Farmer protests in Sulawesi: “Mining is destroying our life”

In central Sulawesi, Indonesia, powerful mining corporations are greedy for the minerals in the ground there. In contrast to the north and south of the island, exploitation in the centre has only just begun. But already clear-felling is causing flooding and mud slides. With great courage people are trying to save their rain forests. “Anyone who protests publicly in Indonesia against mining or palm oil plantations is in danger,” says our partner, Andika Ndika. They risk being charged with terrorism, jailing and violence.”


Andika is the campaigning expert in the young team of Jatam, a network of activists opposing mining in Indonesia. It’s been only a few days since the latest act of violence. In the Morowali district police shot at people protesting against the destructive oil and gas extraction of the Medco corporation, killing two men.


The Jatam activists, farmers and indigenous people have powerful enemies because the owners of the biggest mines are global players: Rio Tinto from Australia, Inco from the Brazilian Vale Group and PT Bintang Delapan Minerals (BDM), an Indonesian enterprise in majority Chinese ownership.

The nickel mined by BDM in Morowali under government licence is exported to China and the consumer goods made from it there to all the world. The mining has already seriously devastated the region around Bahodopit.


“They started clear-felling in 2008,” recounts Andika. “Since then floods have increased, erasing villages, fields and harvests are buried under mud slides. The poison from the mines contaminates rivers and creeks, no fish can survive there. And the new port for shipping the nickel to China has destroyed 20 hectares of mangrove forest.”


The campaigning leader also notes a totally nontransparent licensing and land acquisition process. The people affected are not informed, they have not been offered any compensation, let alone has their approval been sought. “The law requires all of those things from a corporation,” says Andika.

“This is about our life with the rain forest. That’s why we have to keep fighting. Not because we want to, but because we have to.”


Jatam now wants to demand people’s rights and nature protection in central Sulawesi at the highest state level, the president of Indonesia.

For that move the activists are appealing for international support.


They’re asking for signatures to a letter to President Yudhoyono. Hopefully with thousands of signatures it’s to be handed over personally by Jatam in Jakarta.


Sulawesi, which lies like a bent star fish in the Pacific, is one of the rich and beautiful islands in the Indonesian archipelago. It is blessed with natural treasures above and underground; it owes its attraction to some 6,000 kilometres of coast and varied mountain landscapes in the interior.


Morowali district is especially rich in animal and plant species. Rare endemic species like anoa pygmy buffaloes and marsupial bear cuscus inhabit mangrove and riverside, mountain and fog forests. Indigenous tribes like the Taa Ta Wana have so far used their precious habitats wisely.


But in recent years their worry grew whether they could preserve them for their children because Morowali is the mining hotspot in central Sulawesi. 120 concessions were granted in this district, half of all the mining licences of the entire province. 540,500 hectares of nature are being destroyed, mainly for exporting to China. Nickel is the main resource, but there are also gold and copper.


“In Morowali 60% of the concessions are located in protected forest,” says Andika. “That’s also why we’re taking to the streets, are blocking excavators and are writing to all responsible politicians.”