Strengthening Local Community Initiatives to Oppose Exploitation of Natural Resources and Loss of Local Livelihoods

By: Green Union Indonesia (Sarekat Hijau Indonesia)

Indonesia has all the prerequisites to be a rich nation, with extensive natural resources such as minerals, coal, forests, ocean and coastal assets, farm land and plantations which are the lifeblood of local communities and the source of prosperity of its people.

Prior to large scale investment and the opening up of access to Indonesia’s natural resources by the Soeharto‘New Order’regime, Indonesia had full sovereignty over its natural resources. Natural resources were extracted and processed by traditional methods using local knowledge and skills. Whilst the scale of this production had no impact on the global economy, this local wisdom ensured the preservation of people’s livelihoods and delivered certainty for the future. From the perspective of advanced societies, thissituation can be perceived as somewhat backward and not sufficiently profit-oriented, but prudent exploitation of our natural resources using local technologies was the best thing that we could do to ensure the sustainability of our grandchildren’s livelihoods in the future.

Large-scale investment in natural resource exploitation has resulted in the destruction of the natural environment and livelihoods of local communities. However this has not caused the government of Indonesia to develop an increased sensitivity about the destruction of its natural resources. Conversely, it has only served to increase the membership of an oligarchy that includes foreign interests. These companies are issued licences that enable them to take by force the natural wealth and resources of local communities. Data from 2014 shows that the area of land devoted to palm oil production has increased to 13.5 million hectares. Production of pulp and paper has reached 12.17 tonnes a year, with this industry dominated by multi-national companies such as PT Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas (Tanoto). The production of coal reached 263 million tonnes in 2015.

The development of palm oil plantations, mining operations, pulp and paper, oil and gas is resulting in conflict, violation of human rights, theft of community land, and shattering of local sustainable livelihoods. This development has also triggered widespread wildfires that are devastating forests, and significantly influencing changes in climate and the health of people. However ongoing demand from the international market for palm oil for human consumption and cosmetics – and now the energy industry – is exacerbating the existing situation, with Indonesia pushing for a rapid and continuing expansion of palm oil plantations right across the archipelago.  An average poor farmer only farms around 0.3ha of land, where 2ha is required to make an adequate living. Food security and ensuring a harvest each year in Indonesia is an urgent issue, with access to arable land being made difficult through land grabs for palm oil plantations, the pulp and paper industry and conservation and restoration projects. Indonesia is already dependent on countries such as Thailand, China and Vietnam for food imports and security of its food staples.

As traditional stewards of the land we understand best how to work our land, feed our families, confront climate challenges, and we also know how to process and value-add to our natural resources. However the large companies that forcibly destroy our local knowledge and livelihoods also destroy our pride and sense of self-worth as the holders of sovereignty of our own land.

We will struggle for our land, where we can live alongside our grandchildren, for with our land we can send our children to school and ensure an adequate life for us all.

For us, land is sovereignty, and it is because of that that we fight.

From Paris,

Indonesia Green Union

12/04/2015 – 18:09


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