Korindo Group’s oil palm plantation area located in Asiki, Boven Digoel Regency, Papua

What would be the fate of Papua’s virgin forest in the next 10 or 20 years? The answer would be very relative; it depends on who “plays the role” there. Perhaps this is the closest answer, if we don’t want to use our imagination.

Take a look at this piece of letter written on July 2nd 2017 by Immanuel Walinaulik, a hamlet and customary rights owner in Ngguti District, Merauke, Papua, addressed to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO). Walinaulik’s letter might be able give a little perspective on what the forest in Papua would be like in the future.

“We want oil palm planted in the community’s plantation area because it does not harm the environment; it brings prosperity and welfare instead,” Walinaulik wrote to Mighty Earth (from the United States) and AidEnvironment (from the Netherlands), two foreign NGOs who are said to be haunting the existence of a number of oil palm plantation companies in Papua, particularly in Merauke and Boven Digoel.

Walinaulik is indeed not alone. At least, based on the result of the stakeholder meeting on oil palm industry in Papua, which was previously held in Jakarta on July 24th 2017, the pros and cons are inevitable. The unfortunate thing is that, in the middle of the difficult challenge of finding common ground on realization of smallholder oil palm plantations, the foreign NGOs’ intervention is complicating the situation.

The Plantation Division of Korindo Group, a pioneer company in oil palm industry, which has been operating since 1995 in Asiki, Boven Digoel Regency, is one of the companies that were hit by the impact. The deforestation issues (logging, forest destruction) became serious charges faced by this division of Korindo Group.

In the second stakeholder meeting on oil palm industry in Papua, held in Merauke, last August 15th 2017, various related issues came to light. Attended by representatives from various elements of society, including customary rights owners from both Merauke and Boven Digoel, which were a lot more compared to the number people who came to the meeting in Jakarta, the crucial issue began to shrink.

The Merauke Regent, Frederikus Gebze, who was met specifically after the meeting, did not dismiss the rise of issue of foreign NGOs’ intervention. Regent Fredy, as he is familiarly called, spoke out. “Regarding the skeptical views against foreign NGOs, the European Parliament has also visited Indonesia on matters related to oil palm industry, where it was mentioned that there are issues such hiring child labor, harming the environment, not empowering the community, and many others. These various statements caused the rejection of Indonesian CPO (crude palm oil) in Europe,” he said.

“But I believe this is part of a propaganda. One thing for sure, there is no provocative role from the local government, and we, the Indonesian Government is trying to protect the people, so the palm oil would also bring a double effect. That is what we are doing,” stressed Fredy.

He also pointed out that the government continues to act decisively by preparing a presidential regulation (Perpres) to quickly help alleviate various problems in oil palm industry. “If the European market was previously dominated by Malaysian palm oil, we should now be able to compete. Don’t just rely on nature,” said the friendly regent.

In regard to foreign NGOs’ intervention, Fredy said, they never know the real situation in Papua. “But they describe it clearly as if they were at the scene. What is more unfortunate is if the negative voice came from Indonesians themselves,” he stated.

Meanwhile, in building Papua, investments in oil palm have already contributed a lot. As mentioned by Fredy, the State Budget (APBN) for Merauke alone is only about Rp 150 billion per year. The budget reached Rp 300 billion once when there was a transportation. “Now, when the transportation collapsed, we no longer know what to manage. That is why I think we need other investments. As it happens, oil palms have already been developed,” Fredy said.

By utilizing the comparative advantage in Papua, Fredy felt optimistic that the State Budget can be boosted up to Rp 500 billion per year. The impact, in addition to the opening of employment opportunities and the empowerment of the indigenous people, is the sustainability of maintaining the forest and environment.

Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that oil palm can become the “green gold” of Papua. Then how do you ward off a series of issues of banning from the European Parliament against the export of crude palm oil (CPO) from Indonesia (Papua)?

As stated by the Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, in the “Report on Palm Oil and Deforestation of Rainforests” in Strasbourg, France, April 4th 2017, the allegations that palm oil is bringing corruption, causing child labor and exploitation, and eliminating the rights of indigenous people are vile and irrelevant allegations. “Indonesia is the largest palm oil producing and exporting country in the world,” said Siti. The study on palm oil conducted by the European Parliament is considered incomplete and tends to encourage a boycott on palm oil investments and pushes the use of sunflower seed oil instead. This suggests that there is a certain reason for the said allegations.

“The future of Indonesian palm oil should be an important note for stakeholders.”

Crazy Idea to Develop Papua’s Palm Oil

 

Maintaining the “green gold” to keep on shining is indeed a tricky thing.

Kim Wana Jaya, the Vice President of Plantation Division and the Head of Consulting Dept., Korindo Group, which was met in Merauke, confirmed this. “Since the development of Korindo’s oil palm plantation, the monetary turnover in Asiki, Boven Digoel, could reach Rp 30 billion in a month. Even in Merauke, it is impossible to reach that certain amount,” he said.

This means, oil palm has a bright future for Indonesia, and Papua in particular. “Although at the beginning, in 1995, everyone said that it was a crazy idea to open an oil palm plantation in Papua,” said Kim, who has been holding an Indonesian citizenship for a long time. Until 2005, or 10 years later, 10 thousand hectares of plantation have been opened by Korindo.

“At the moment, there are 5 blocks or 50 thousand hectares with 4 CPO mills. It is on track. The concession permit that we have is for 100 thousand hectares, and only half of it planted, including the plasma plantation and so on,” Kim explained.

Kim admitted, the realization of plasma is indeed overdue because the socialization needs time. “And now, just when we wanted to open a plasma plantation, it is halted. It has already begun earlier, but is now stalled because there are foreign NGOs stating that cutting a piece of wood alone is deforestation,” he said with regret.

For Korindo, plasma plantation will depend largely on the community and the local government. “We only follow. But if we run the nucleus plantation, as long as the procedure is followed, there would be no problem. If this place (Papua) no longer needs investors, then we would stop,” said Kim firmly.

Indonesia, as Kim described, possesses the infrastructure and has dominated 36 million tons of CPO in 2017 from the total of oil palm production in the world which amounted to about 60 million tons. Half was produced in Indonesia.

Based on the prediction, palm oil would start being developed in 2020. It turned out, the 2015 production have already exceeded the amount of soybean seeds. That means Indonesian palm oil has a very good future. So palm oil is not a golden shrub, but the grace of God.

“The state should intervene, not just the local government,” Kim said, full of hope, in efforts to fight foreign NGOs such as Mighty Earth, which according to him, put itself in a position above God.

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