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Pandemic Power-Grabs: Who benefits from Food Estates in West Papua?

29 April 2022
Pandemic power-grabs cover


Executive Summary

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the Indonesian Government proposed to establish ‘Food Estates’: massive expansions of agricultural land spanning millions of hectares of land across Indonesia, including West Papua, and producing a variety of crops. The Government’s reasons were that it wanted to anticipate a food security crisis caused by the pandemic. However, this report shows that there were other motivations. Based on existing documents in the public domain, and the record of previous failed Food Estates in West Papua and elsewhere in Indonesia, it highlights how Food Estates could fuel corruption and have the potential to produce food for profitable export markets to the benefit of agro industrial conglomerates and oligarchic interests.

The report also highlights serious shortcomings that may result from the plans as they stand, especially watering down of regulations designed to protect the environment, the felling of primary forest and drainage of wetlands, land grabbing, and potentially irreparable harm to the culture of Indigenous communities in West Papua.

The report shows:

  • A chronology of past top-down agricultural development plans in West Papua and how even though they have mostly been poorly planned and short-lived, they nevertheless constitute a long-term threat to the entire landscape of the southern part of Papua province;
  • How plans for Food Estates could potentially lead to the flourishing of corruption, where corporate and state actors and their family and friends – not West Papuans – benefit from the allocation of land for Food Estates;
  • How this potential corruption is being facilitated by new legislation which gives new powers to the central government to grab land for Food Estates, also circumventing environmental safeguards;
  • That the growth of the plantation industry in West Papua over the last decade has highlighted many of the potential negative consequences Indigenous people are likely to suffer under the current plans – including frequent incidences of horizontal conflict between communities and an increase in local food insecurity;
  • That it is not only Indigenous communities’ livelihoods that are threatened by Food Estates but also their culture. Most labour on existing plantations also employs non-ethnic West Papuan labour, putting Indigenous communities at the ‘bottom of the pile’ in their own land and reinforcing existing structural discrimination rather than improving Papuans’ welfare.