Land Conflicts Spark Occupy-type Protests In Indonesia

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Protest sign on the edge of the Sekonyer community in Indonesia

Here at Rainforest Action Network, I’m gearing up for the Occupy Our Food Supply global day of action on February 27th, 2012 and it reminded me of a story from Indonesia last month.

On January 12, thousands of Indonesian farmers, workers, Indigenous community members, students, and people representing over 50 local non-profits flooded the streets of Jakarta to demand better laws that control land ownership. This mass protest stemmed from mounting grievances about the government’s failure to address recent violence from land conflicts across Indonesia.

The need to address the laws that regulate who controls land is not a new issue for the tropical forest country of Indonesia. Contradictory and unclear laws give transnational corporations the opportunity to explore and exploit land without clear permission from traditional occupants. The result is that well-resourced companies can get permits to develop Indonesian land, cut down the forest, and expand plantations to produce more of their commodities — often more easily than Indigenous communities can get recognition of their traditional rights. This is why so many Indonesians are calling for land reform.

Social conflict is one of the many issues tied to rainforest destruction. Traditional and Indigenous forest-dependent peoples in Indonesia often have very insecure legal systems for maintaining ownership of their community land. Local communities who have lived in forest areas for generations typically find themselves with few legal options to protect their customary lands when huge land concessions are handed over to politically well-placed companies. Once their land is taken away, the forest is destroyed and these communities lose their livelihood.

One of the primary drivers of rainforest destruction in Indonesia is palm oil. The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations is sparking conflict as forest communities are confronted with huge agribusiness companies. Did you know the palm oil used in the U.S. comes primarily from Indonesia and Malaysia?  U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill, which handles 25 percent of the global palm oil trade, is a company that continues to purchase and profit from palm oil grown on lands stolen from Indigenous communities in Indonesia. Check out RAN’s report, Cargill’s Problems with Palm Oil, for more information about Cargill’s role in displacing Indigenous communities in Indonesia.

The demonstrations in Jakarta are an outcry for change and a need to respect the rights of the people, instead of prioritizing the economic interests of corporations. Sound familiar? There are interesting parallels between the Occupy movement in the U.S. and the mass movement for land reform in Indonesia. If you wish you could join the farmers protesting in Jakarta, consider occupying our food supply on February 27th. Companies like Cargill are not only connected to our food supply in the U.S., but ultimately to the farmers in small communities across the globe.

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