Heading off MIFEE in New Regime

By Reinardus L Cabuy

On July 5th, 2014, during the last presidential debate, Mr. Jokowi (President Candidate at the time) made an amusing statement regarding carefully planning requirements in handling large scale agricultural land extensification in Papua Province. Without doubt, that statement was targeted for the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program which had been developed in the Southern region of Papua. He understands that the investment from 2010 was a huge project which was oriented solely towards profits and ignored anthropogenic factors. As a person who really grasp environmental issues, he thought that such an investment would cause a number of problems which would result in unbalanced development and harm indigenous people.

Environmentalists and human rights activists assumed that the MIFEE project in the Southern region of Papua was part of a human rights violation and intentional action fortaking over indigenous people’s rights. Leading to MIFEE, these days Merauke has changed dramatically and caused massive marginalization of indigenous people. With only a concession area of nearby 2 million hectares, while there were 80 invested companies which were ready for converting the land, definitely resulting an overwhelmingly latent pressure on indigenous people who are legal owners of the land. Malind people (a local indigenous tribe) slowly began to become onlookers and eroded in light of this massive invasion.These were being compounded when there were none of indigenous people who get in on the large-scaled project. They just only tasted it through corporate social responsibility (CSR) which mandated to the project as a charge. Obviously, in the bill of customary law it is stated that: “indigenous people entitled to get a restitution [refunding right effort of indigenous people in it its original state] and compensation [granted if factually restitution cannot be implemented] in decent and fair ways on land of indigenous territories and natural resources owned for generations which are taken over, occupied, used, or damaged without any consent of indigenous people”. Instead, they tend to be fobbed off by fake prices of various types of natural resources. For instance, during open lands phase, the compensation for one tree should be paid based on standardized price. In reality, however, every singe tree was paid for with only 10,000 IDR. This fact explicitly brush-off the implementation of Decree No. 184 in 2004 regarding the provisional standard of compensation for indigenous people on trees removed from customary rights areas. Imagine about 400,000 hectares of primary forest being converted for this massive project. How many disadvantages will indigenous people have there? In addition, the endemic biodiversity of this environment is ebbing away as a result of our greed.Land clearing without reference to the existing logging rules would further clarify the greed thatis becoming the fundamental reason for occupying the region. Geographically, landscapes of the southern region were grazing and pasture land which consistsmainly of marshy areas and peatlands with relatively flattened regions. Merauke covers around 150,000 hectares of peatland or two-thirds of the entire region. Peatlands play a pivotal role for human being life such as: supporting ecosystems, the organization of ecological functions, supplying water, and flooding control as a means of conservation as well as the global climatic control.

In general, I think that it is not yet too late to improve the conditions in Merauke and restore the existence of indigenous tribes there. I am convinced that there were a number of solutions in order to chalk up the finest quality of living standards for indigenous people of the southern part of Papua.They are as follows: 1).Bumping up the structural bureaucracy of the regional government was the basic factor at both the province level and the district level. Many emerging problems that have been happening were the result of unbalanced government management and lack ofcontrol of the governance process. Ideally, the government should be more inherentand open toward solutions to problems surrounding them. In the MIFEE’s case, the government looked like they did not take any critical actions in terms of handling the problems or forging a harmonious relationship between the investors and the indigenous people. 2).These days, lots of money has been flown to the Papua government through the implementation of special autonomy regulation. Expectedly, through this formulation, the government should have managed the people well and fulfilled their expectations wisely. They have to synthesize a couple of beneficial programs which have a direct impact on the people who live there. By doing that, they will be automatically able to cut back any other ways to obtain money by way of selling or leasing their own land. 3). A series of reciprocal mechanism are currently being a synergistic issue in Indonesia in order to egg on more sustainable forest management. Merauke’s lowland forest was one of the targeted areas which were included in the project presumably because of its unique ecosystem and potential forcarbon storage. Not only that, investment policy of forested ecosystem restoration, and rental rights of forest communities also have potency to be developed in raising living standards of the indigenous people in Merauke.

Conceptually, I was quite convinced that the new president will get back to the ideal lifestyle of Malind people who live and depend mainly on their land. There are some beliefs that he could bring the turning point by way of implementing those three flagship programs. With a bottom-up concept from the new regime of presidency, I am optimistic that those three solutions will be an alternative way in dealing with chronic problems that have been addressed by Malind people.

The author is currently working at applied forest ecology and dendrochronology laboratory-Forestry Department, Michigan State University
Lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry, UNIPA in Manokwari.

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