Thursday, May 28, 2015

[biofuelwatch] Primary rainforest cleared for massive palm oil plantations in Peru

Primary rainforest cleared for massive palm oil plantations in Peru

John C. Cannon 
May 20, 2015

This article was produced under the Mongabay Reporting Network and can be re-published on your web site or blog or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.

Two palm oil plantations have recently been established in Peru, supplanting  primary forest. Photo courtesy of EIA.Two palm oil plantations have recently been established in Peru, supplanting primary forest. Satellite imagery analysis shows extent of the massive development, which is led by a group of companies tied to plantation entrepreneur and United Cacao CEO Dennis Melka. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. 

More than 9,400 hectares of closed-canopy Amazonian rainforest has been removed for two oil palm plantations in the Peruvian region of Ucayali since 2011, according to scientists working for MAAP, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project. The two plantations are linked to Czech entrepreneur Dennis Melka. 

Melka is the CEO of United Cacao, a Cayman Islands-based company that has been accused by scientists and NGOs of clearing more than 2,000 hectares of primary forest for a cacao plantation in another part of Peru while claiming to espouse a "sustainable"approach. He is also the founder, director, chairman, and CEO of United Oils,headquartered in the Cayman Islands according to some associates, and is a Singapore-based "palm oil refiner" according to others. Based on the public statements of at least one American investor, it appears that United Oils has also claimed that its operations are also sustainable. 

Based on an analysis of satellite images going back to 1990, a total of 12,188 total hectares of standing forest had been leveled through the end of April, MAAP reported on April 27. MAAP is an initiative by a group of scientific and conservation organizations to accessibly present technical information about threats to the Amazon. 

Seventy-seven percent of the total deforested area had not been cleared – in other words, it had been primary forest – for at least the last 25 years. Nearly another 20 percent, or around 2,300 hectares, was secondary forest that had been cleared at one time but had since grown back, the analysis showed. 

Two large-scale oil palm projects near Nueva Requena in the central Peruvian Amazon began in late 2011 and now cover nearly 12,200 hectares, according to analysis recently released by MAAP. Data indicate that prior to plantation development, much of this area was occupied by primary forest. Image courtesy of MAAP. Click to enlarge. 

One of the palm oil plantations. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. 

Oil palm development in Peru has burgeoned since the government decided in 2003 that the production of biofuels, including palm oil, should be a strategic priority. But the country has also made deforestation commitments, including a deal worth up to $300 million with Germany and Norway if it can scale back zero its rate of net deforestation by 2021. 

To halt deforestation, scientists and conservationists have advocated the use of "degraded" lands for agriculture rather than forests. Degraded lands are areas that have been cleared and the forest hasn't grown back, said Matt Finer, an ecologist with the Amazon Conservation Association who worked on the analysis. By that definition, only four percent of the two plantations in question could have been classified as degraded when plantation development began three and a half years go. 

"Peru could and should have a future with oil palm," Finer added, "but it needs to be strategically sited on the abundance of already-deforested lands that exist throughout the region." 

Finer, along with colleagues from Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA) based in Peru, used Landsat satellite images of the area from 2010 to develop a timeline of the deforestation. Between August 2010 and July 2012, crews began clearing the land, Finer said. Workers began planting oil palm before September 2013. 

The team also examined images going back as far as 1990, the earliest available for this area, from which they established a baseline. Using a series of images from the next 25 years up until 2015, they demonstrated that the area remained "dense closed canopy" – that is, primary – forest until development of the plantations began in 2011. 

Who is responsible? 

The two plantations lie near the town of Nueva Requena on the north bank of the Aguaytía River, a tributary of the Ucayali River, which flows north to form the headwaters of the Amazon. Based on's reporting from Ucayali, several related companies appear to be responsible for the deforestation. Grupo Palmas del Peru, Plantaciones de Ucayali, and Plantaciones de Pucallpa all operate in the area, and each has ties to Dennis Melka. 

Data from Global Forest Watch support MAAP's findings, showing large areas of tree cover loss near Pucallpa between 2012 and 2014 (2013 is the last year for which data are available) Much of that loss occurred within intact forest landscapes (IFLs), which are regions of undisturbed -- primary -- forest large enough and far enough from human activity to retain their original levels of biodiversity. In all, the area comprising the two plantations lost approximately 1,500 hectares of IFL tree cover in 2012 and 3,100 hectares in 2013. Click to enlarge. 

A document obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture demonstrates that Plantaciones de Ucayali operates the southernmost of the two plantations, known as "El Fundo Zanja Seca." Dated December 9, 2014, the document ordered the cessation of all agricultural activities until Plantaciones de Ucayali could show justification for major land use change as required by Peruvian law. 

Local resident and farmer Ivan Flores said that Plantaciones de Pucallpa is developing the northern plantation, which is adjacent to several hundred hectares of forested land that his family owns. 

"But it's the same owners as Plantaciones de Ucayali," he said when met with him in Pucallpa. Flores said representatives of the company have offered to buy his family's land, but they have decided not to sell. 

Repeated requests for clarification and comment from to Melka's representatives in London, Pucallpa, Iquitos (where the headquarters of United Cacao's Peruvian subsidiary is based), and Lima have been refused or gone unanswered. 

It's clear that the companies have significant financial and operational ties to each other. The business address registered for Plantaciones de Pucallpa and Plantaciones de Ucayali is listed as the Ucayali River Hotel in Pucallpa, according to documents from Peru's tax administration authority, known as SUNAT. 

Melka, who, in addition to being a Czech citizen, held an American passport at the time these companies were registered, is listed as a representative of each company, according to research by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental NGO, and published in their report, "Deforestation by Definition." 

Melka is also a director of United Oils, as is his fellow United Cacao executive director Anthony Kozuch. United Oils is also reportedly has an office in Pucallpa, according to aninvestor's website. Documents provided to by the Environmental Investigation Agency and obtained from SUNARP, the arm of the national government in charge of registering businesses that operate in Peru, show that United Oils and Grupo Palmas del Peru provided financing to both Plantaciones de Ucayali and Plantaciones de Pucallpa. 

Connections between United Cacao and Melka's oil palm interests exist as well. According to the company's admission document to the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market, United Cacao has also provided loans to, as well as received loans from, Palmas del Peru, Plantaciones de Ucayali, and Plantaciones de Pucallpa. 

A question of definitions 

Enrique Vasquez Da Silva, the president of the regional chapter of Convención Nacional del Agro-Peruano, an advocacy organization for Peruvian farmers and agricultural associations known as Conveagro, confirmed Melka's business interests in Ucayali. Vasquez Da Silva told that Melka's companies had two plantations in the region, on which they intend to plant about 11,000 hectares of oil palm. According to satellite imagery analysis by Sidney Novoa, a scientist with ACCA, which is part of MAAP, about 9,000 hectares of oil palm had been planted on the two sites as of early May. 

Aerial imagery of the Nueva Requena region shows heavy machinery at work at a plantation site. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency Click to enlarge. 

Newly planted oil palm at one of the plantations. Photo by John Cannon. 

Vasquez Da Silva is happy to see oil palm projects injecting cash into the region's economy. "We're grateful that private investment has arrived here," he said. "If it wasn't for private investment, we wouldn't grow the way we're growing now." To his mind, the influx of agricultural financing is responsible for amenities such as supermarkets in the regional capital of Pucallpa, as well as better roads to connect markets and settlements throughout the region. 

He agrees with Finer that degraded land should be the target for plantations and that primary forest should be left alone. But Vasquez Da Silva also has a different definition of what constitutes primary forest. He said that primary forest "…is a forest that humans have never worked," he said. "The hand of man has never touched it." High levels of biodiversity, intact resources and valuable hardwood tree species such as mahogany are the hallmarks of primary forests, he added. 

Given the intensity of impact humans have had on the Peruvian Amazon, Finer said such a strict definition isn't practical and ignores the importance that dense forests have, including ones that humans have used. 

"The 'never been touched by the hand of man' definition is extremely radical and makes no sense in an Amazonian context with indigenous communities living in even the most remote corners," Finer told in an email. 

"Selective, illegal logging of high-value tree species…remains rampant in Peru, thus very few places would be considered primary forest under that definition, including most protected areas," he said. It's not possible to define the oil palm developments in Ucayali as sustainable when they've come at the expense of so much primary forest, he added. 

Plantation de Pucallpa dock in Nueva Requena. Photo by John Cannon. 

Yet, Anholt Services, an American investment firm based in Connecticut and an investor in United Oils since 2012, touted the environmental leadership of United Oils in a September 2014 press release announcing the firm's role in designing "a creative and mutually beneficial structure to enable [United Oils] to continue its development and expansion." 

Anholt managing director Ihab Massoud said in the release that Anholt was "excited" to help United Oils build out its operations because of "the company's strong commitment to sustainable operations that create positive outcomes for the local community through outreach and assistance programs." Rudolph Krediet, a partner at the investment firm, implied that the arrangement with United Oils would help Anholt ensure its land holdings achieve "their most sustainable and highest value uses over time." 

Representatives from Anholt did not respond to several requests for comment. 

"Here in 2015 clearing any remaining primary Amazon rainforest for large-scale agriculture is unacceptable," Finer said. 

But a recent report on deforestation and oil palm in Peru by the United States Agency for International Development said that until Peru bolsters its enforcement of forestry laws to ensure primary forest isn't given over to large-scale agricultural developers, "It is unrealistic to expect that large corporate or smallholder actors focus their palm oil development on deforested or degraded lands." Typically, there aren't large swaths of degraded land available, making it costly to buy the land from many individual owners and find enough adjacent areas to make for a viable and efficient plantation, the report's authors write. 

They also said that getting oil palm growers to target degraded lands was "highly unlikely" without better direction from the Peruvian government. 

Finer echoed that assertion: "Peru can grow its oil palm sector without destroying primary forest, but it will require much better planning than what currently exists." 


  • Suggested citations for data as displayed on GFW: Greenpeace, University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and Transparent World. 2014. Intact Forest Landscapes: update and reduction in extent from 2000-2013. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on [date].
  • Hansen, M. C., P. V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V. Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G. Townshend. 2013. "Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA Tree Cover Loss and Gain Area." University of Maryland, Google, USGS, and NASA. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on [date].


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[biofuelwatch] Mozambique agriculture plan could displace 100,000 farmers

Mozambique agriculture plan could displace 100,000 farmers - activists
Published: 25 May 2015
Posted in:  Mozambique | ProSavana
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In this 2005 file photograph, workers tend fields of sugar cane in Xinavane, north of Mozambique's capital Maputo. (Photo: REUTERS/Grant Neuenburg/Files)
Reuters | 25 May 2015

Mozambique agriculture plan could displace 100,000 farmers - activists

By Chris Arsenault

ROME, May 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mozambique is mulling a plan to lease 240,000 hectares of prime farmland to investors to grow crops for export, threatening to displace more than 100,000 local residents, activists and academics said, citing a leaked document.

The Lurio River Valley Development Project in the country's northeast aims to produce cotton, corn, sugar, ethanol and livestock, said Clemente Ntauazi, a researcher with advocacy group Academic Action for the Development of Rural Communities.

An estimated 500,000 people will be affected by the plan, with 100,000 forced from their homes, Ntauazi said, citing a leaked presentation to would-be investors and satellite images of communities that would be impacted.

The leaked plan is the latest in a series of major foreign-based agricultural project proposed in Mozambique and other African countries that supporters say will bring jobs and boost land productivity but critics fear will displace local people and rob small-scale farmers of their livelihoods.

"The area holds some of Mozambique's best land and local farmers have been living there for more than 30 years," Ntauazi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The proposal follows another major ongoing agricultural project in Mozambique with the government planning to approve the Brazilian-and-Japanese backed ProSavana Project covering several million hectares to grow soybeans by the end of the year.

The proposed Lurio River project, involving two hydro electric dams along with agriculture plans, is currently waiting approval from the Council of Ministers, a government body, researchers said. It's unclear when a decision will be made.

"This is a secret (plan), no consultation, (and) no published information from the government," Tim Wise, director of Tufts University's Global Development Institute, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Officials at the country's agriculture ministry did not make a spokesperson available to comment on the proposed project.

The initiative is expected to cost $4.2 billion, a sum Mozambique's cash-strapped government would not be able to finance without outside support, Ntauazi said.

Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries, ranking 178 out of 187 nations on the U.N.'s Human Development Index.

To increase food production, the government should invest in local farmers, many of whom still use the most basic hoes to till their fields and lack access to the best seeds, Wise said.

Residents living and working on the land in question had no idea they could be displaced, he said, after visiting some of the areas in Nampula province earlier this year.

Under Mozambique's land laws, the government is obliged to consult local communities, even if they don't have formal ownership of the land they farm, Ntauazi said. (Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Ros Russell)

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[biofuelwatch] In Luxembourg, Bolloré and Socfin count their profits while conflicts persist in their African and Asian plantations

In Luxembourg, Bolloré and Socfin count their profits while conflicts persist in their African and Asian plantations
Published: 26 May 2015
Posted in:  Belgium | Cambodia | Côte d'Ivoire | France | Luxembourg
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With the support of Meng Landwirtschaft, the Luxemburgish NGO SOS Faim organised an action in front of the hotel where the AGM took place to transmit the demands of the local communities. (Photo: JS)

International alliance of Socfin-Bolloré plantation communities and ReAct | 26 May 2015 [FR]

In Luxembourg, Bolloré and Socfin count their profits while conflicts persist in their African and Asian plantations

On Wednesday 27 May, Socfin is holding its general meeting with its two main shareholders present, the Fabri family and the Bolloré group. At the same time, from Cambodia to Côte d'Ivoire, local communities deprived of their lands by the Socfin plantations are mobilised, demanding their rights.

Peasant assemblies oppose the shareholders' assembly in Luxembourg. Today, 27 May, 300 people from six affected villages are gathering to protest Socfin's failure to respect its commitments in Mondulkiri, Cambodia, while 250 representatives of 13 villages affected by the Socfin plantation in Côte d'Ivoire are also mobilising. At the same time, in the Bel-Air Hotel in Luxembourg, the shareholders of Socfin are holding their annual general meeting. The communities are counting their losses, while the shareholders tally their profits. Recently, on 16 May, 300 people gathered at the LAC plantation headquarters in Liberia, while 400 mobilised to blockade the Dibombarri plantation in Mbongo from 23 to 28 April. Everywhere, communities forming the International Alliance of Plantation Communities have the same demands: that Socfin give back the rights to use lands that the communities consider essential to their livelihoods, and that it stick to its commitments to compensate people according to different agreements it has signed on to (see the enclosed state of play and demands).

The Luxemburgish NGOs SOS Faim with civil society platform Meng Landwirtschaft are mobilising in front of the hotel where the general meeting is taking place tomorrow, to transmit the demands of the local communities.

Socfin does not recognise the legitimacy of these movements and their representatives. In their official statement of 12 May (see annex) the company leaders deny that these conflicts exist and insist that their plantations are «vanguards of social progress» and that they «have always acted in peaceful coexistence with the communities surrounding their facilities.» A major shareholder of Socfin (39%), Bolloré initiated a negotiation process in October 2014 but then backtracked. In a statement released 23 April, the company disavowed its responsibility stating that «we are only a non-managing minority shareholder of Socfin Group which, since more than 70 years, is majority-controlled and managed by the Belgian Fabri family» (see annex).

«A model of socially and environmentally irresponsible investment»

«Bolloré cashes in its Socfin dividends all the while denying its responsability», bemoans Emmanuel Elong, spokesperson for the Alliance. «Socfin with its headquarters in Luxembourg, its offices in Switzerland, its shareholders in Liechtenchtein and its refusal to respond to plantation communities is the model of irresponsible capitalism. Against this, we have no choice but to organise ourselves, build alliances and take action to force these business leaders to respect the rights of local communities. We demand an international negotiation with Socfin and Bolloré to draw up a roadmap to resolve the conflicts.» Following the recent mobilisations, Socfin subsidiaries in Cameroon, Cambodia and Liberia have started to recognise the local communities' organisations. But corporate headquarters in Europe continue to deny their legitimacy".

Press pack:é_27_Mai_2015.pdf

ReAct Alliances Transnationales


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[biofuelwatch] Deforestation, exploitation, hypocrisy: no end to Wilmar's palm oil land grabs

Deforestation, exploitation, hypocrisy: no end to Wilmar's palm oil land grabs

Anne van Schaik & Godwin Ojo

27th May 2015

With the deadline due this year for the full implementation of Wilmar's 'No peat, no deforestation, no exploitation' promise, the oil palm giant is keen to push its green image in Europe. But for communities suffering its land grabs in Nigeria, nothing has changed. While Wilmar spins green rhetoric, its bulldozers are still destroying vast swathes of forest and farmland.

We used to plant plantains, cassava, cocoyam and vegetables here, as well as trees for timber. We grew wood for businesses, for houses and to feed ourselves - for firewood. Now because the forest is gone we have nothing left. But we will not accept this.

In December 2013 Wilmar adopted a"no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation policy" to address its well-documented environmental and human rights failings.

It was hailed as a brave step which would take Wilmar from being named by Newsweek as the world's least environmentallyfriendly big company in 2012 to achampion of sustainable operations.

Wilmar gave itself, its subsidiaries, and its third party suppliers two years to reach its goal: a serious-sounding commitment to dealing with the land-grabbing cases, human rights abuses, forest destruction and climate impacts that have dogged its operations.

Good news? Not quite. Friends of the Earth Europe has been campaigning for years to address the problems that Wilmar has caused in South East Asia and Africa. Our groups in Indonesia, Nigeria, Liberia and Ugandacontinue to see misconduct by Wilmar and its subsidiaries in these countries.

In February this year legal action was taken by affected farmers in Uganda to claim restitution for their grabbed land and fair compensation for damages, three years after their land was taken for the plantation development.

'Aggressive expansion' in Nigeria

In 2011 and 2012, Wilmar International purchased several plantation sites in Cross River State in southeastern Nigeria. These land purchases were part of the state's efforts tocourt 'high capacity' foreign investors to revive its flagging plantation economy.

Together these plantations form a joint venture between Wilmar and the British food commodity firm PZ Cussons - PZ Wilmar.

According to a November 2014 article in Businessday PZ Wilmar's investment of $165 million to develop the current 26,000 hectares of palm oil plantations is only the beginning. Tunde Oyelola, vice chairman of PZ Wilmar, announced plans to

" ... aggressively expand the nation's palm oil production to 240,000 hectares of plantations, employing over 250,000 within five to six years."

Deforestation, land grabs, pollution, exploitation

The plantation in Nigeria began development before Wilmar's sustainability pledge in 2013, but its expansion has continued apace since. A Friends of the Earth delegation organised by Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria visited affected communities in May 2015.

Our visit was sobering. Far from operating like a corporation intent on meeting sustainability goals, Wilmar is up to its old tricks. In the village of Ibogo, the local community saw their farmland being excavated just one week before we arrived. They took us to show the land and the destroyed crops.

Their stories are heartbreaking, because these people are desperate. Some of them have been cultivating the land for decades, and now their crops - plantains, bananas, cocoa and vegetables - are destroyed they have no way to provide alternative livelihoods.

William Ogobe, 29, and with a young family, told us that the project had taken his farmland:

"We used to plant plantains, cassava, cocoyam and vegetables here, as well as trees for timber. We grew wood for businesses, for houses and to feed ourselves - for firewood. Now because the forest is gone we have nothing left. When the project finishes, we will have no future left. Wilmar wants to render us useless in life. But we will not accept this."

The citizens of Ibogo are right to be worried about their future. At other plantations that had already been developed, the consequences have been disastrous.

In the nearby village of Betem, the water supply was severely damaged and polluted by PZ Wilmar's operations. The alternative borehole that PZ Wilmar supplied is not functioning and the company has not dropped by to repair it. Even for the brief spell where it worked, the water quality was poor, a thick brown liquid that was a major source of illness in the community.

Meanwhile down the road, the leader of the village of Idoma, Chief Steven Omari complained: "As a consequence of the Wilmar project, our forest has been seriously degraded. Our timber has been destroyed and they have yet to compensate us. People who were farming in that area lost their land and they have yet to be compensated."

PZ Wilmar has provided jobs to some in the community, but these are volatile, contract-free positions as day labourers - a far cry from the work of operating small-scale farms of their own. With no occupational training offered, it is difficult to see a way out for many.

Legal challenge and community action

Cases like these - of environmental destruction, and human rights violations - formed the basis of a federal lawsuit from the Nigeria-based NGO Rainforest Resource & Development Centre in 2013. After a lengthy delay, the case will hopefully be heard in June 2015.

There are also calls to to charge PZ Wilmar with contempt of court, because it continues to operate, whereas legally they should have stopped their operations during the trial. But while the legal process rumbles on, communities in Nigeria are organising.

ERA / Friends of the Earth Nigeria recently set up a volunteer-run community forest watch programme, which unites 13 communities affected by Wilmar's plantations, provides training to these communities and develops joint strategies to protect the forest and people's livelihoods.

These responses to Wilmar's land grabbing at the local level are a powerful reminder of the potency of community action.

Financiers and international community must share responsibility

Nigeria is not an isolated case for Wilmar - and they are not solely accountable. The chain of responsibility stretches back to those that finance their operations. Friends of the Earth groups in Europe and the US have regularly brought the case to the attention of Wilmar International and its European and US financiers.

We have also reported on how Wilmar's land grabbing in Uganda has been financed by the United Nations agency IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development. In2010 IFAD backed an oil palm project partly owned and operated by Wilmar on Bugula Island, Lake Victoria, with a $52 million loan. But it refused to comment when asked about the 3,600 hectares of pristine forest it had destroyed, and the hundreds of farmers left destitute after their land was grabbed.

The continued inaction further proves that we cannot rely on self-regulation by either companies or financiers for genuine action. Wilmar has not changed its ways of working - it is high time to bring the company to account for its human rights violations, ameliorate its environmental impacts and pay compensation to the hundreds of victims facing eviction and dispossession.

It is also essential that governments, financiers and UN agencies do not wait for Wilmar and others like it to improve their practices. Binding human rights and environmental rules for companies and their financiers must be established at the national and international levels.

In June 2014 the UN Human Rights Council put in place the first steps towards setting binding international human rights regulations for transnational corporations like Wilmar.

Friends of the Earth Europe, together with many other groups, is campaigning to ensure the UN adopts a proposal which would increase access to justice for local communities and affected people in Nigeria and around the world.



Action: Sign the Treaty Alliance Statement of committed networks and campaign groups around the world who are developing a binding international instrument to address corporate human rights abuses.

Anne van Schaik is accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

Godwin Ojo is the director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

[biofuelwatch] Press communiqué: Christopher Achobang, a recognized human rights activist and well-known environmentalist

Christopher Achobang, a recognized human rights activist and well-known environmentalist, was arrested by security forces on Sunday 26 April 2015 in Meta and has since been held at the prison in Mbengwi, in the Northwest region.

Press communiqué:


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Saturday, May 23, 2015

[biofuelwatch] Indonesia: President Jokowi extends the moratorium and announces a 4.6 million hectare land grab


Indonesia: President Jokowi extends the moratorium and announces a 4.6 million hectare land grab

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Last week, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo agreed to extend the country's moratorium on new forestry concessions. Also last week, Jokowi visited Papua and relaunched the disastrous Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE).

Greenpeace Indonesia describes the extension of the moratorium as a copy and paste exercise, with little changed except the date and the time period that the moratorium runs.

"Of course we are disappointed with the president for simply extending the previous policy with no significant change," Greenpeace campaigner Teguh Surya told Mongabay-Indonesia.

A copy of the moratorium is below and it can be downloaded here (in Indonesian).

Greenpeace is calling for the moratorium to be strengthened, to prevent the destruction of 48.5 million hectares of forest not covered by the moratorium.

Full of loopholes and no punishments for violations

Introduced in 2011 and extended in 2013, the two-year moratorium was never a serious attempt to stop deforestation, given the built-in loopholes. The moratorium does not apply to:

  • Existing concessions or concessions that already "received approval in principle" by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
  • "National development" projects including: geothermal, oil and gas, electricity, land for rice and sugar cane.
  • The extension of existing permits.

The day before Jokowi signed the moratorium extension, the Jakarta Post reported from Riau province, Sumatra, where a company called PT Setia Agrindo Lestari (PT SAL) is clearing peatland to make way for oil palm plantations.

PT SAL's 17,059-hectare concession was awarded in 2012, a year after the moratorium came into force. The company can operate in breach of the moratorium with impunity, because it is only a Presidential Instruction and includes no punishments for violations of its terms.

Once again, the 2015 extension to the moratorium is a Presidential Instruction.

MIFEE relaunched, or Mega Rice 2.0?

In 1996, then-President Suharto started Indonesia's Mega Rice project. The idea was to make Indonesia self-sufficient in rice by creating one million hectares of new rice fields in Central Kalimantan. Suharto's cronies cleared more than one million hectares of forest, but not a single grain of rice was harvested. 60,000 people moved to the area to work on the project, many of whom are still there.

Here's how Professor Jack Rieley of the University of Nottingham described the result of the Mega Rice project in a 2001 article:

By the time the project was abandoned, major damage had been done to the regional and global environment. Forestry resources had been ransacked, government money had been misappropriated, and the economy and quality of life of indigenous people had been irreparably disrupted. Five years after the Mega Rice Project commenced, one million hectares of wetland landscape lie in ruins, a wasteland testimony to human greed and stupidity.

Almost 20 years later, it seems that President Joko Widodo wants to repeat Suharto's mistakes. But this time on an even larger scale.

On 9th and 10th May 2015, Jokowi travelled to Papua. He visited Merauke and announced a plan for 1.2 million hectares of new rice fields to be developed within three years.

That's just the start. The development would eventually cover 4.6 million hectares. According to Jokowi, that is. There are no formal plans for any of this.

As the website awasMIFEE! points out, it sounds almost as if Jokowi was making it up as he went along. He told that,

"This morning I decided that we should start this year. I've given a target of 1.2 million hectares that must be operational within three years."

Every six months Jakarta is to provide US$534 million to clear 250,000 hectares to make way for the rice fields. This would be large scale industrial agriculture, as Jokowi explains:

"It would be impossible to work this land by hand, even if we worked until judgement day. Modern machines much be used. Merauke will be the first place to use these modern machines, as yet there are none in Indonesia."

Jokowi was in Merauke at the invitation of Arifin Panigoro, the head of the Medco Group. Medco has a 248-hectare experimental mechanised agriculture plot in Kurik District. Jokowi was obviously impressed.

The impacts of the MIFEE project are already serious. In 2013, Forest Peoples Programme that it was causing poverty and starvation for local communities.

The proposed area of 4.6 million hectares is larger than Merauke Regency, which includes Wasur National Park and other protected forests. Some of the land has already been allocated under the MIFEE project as oil palm and sugar plantations. And the fact that the land belongs to the indigenous peoples of Merauke presumably just slipped Jokowi's mind.

Jokowi's Mega Rice plan in Papua is covered by the moratorium's "national development" loophole. If Jokowi wanted to demonstrate the irrelevance of the moratorium, he couldn't have done better than announcing a plan for 4.6 million hectares of new rice fields, just days before signing the extension of the moratorium.


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