Life at the Frontlines of Indonesia’s Deforestation and Landgrabbing Crisis

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 23, 2017 – ‘Beyond Paper Promises,’ a new campaign and website launched today by Rainforest Action Network, provides a rare look at Indonesia’s Indigenous and frontline  communities living in ongoing conflict with pulp and paper companies. BeyondPaperPromises.org uses vivid portraits and first-person interviews with community members to tell the story of landgrabbing and deforestation in the community’s own voice.

The new campaign draws attention to the fact that while most companies throughout the supply chain have made commitments to eliminate deforestation, land rights and human rights abuses from their operations, little has changed for the communities at the frontlines of Indonesia’s deforestation crisis.

“The reality on the ground for communities and forests is the real measure by which corporate commitments must be measured,” said Brihannala Morgan, Senior Forest Campaigner with Rainforest Action Network (RAN). “Promises to end deforestation and to address the now decades-old land rights conflict are all well and good, but the fact of the matter is that we have seen little change on the ground so far.”

The conflicts between communities and companies are long-standing and marked by intimidation, protests, arrests, and even murder. In the provinces of Jambi and North Sumatra, on the island of Sumatra, Indonesian, the companies Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) play an outsized role. As these companies have sought to expand commercial plantations for international commodity markets, local community farms and villages have often stood in the way.

In January 2017, Indonesia’s president Jokowi acknowledged Indigenous land rights for the time in Indonesian history, and removed the land of the Pandumaan-Sipituhuta community in North Sumatra from the plantations of Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL), while also recognizing the rights of nine other communities to their customary land. This was was seen by many as a positive first step. However, regional governments have been slow to recognize the same land rights on the local level, and many communities are still waiting for their land to be returned to them.

“We ask the government to protect us and return our Indigenous land to us,” said Rentina Nababan, a member of the community of Aek Lung, North Sumatra, Indonesia, one of the communities profiled by the campaign. “This land is the source of our livelihoods, and our savings so that our children can go to school. We also ask the government to recognize our traditionally-owned land, so that we will not be afraid to farm our own land.”

The fate of Indonesia’s forests have been of international concern for decades. Deforestation, driven largely by the development of industrial pulpwood and palm oil plantations, has cleared massive areas of natural rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands. The ongoing deforestation and development of commodity plantations in Indonesia is a large contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, making Indonesia the third largest emitter in the world, behind only the US and China.