cultural, environmental and gender impacts of the project have been undertaken.

The suspicious death of the journalist, Ardiansyah Matra'is, in late July, following threats against him, has been linked to his coverage of this week's local elections for the district head in Merauke.

Other journalists have also been threatened in what appears to have been a concerted campaign to stifle free expression ahead of the elections. Current district head, Johannes Gluba-Gebze, has been instrumental in planning and promoting the food project.

"The potential adverse impacts of MIFEE for the local population are massive such that full transparency and accountability are required. A free media is essential to ensuring effective democratic oversight of the project," say TAPOL and Down to Earth who are closely monitoring the project.

"President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono's ambition to 'feed Indonesia then feed the world' may come at the expense of many Papuans, and could add to wider frustrations about the lack of political, social and economic autonomy in Papua," they add.

The project is likely to contribute to the marginalisation of indigenous Papuans by taking over the customary-owned land and resources which provide their livelihoods. It is also likely to exacerbate existing human rights grievances, and accelerate environmental deforestation and degradation.

"The enhanced security presence likely to be associated with MIFEE will increase tensions and add to the vulnerability of Merauke's inhabitants, especially as Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces are active in the area", warn TAPOL and Down to Earth.

Background and issues
MIFEE is a collection of commercial plantations, planned to cover 1.6 million hectares. The project is being promoted as a means of stabilizing Indonesia's food security. It has received support from the Government of Indonesia, and Merauke has been designated a national 'Special Economic Zone' (SEZ) in order to attract the US$8.6 billion of investment needed for the project. Over 30 investors from Indonesia, Japan, China, Singapore, Korea and the Middle East have expressed an interest in MIFEE,[1] Their involvement appears to be part of a global trend to make money by buying up lands abroad for food production.

Tens of thousands more workers and economic migrants, mostly from outside Papua, are expected to settle in Merauke and the surrounding areas. The indigenous people of Merauke have already felt the impact of transmigration programmes, first implemented under Dutch colonial rule and continued under Indonesia's Suharto regime. Population growth, changes in population demographics and the further loss of land and resources as a result of MIFFE could have a devastating and irreversible impact on the livelihoods of the local population, especially indigenous Papuans.

The huge number of newcomers may strain Merauke's underdeveloped services and further marginalise an already minority indigenous population. The commercialisation of land and takeover of indigenous Papuans' land will affect the livelihoods of Papuans and could prevent the transfer of knowledge, culture and language from one generation to the next.

Sustained local knowledge of tribal boundaries, land rights, land use, customary law and taboos are all dependent on having access to land and respect for traditional rights over the land. If MIFEE goes ahead, indigenous people will be faced with new boundaries and non-traditional crops such as oil palm, rice, sugar cane, corn and soyabean.

There has been strong opposition to MIFEE from local NGOs such as SKP-KAM, FokerLSM, SORPATOM and AMAN.[2] However, the death of Ardiansyah Matra'is and campaign of terror against journalists have closed down the space for criticism. These groups have emphasised on-going concerns about targeted surveillance and intimidation of NGOs and journalists. In 2009, a joint report by the Indonesian environmental NGO Telapak and the UK's Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) stated that 'irregular groups allied to [Johannes Gluba] Gebze' operate in Merauke and 'work in unison with the state security forces to monitor and intimidate any dissenters in the region.'

The security strategy for MIFEE is unclear, as is the resulting direct and indirect impact on the local population. Merauke is located near the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea (PNG) border and is already a highly militarized area. A 2009 Human Rights Watch report details abuses committed by Kopassus, who have close ties with Gebze.

In other parts of Papua where natural resources are being exploited, state security forces are routinely employed to protect commercial assets. There has often been an expansion in these areas of the sex and alcohol industries, which are run by migrants or the police and military themselves. The potential impact on the population's health is made clear by FokerLSM which reports that Merauke has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases after Mimika district, where the giant mining company Freeport operates.

The scale of MIFEE raises major environmental and ecological concerns. The conversion of protected forest for agricultural use seems likely, despite both Indonesia's Forestry Minister and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy stating otherwise.

Widespread licensed deforestation in Merauke would contradict the Government of Indonesia's commitment to reduce green-house gas emissions by 26% by 2020. It also raises questions over a recent billion dollar REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) agreement with the Government of Norway to preserve Indonesia's rainforests, in particular in Papua.


Contact: Paul Barber (TAPOL) on +44 1420 80153 or +44 7747 301 739 or Carolyn Marr (DTE) on +44 16977 46266

[1] Medco Group; Artha Graha Network; PT Bangun Cipta Sarana; Comexindo International; Sumber Alam Sutra; Korindo; PT Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia; Sinar Mas; PT Kertas Nusantara; Mitsubishi (Japan); Wilmar (Singapore); LG International (Korea).
[2] Office for Justice and Peace of the Archdicese of Merauke (SKP-KAM); Papua NGOs Cooperation Forum (FokerLSM); Solidarity for Papuans (SORPATOM); The Indigenous People's Alliance of Indonesia (AMAN)