Big Agriculture: hands off of Papua!


Indonesia’s President Widodo took office in 2014 promising to protect forests and respect the rights of indigenous people. Now – only months later – he wants to hand 1.2 million hectares of rainforest and indigenous land in Papua to Big Agriculture. Let’s remind him of his election promise!


On May 9, 2015, Merauke rolled out the red carpet for Joko Widodo. Indonesia’s president had traveled to the most remote corner of his sprawling island nation to present his great project to the public: Over  the next three years, 1.2 million hectares in Merauke, Papua, would be turned into rice plantations featuring state-of-the-art agricultural technology.


“We will make Merauke into the rice bowl of Indonesia and the world,” Widodo proclaimed. 


“We have millions of hectares at our disposal!” In the medium term, no less than 4.6 million hectares of rice plantations may be realised."


What he did not say is that all of Merauke would disappear under rice  paddies.  It would spell the end for a unique ecosystem of rainy and dry forests, wetlands, savannas and mangroves.


The traditional culture and way of life of the 70,000 indigenous Malind, who live scattered throughout the forest and cultivate sago palms and farm small plots, would also vanish.


"We live off of the forest and sago, not rice,” says a village elder. “Surrendering our land would be suicide. Without it, there will be no place for our children and grandchildren.”


The Malind families have good reason to be alarmed by the new plans: the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), an industrial-scale agricultural project, has been taking shape since 2010.


In only four to five years, more than one million hectares – a quarter of the district – fell into the hands of agricultural corporations that are clearing the land for oil palms, sugarcane and eucalyptus.


President Joko Widodo took office promising to protect the forests and respect the rights of indigenous people. Call on him to keep his promise and preserve Papua’s unique natural landscapes.


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