The Military's Role in Food Estate Plans

2 Nov 2022

Executive Summary

In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning across the world, the Indonesian Government announced plans to convert hundreds of thousands of hectares of land into rice-producing ‘Food Estates’ in Central Kalimantan. The plans were intended to prevent food supply shortages which could potentially have been caused by the pandemic. By July 2020, similar plans had been announced in North Sumatra, South Sumatra, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua provinces. West Papua has previously seen a million-hectare Food Estate, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), launched in 2010.

A previous report to this one examined how the Food Estate project is being rolled out across Indonesia, looked at new legislation being brought in to support it, and criticised the rollout of Food Estates as a pandemic response. It focussed especially on how it is likely to impact West Papua, where over three million hectares in the south of Papua Province is under consideration for Food Estate projects. This second report will focus more on one particularly troubling aspect of the Food Estate project – the role that the military and Ministry of Defence (MoD) have assumed in the management of Food Estates. Again, although the MoD’s Food Estate plans have national scope, the analysis will concentrate on West Papua, which is already the most militarised part of Indonesia. The effects of further expansion is especially concerning in a region where human rights violations linked to state security forces have become engrained in West Papuans’ everyday realities as they live through a conflict which has endured for more than half a century.

The Ministry of Defence identified in 2021 two areas where it intends to develop rice and cassava plantations in Merauke Regency of Papua Province. Although wrapped in a logic that food security is part of national security, this report will allege that the MoD’s involvement in Food Estates is a form of military business, which was supposed to be outlawed in the democratic wave that followed the end of Suharto’s rule, but actually continues in many forms and drives further militarisation, as it incentivises the presence of military units in rural communities.

While concrete details on the Ministry of Defence’s plans remain scant, this report aims to anticipate its possible implications and impact, taking the opportunity to examine the different forms of military business known to exist in West Papua, as well as the recent history of human rights issues involving the military and local communities as agribusiness has expanded in West Papua over the last decade.