Palm oil firm clearing out Papua’s ancestral lands without Indigenous approval

Satellite imagery analyzed by the Indonesian nonprofit organization, Pusaka, has shown that 158 acres (64 hectares) of Papuan forest have been cleared by subsidiaries of the palm oil firm, Digoel Agri, in the span of just two months. Data tracking the activities and impacts of palm oil firms from Nusantara Atlas revealed that two of these subsidiaries are PT Boven Digoel Budidaya Sentosa and PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Sejahtera. The firm previously halted activities during 2019, following allegations of refusal to compensate staff, but not before clearing 405 acres (164 hectares) of Papuan forest. If the project is successfully completed, it would result in nearly 692,000 acres (280,000 hectares) of forest area being removed from one of the world’s biggest rainforests.

The conservation and environmental news site Mongabay obtained a report from Pusaka which “includes allegations that Digoel Agri has failed to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of local Indigenous tribes.” 

Mongabay says, “After halting forest-clearing operations in 2020, the Digoel Agri conglomerate has apparently restarted its activities in Indonesia’s Papua province, raising alarms among local Indigenous communities who say they never agreed to its presence on their ancestral lands.” Mongabay and The Gecko Project jointly investigated the controversy that exists around the deforestation in Papua, including the legitimacy of construction permits, the consent of Indigenous communities, and concealing the identities of investors through the use of offshore shell companies.

The Digoel Agril conglomerate aims to become the largest palm oil plantation in the world, but at the expense of the Indigenous communities whose ancestral grounds are located within the forests.

Pusaka’s director told Mongabay, “The ancestral forests that have important value for their livelihoods and cultures will be gone,” if Digoel Agri continues to clear Papua’s forests.

Suzanna DeCosta

Digital Journalist Intern

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