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wp Destroying Local Livelihoods With Mifee

January 20, 2013

At the launch of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate project
in 2010, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced that the
agribusinesses involved would “feed Indonesia, then feed the world.”

But the Malind Anim people of Merauke, Papua, say they are worried that
the impacts of the project known as Mifee will prevent them from being
able to feed their families for generations to come.

“Our rivers have been poisoned, our forests destroyed, our sago trees
cut down and the animals we used to hunt killed. We’ve become poorer and
our childrens’ health suffer because of pollution from the companies,”
says Cornelis Tuwong, a representative for the secretariat for justice
and peace from the greater diocese of Merauke.

In December, Tuwong led a group of eight Malind Anim clan leaders to the
provincial capital Jayapura to seek help from Foker LSM Papua, a
coalition of Papuan nongovernmental organizations, and Sawit Watch, the
largest Indonesian NGO monitoring the development of palm oil
plantations in the country.

The leaders hoped to gain support for their ongoing struggles over land
and other natural resources with palm oil companies and agribusiness
corporations now operating in Merauke under the Mifee project.

Clearing the land

Mifee is part of the central government’s Masterplan for the
Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI)
for 2011 to 2025. The project is valued at approximately $5 billion and
aims to dramatically increase agricultural output, putting Indonesia on
track toward self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs.

During the so-called global food crisis of 2008 plans for Mifee
initially began developing. Projections were made that through Mifee,
2.5 million metric tons of sugar, 2 million tons of rice, 2 million tons
of corn, 937,000 tons of palm oil and 167,000 tons of soybeans would be
produced, and 64,000 heads of cattle slaughtered each year.

To fulfill the ambitious Mifee aims, the Indonesian government declared
that 1.2 million hectares of land would have to be cleared.

According to the 2011 Indonesia Agribusiness Report published by
Business Monitor International, “the government claims that the new land
will come from unforested scrubland, though considering the size of the
proposed project it seems likely that natural forest would also have to
be felled.”

Indeed, that is precisely what has happened.

Nanang Sanjaya’s documentary “Mama Malind su Hilang” (“Our Land Has
Gone”), released in Bogor on Oct. 19 last year, depicts the rampant
destruction not only of land, wildlife and forests but also cultural
practices of the Malind Anim people.

Promises of jobs, schools and improved infrastructure have not
materialized. Local nurses explain that the poisoning of fish, the
destruction of sago plants and extinction of animals such as deer in the
area have resulted in increased levels of malnutrition. Pollution from
fertilizers and wood-chipping has caused an unprecedented number of
bronchitis and asthma cases.

Interviews with indigenous people in the village of Zanegi, in the
Animha district of Merauke, echo the pleas of the clan leaders led by
Tuwong to Jayapura.

They say outsiders have been brought in to Merauke to work, while local
people have been subjected to arbitrary detainment and violence at the
hands of the police.

On Oct. 16, 2010, in a blatant attempt to intimidate those who oppose
Mifee, the Merauke police reportedly arrested activists Billy Metemko,
Thomas Tonggap and F.X. Sirfefa, three founding members of an
organization known as Sorpatom, or the Papuan People’s Solidarity in
Rejecting Mifee. They were held without warrant for five hours.

Lasting impact

The Malind Anim people and other indigenous groups affected by Mifee,
including the Awyu, Jair and Wambon people, are mainly sago farmers,
fishermen and hunter-gatherers.

Damage to the natural environment caused by the industrial activities of
agribusinesses and palm oil plantations has severely affected the health
and food security of these indigenous groups.

“Metco is the biggest palm oil company in the area where I live. They’ve
cheated us, cut down our trees and converted all the land into palm oil
plantations,” says Christianus Ungkujay, a clan leader from Kuel
village, Elikobel district.

“The fertilizers they use have polluted the river. Now the fish are
poisoned and the women have to walk at least five kilometers to get
water to use at home. Our peanut, banana and sago plantations have
either been cut down or died. The compensation they promised us hasn’t
been delivered.”

Forty-six companies are now operating under the Mifee project in
Merauke. Ten of these are palm oil companies, with Korindo, Tunas
Sawerma and Agiprima Cipta Persada being three of the largest.

“We don’t want to work for palm oil companies, we want our forest back,”
Ungkujay continues. “We work with iman [spiritual faith], not with
modern equipment or capital. They haven’t just destroyed our
livelihoods, they’ve destroyed our culture. This is not development,
this is deception. Our land belongs to our ancestors. How can we pass it
on to our grandchildren now?”

Tuwong explains that some villagers in Merauke have struck deals with
big companies, only to feel cheated once the transaction is completed.

“On June 1, 2012, Agiprima Cipta Persada paid the people of Marimbian
village Rp 2 billion [$207,000] for land for palm oil plantations,” he
says. “The people thought it was a lot of money, so they were happy. But
the money was given to the leaders of the nine Marimbian clans. Then it
had to be divided between all their relatives. In the end each person
got between Rp 20,000 and Rp 80,000. Everyone regretted what they’d
done. People were furious, but there was nothing they could do. Their
land had already been taken.”

Staunch resistance from local people has gone beyond protests and
meetings with NGOs in Papua. The Malind Anim people have submitted their
complaints to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
detailing the destruction of indigenous land, military coercion and the
lack of an environmental impact assessment before the Mifee project
began in Merauke.

The complaints have been forwarded to the Indonesian ambassador to the
UN, who has been asked to explain the effects of transmigration on local
people, the reasons why an EIA was not carried out and what measures had
been taken to ensure “the free, prior and informed consent of Malind
[Anim] and other indigenous peoples in Papua before carrying out the
Mifee project.”

The Indonesian government has not offered a response and has refused to
engage in any dialogue with the UN regarding Mifee.

“The land the companies have taken is our ancestors’ land. It belongs to
our grandchildren,” says Tuwong. “For these reasons, we reject Mifee.”

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