Palm oil firms letting four-year-olds sign contracts

| 11th November 2009
The targeting of land for palm oil plantations poses a bigger threat to deforestation than illegal logging
'Chaotic' legislation in Indonesia is allowing palm oil plantation companies looking to produce biofuel to bully local people off their land

Environmentalists are calling for a halt to land grabbing in Papua where five million hectares have been targeted by plantation companies.

Until now palm oil cultivation in Indonesia has largely been confined to the Indonesian forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. 

However, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian-based NGO Telapak said that Papua was being targeted by powerful companies seeking to ‘cash in on projected demand for biofuels’, principally from crops like palm oil.

Chaotic management

The Indonesian government has been promoting the plantation boom as a means of bringing development to Papua but the report said companies had been taking advantage of the ‘chaotic’ management of the region.

‘Unclear institutional arrangements between different levels and agencies of government, coupled with a chronic lack of transparency, create grey areas which the plantation companies are able to exploit,’ said the report.

It said in some areas firms had begun operations before receiving the necessary permits.


Field investigations carried out by EIA and Telepak documented the widespread coercion of local communities by companies seeking control of forested land. 

In one case, the four year-old son of a landowner was forced to sign a contract that gave a plantation company control of his family’s land for decades. In another, a local community was promised a school and improved healthcare in return for control of land.

‘The government claims bio-fuels will not mean deforestation,’ said Jago Wadley, Senior Forest Campaigner at EIA, ‘yet EIA/Telapak investigations have found massive deforestation in Papua is being driven by national and international demand for biofuels in the name of climate change. With Indonesia already the world’s third largest carbon emitter due to its rapid forest loss, this is policy incoherence of the highest order.’

Useful links

‘Up for Grabs: Deforestation and Exploitation in Papua's Plantations Boom’

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