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A fact-finding mission to Indonesia was undertaken at the end of March and the beginning of April this year as part of the We Won't Accept Hunger! project. A team of five “ambassadors” under the experienced supervision of the project coordinator travelled directly to Sumatra. The aim of this two-week trip was to observe the impacts of intensive oil palm cultivation on the environment and the food security of local communities.
Oil palm plantations
Our trip began in the province of Jambi, which is already engulfed in the oil palm phenomenon. The original tropical forest and peat bogs covering nearly the entire province had to make way for the endless plantations. The thin fertile layer of topsoil, which regenerates on a cyclical basis in the tropical forest, has been devastated. With its great consumption of water, the oil palm trees continue to further desiccate the already infertile land, leading to soil erosion and flooding during heavy rains.
In addition to the tropical forest, the palm plantations have also taken over most of the farm land. As a result of the palm oil business, the province is no longer self-sufficient in the production of food. Local residents are dependent on food supplies from other provinces or even imports from abroad.
In Jambi we visited the mayor of a village located near the site of frequent conflicts between villagers, plantation owners and the representatives of various organisations. The problems are typically the result of unclear land ownership. We also visited several non-profit organisations involved in the matter of oil palms and their impacts. These organisations primarily help the Suku Anak Dalam tribe, who originally led a nomadic life in the tropical forest, but whose members now eke out a living on oil palm plantations.
After several days in Jambi, we moved on to Sarolangun in the very heart of Sumatra. “Disguised” as tourists, we travelled to the Bukit Duabelas National Park to look for members of the Suku Anak Dalam tribe. We also visited Pak Tarib, the recipient of a prestigious award for protecting the tropical forest. After spending two nights in Sarolangun with the wonderful family of our guide, we set off to the northeast.
In the Dharmasraya district we met with a local journalist and with the director of the Perkumpulan Peduli non-profit organisation, which helps members of the Suku Anak Dalam fight for their rights. Members of the organisation led us deep into the plantation to visit the family of Ibu Marni, who has set up home between the palm plantation and the tropical forest. Part of our team spent the night with the family, gaining valuable information and speaking with the oldest woman in the tribe.
We then travelled across the province of West Sumatra, which has retained its food self-sufficiency, but where oil plantations have already begun to grow. One of the main reasons large corporations have not bought up all of the land in this province is that the land is owned by local communities. In West Sumatra we visited small farmers, cocoa growers and even small growers of oil palm.
One of the final stops on our trip was to a palm oil factory in Mutiara Agam, a visit that proved especially valuable to our fact-finding mission. We were finally able to witness the secret process of producing palm oil, a commodity all of us use in various forms each day but which is destroying the precious biodiversity of the tropical forest and threatening the food self-sufficiency of Sumatrans.