Skip to main content

Indonesian military’s hands on food estates highlights global land grab trends

20 January 2023
A Look at the State of Food Estates

TAPOL and awasMIFEE’s latest reports explore the increasing prominence of food estates in West Papua and Indonesia, diving into its history, purported reasoning and who stands to benefit from their creation. The increasing involvement of the Indonesian military is indicative of a worrying trend of the role of the armed forces in land grabs that finds echoes, not only in Indonesia, but across the world. TAPOL and GRAIN’s webinar on Tuesday 24th January explored the context of food estates and land grabs in the West Papuan and Indonesian context, before comparing them to global trends.

'Food estates' are massive agro-industrial plantations, which, in the Indonesian context, the government has planned since the final years of the Suharto dictatorship in the 1990s. In March 2020, several new food estates across Indonesia were planned which were - at least publicly - intended to address a predicted food supply crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But very soon after plans for Food Estates were made public, it became clear that their produce was intended for export, not to solve domestic food security problems. They were also to be established in West Papua, displacing indigenous communities in a land with a history of contested sovereignty. Previous plans for Food Estates in West Papua have been done without giving West Papuans a chance to express free prior and informed consent and failed to acknowledge local food systems. 

This ground is covered in the first report in our series on Food Estates, titled “Pandemic Power-grabs: Who benefits from Food Estates in West Papua”, which digs into this context, corruption, insecurity and direct negative impacts that their planning and implementation has had on indigenous peoples and their land. The reports ask what Food Estates are for and who is benefitting from them, implicating numerous corporate interests with close ties to the top levels of government.

In particular, the role of the Indonesian military in the Food Estate programme  -  its business interests and role in numerous human rights abuses - suggests that Food Estates may potentially be even more problematic. Our second report "The Military's Role in Food Estate Plans", displays not only the military’s role in expelling indigenous peoples for the purposes of creating the Food Estates, but also having business interests with the running of the estates themselves. These are often through obscure ownership structures which try to bypass rules put in place during Reformasi to stop the military having business holdings. However, this may prove that the “dwifungsi” (twin-function) of the military in both defence and wider society, a hallmark of the Suharto years, is returning in a new form.

Steve Alston, TAPOL's chairperson said: “The pandemic-era proposals for Food Estates in West Papua and across Indonesia, while ostensibly carried out for the reason of food security, has demonstrably been used as a pretext to create crops for export, entrench corporate and military power and for corrupt purposes, with devastating impacts on local indigenous communities. We can see this occurring time and again, with examples such as MIFEE in Merauke showing the damage and true intentions behind such programmes.”

The webinar on 24th January, titled “A Look at the State of Food Estates”, gave a look at these themes, using the reports as a jumping off point for discussion of food estates and land grabs in West Papua, as well as across Indonesia,  with the new West Papua Special Autonomy (Otsus) Law in effect, and as a global phenomenon.

The speakers include: Raka Sudisman (TAPOL), Betty Gebze (Eladpper, Merauke), Dr Ir Agus Sumule (Lecturer at University of Papua, Manokwari), Dr Laksmi Savitri (FIAN Indonesia), Dr Azra Sayeed (Roots for Equity, Pakistan). It will be moderated by Kartini Samon (GRAIN).




TAPOL is a UK-based non-governmental organisation that has campaigned for human rights and democracy and against militarism in Indonesia since 1973.

AwasMIFEE is a platform created by independent activists in the UK as an act of solidarity with the social and ecological struggles of the people of Merauke and elsewhere in West Papua.

For media enquiries, contact: Ian Moore, TAPOL Campaigns,

Take a look at the first report, second report and details for our event on 24th January, including a recording of the event.