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Land Conversion and Threats to Biodiversity and Orangutans in Kalimantan

also: AFP: Palm oil workers killing endangered orangutans: activists

also: Op-Ed: It's cars versus humans [By Henry Saragih]

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, July 26, 2007

Land conversion, forest fires threaten Kalimantan's orangutans

Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo , The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government has been urged to stop deforestation in order to
protect the rapidly decreasing orangutan population on the
island of Kalimantan.

"We demand the government, in this case the Forestry Ministry,
re-evaluate and stop forest deforestation and conversion to oil
palm plantations," chairman of the Centre for Orangutan
Protection (COP) Hardi Baktiantoro said Wednesday.

"They are a threat to the existence of orangutans."

Hardi said at a press conference on orangutan protection that
the species was mostly seen by plantation companies as a pest
because it ate palm oil buds.

"Our organization is not anti the palm oil industry, which
produces green energy or biofuel. However, many of their workers
will cruelly do anything to the primates to protect their
crops," he said.

"This is a violation of the 1990 Conservation Law. Violators may
face up to five years in prison or a fine of Rp 100 million."

Also present at the press conference were chairman of the Orang
Utan Republik Education Initiative of Indonesia, Barita O.
Manullang, and Harvard University anthropologist Cheryl D.
Knott, who is also chairman of the Palung Foundation in West

The COP estimates that at least 1,500 orangutans were killed in
Central Kalimantan alone last year as a direct result of forest
conversion to oil palm plantation.

"Kalimantan still has about 34,000 orangutans left. Plantation
companies should try to use critical or abandoned land instead,"
Hardi said.

However, Forestry Ministry spokesman Masyhud said the figure was
"bombastic, because there are not many oil palm plantations in
Central Kalimantan," he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

"Converted forests are those already set for production purposes
and not for conservation purposes."

Kalimantan orangutans are also struggling to survive in their
natural habitat because of fires set to clear land.

Barita said that people should not rely too much orangutan
mortality rate figures as they were only extrapolations of other

"Even the Forestry Ministry asks us NGOs for orangutan mortality
statistics," said Barita.

Knott said that empowering local communities to cultivate other
type of plants for consumption could help in fostering

Separately, Central Kalimantan governor Teras Narang said that
despite the administration's efforts to save the orangutan and
its habitat, a better set of protection laws was still needed.

"The laws are yet to lean on primates or biodiversity
protection," Teras said over the phone, adding that he opted for
multicultural rather than monoculture plantations due to their
greater ability to conserve biodiversity.

"Moreover, what we have tried to conserve here would be
pointless if the central government, in this case the Forestry
Ministry, keeps issuing massive concession permits," he said.


Palm oil workers killing endangered orangutans: activists

JAKARTA, July 25 (AFP) -- Workers on Indonesian palm oil
plantations are deliberately killing endangered orangutans on
the island of Borneo to stop them eating their seedlings,
activists said on Wednesday.

Hardi Baktiantoro, director of the Centre for Orangutan
Protection (COP), said at least 1,500 orangutans perished in
2006, most as a result of deliberate attacks but also due to
their habitat disappearing to make way for palm oil plantations.

"Orangutans have become the victims of torture by plantation
workers as they wander and eat palm oil seedlings for survival,"
Baktiantoro told reporters.

As plantation workers had to pay concession companies for the
loss of the seedlings, they had no choice but to pursue the
primates, he said.

Video footage screened at a press briefing showed dead
orangutans with severe head wounds allegedly inflicted by
workers as well as severely injured animals that were treated by
COP and other local rescue teams.

Baktiantoro said that "even though this kind of cruelty violates
Indonesia's law on biodiversity conservation, no one until now
has been arrested for this crime."

The COP urged the Indonesian government to immediately cancel
concessions to palm oil companies in a bid to protect the

"Central Kalimantan is the final frontier of the orangutan
population in Indonesia. If the forest clearing continues, we
will soon lose our national treasure," he warned.

Scientists estimate that 34,000 orangutans remain in Central
Kalimantan province on Borneo.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said that Indonesia plans to be
the largest palm oil producer by 2008 amid strong demand from
the global food, bio-fuel and chemicals industries.

Indonesia is currently the second largest producer after
Malaysia although it has a much larger area for plantations. The
two countries account for 85 percent of world production.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association
was not immediately available for comment.

Environmentalists say an estimated 16.8 million hectares (41.5
million acres) of forest have been cleared for palm oil
plantations in Indonesia, but only 6.3 million hectares have
actually been planted with the crop.

They allege permits to open new plantations are more often used
as a pretext to clear land and sell the valuable logs.


The Jakarta Post Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's cars versus humans

Henry Saragih , Jakarta

Farmers all over the world are very worried about the escalating
issue of agrofuel. At the Nyilini World Forum for Food
Sovereignty in February, La Via Campesina, along with hundreds
of other organizations, stressed that the prefix 'bio' in
biofuel did not guarantee that this phyto-fuel was
environmentally sound. Furthermore, the term is very misleading
and politically incorrect.

In the global context, we are witnessing a major alliance among
transnational corporations: oil companies, which want to reduce
their dependence on oil; carmakers, which want to continue
profiting from the current individual transportation model; and
agribusiness companies, which want to continue monopolizing the
world agricultural market. And not to mention the role of the
developed countries, such as the United States and the European
Union (EU), in their desire to maintain their hegemony over the
global economy. Their effort to raise this issue is being
countered by the new emerging forces in Latin America, which
consist mainly of the world's leading oil-producing countries.

What will happen then if it becomes more profitable to produce
agrofuel than rice, corn, cassava, cotton or soybeans? Farmers
will, of course, replace food crops, which generally have a
lower profit margin -- because consumers have low incomes --
with agrofuel crops. A friend of mine, Joao Pedro Stedile of the
Landless Workers' Movement of Brazil (MST), dubs it a rule of

In the Indonesian context, this topic is very much related to
palm oil. The skyrocketing price of crude palm oil (CPO) and
cooking oil is closely linked to the hype over CPO-based
agrofuel. As the world's second largest producer after Malaysia,
many of the major palm oil producers quickly sniffed the huge
profits they could make from the trend. This can be seen from
the plans by IndoAgri and London Sumatra to expand their
plantations to 250,000 hectares by 2015.

Backed by growing concern over climate change and global
warming, the EU parliament has set itself a target of
substituting agrofuel for up to 5.75 percent of total vehicle
fuel by 2010, and doubling this to 10 percent by 2020. The U.S.,
a country that has been firmly refusing to ratify the Kyoto
Protocol, has been playing the role of an environmental defender
by utilizing up to 35 billion gallons per year of agrofuel as
part of its effort to shrink its carbon emissions.

It is clear that these two global forces do not have enough
farmland to meet their targets (Holt-Gimenez, 2007), and will
resort to large-scale agrofuel importation. Major agribusiness
corporations from tropical countries, where many of these
energy-producing crops can grow, are trying to meet the EU and
U.S. demand.

The rising price of cooking oil is making people here suffer as
it is one of the nine basic commodities. Despite public
disquiet, the corporations insist on exporting CPO to reap
bigger profits. The government is almost helpless in responding
to this situation since its ad hoc instruments, such as export
tax and the domestic market obligation mechanisms, are unable to
solve the problem.

At least 1.5 million tons of Indonesian CPO is exported to
Europe, and nearly all is turned into agrofuel. On the other
hand, hundreds of people have to queue for subsidized cooking
oil. This shows that agrofuel gives rise to competition between
cars and human beings. According to Monbiot (2007), human beings
-- and the environment -- will lose this unfair battle. Those
who can afford to drive are certainly richer that those who are
in danger of starvation, and money is the major weapon in this
capitalistic world.

Moreover, from the environmental point of view, agrofuel does
not significantly contribute to curbing pollution, and may in
fact exacerbate global warming. According to Monbiot, each ton
of palm oil that is turned into agrofuel releases 33 tons of
carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, 10 times more than the emissions
released by fossil fuels.

This race could destroy our agrarian and food system. Farmers
and peasants all over the globe have been crying our for years
for an end to unjust agrarian structures. In the case of
peasants in Indonesia, palm-plantation expansion has long
resulted in the marginalization of local farmers, dating back in
fact to colonial days. In 2006 alone, the expansion of oil-palm
plantations produced 350 agrarian conflicts.

With this continuing capitalistic mode of production, only a few
hands (the corporations) will end up owning more than 67 percent
of the land intended for food production.

Farmers need a fundamental solution, which we call agrarian
reform, which is economically and socially capable of addressing
long-standing agrarian injustices. Legally, agrarian reform in
Indonesia is based on Article 33 of the 1945 Constitution and
the 1960 Agrarian Law.

The battle against agrofuel, of course, not only involves
farmers and peasants. We need people, workers, youth, and
environmentalists to actively get involved as agrofuel has
already caused a catastrophe for our environment. Finally, we
need consumers to voice our concerns. Otherwise, for the sake of
capital and the agrofuel trend, we will lose our food and our

The writer is the secretary-general of the Indonesian Farmers'
Union Federation (FSPI), and general coordinator of La Via
Campesina, the international peasant movement.