Open letter from civil society organizations in West Kalimantan for the State Secretary of European Affairs and Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Ben Knapen

Pontianak, 6 July 2011

Description of the challenges

West Kalimantan is a fairly densely populated province with a total area of 14.6 million hectares (3.3 times the Netherlands). The province offers much potential for sustainable production and trade, but there are also many challenges to face.

The government’s policy to promote economic development through logging and large scale plantation development occurs at the expense of natural forests, peatlands and local community land and forests. As of 2010 more than 4.9 million hectares of land were given out to 326 oil palm plantation companies. The expansion of oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan reached 40,000 hectares per year in the 2005-2010 period. In addition, approximately 1.4 million hectares of forestland is allocated for (timber tree) plantations. In the past decade, several districts of West Kalimantan have dedicated more than half of the land area to large scale plantation development (e.g. Ketapang: 70%).

The expansion of oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan represents a clear case of land grabbing. This is a development with long term consequences, because the plantation companies can potentially control the land for 160 years. This development continues to come at the expense of natural forests: based on a recent assessment by WWF and Sarvision, deforestation in West Kalimantan reached 916,000 hectares in the period 2004-2008, with oil palm plantations as the main cause of forest loss. In addition, community agroforests (tembawang) and other community land are taken up for plantation development, and as a result conflicts between plantation companies and local communities have become increasingly widespread and persistent. Since the Plantation Act came into force in 2004, the number of conflict cases in West Kalimantan increased from some 26 previously to 104 in eight districts at present. Some 70 villagers and activists have been arrested in the past years, allegedly for hindering oil palm plantation expansion.

Local NGO studies based on field research, mapping and government data have found that plantation expansion goes along with numerous violations of the law. Some examples which have gained international recognition include the cases of Golden Agri Resources / Sinar Mas in Ketapang and Kapuas Hulu, Wilmar International and Duta Palma in Sambas, and IOI in Ketapang. These cases only represent the tip of the iceberg of illegal activity, which typically includes illegal logging, land clearing without valid permits, without approval of Environmental Impact Assessments and land grabbing without community consent (musyawarah). The latter causes the community to lose their livelihood basis, both economic and cultural. Meanwhile, the illegal activity results in significant losses to the state. All these impacts have yet to convince the government to rethink the model of plantation expansion.

The common NGO agenda

The civil society organizations of West Kalimantan promote rights-based approaches to economic development that is sustainable and equitable, and that protects the potentials of community-based development and food and water security.

In addition, they aim to address the negative impacts of globalization on the ground, and seek to ensure that trade and investment fully respects West Kalimantan’s environmental carrying capacity, human rights, gender equality, principles of transparency and does not involve corruption.

Results achieved

West Kalimantan has a vibrant civil society where collaboration with local communities, among NGOs in the province and with national and international partners has become common practice. Over the years, they have greatly benefited from generous financial support from the Dutch people. As a result, exceptionally strategic results have been achieved:

1. The Credit Union model was first developed over twenty years ago in West Kalimantan. As of 2010, there are 46 credit union members in Kalimantan, 80% of which are active in West Kalimantan. Their total membership numbers over 432,000 people, who accumulated total assets of Rp. 3.7 trillion (approximately 350 million). The majority of the CU members are (rubber) farmers.

2. On the ground, NGOs work to support local communities in enhancing their local produce of rubber, rice, rattan and other Community Commodities. In Danau Sentarum, the Association Periau Danau Sentarum (APDS) has been particularly successful with its programme to produce and market certified forest honey.

3. The World Bank’s moratorium on oil palm investments and the associated investment policy review started in West Kalimantan. The case related to one of the major oil palm suppliers to the Dutch market. The company was financed not only by IFC, but also by all major Dutch commercial banks. NGOs have assisted local communities and the company to resolve several land conflicts, while others continue to be settled.

4. NGOs have conducted participatory community based mapping in a total area of 1.5 million hectares in West Kalimantan. Such maps are an indispensible tool in securing community land and resource use rights. About 100,000 hectares of Village Forests have so far been recognized by local government in Kayong Utara and Ketapang.


Needs and expectations for the future

Against this background, the civil society organizations of West Kalimantan would like to respectfully express their needs and expectations as follows:

  1. While appreciating the commitment of the Dutch government and industry to sustainable trade and investment, civil society organizations expect the Dutch government to recognize responsibility for the negative impacts of plantation investment and trade. The civil society organizations are aware that many companies have made commitments to sustainability, but on the ground, the results of these commitments remain invisible. Civil society organizations would like to see the Dutch government encourage industry and the financial sector (including IFC) to fully implement their CSR policies and report about progress in transparent ways.
  2. Civil society organizations play a vital role in improving and monitoring sustainability certification schemes such as RSPO, FSC and other. Their campaigns and lobby work convinces companies to make the switch to sustainability, which otherwise they would have postponed for years. Funds will be required to continue this effort and to strengthen the credibility of certification schemes.
  3. With regards to plantation development in West Kalimantan, civil society organizations take the stance that there shall be no more expansion and that existing plantations are subject to review and management that respects conservation and local community needs.
  4. West Kalimantan’s potentials for community based production and trade are in urgent need of financial and technical support before linkages with national and international markets can be made. If the needs of local communities in West Kalimantan are taken as the starting point, then the priorities would be to support Community Commodities, in particular the production and trade in natural rubber and a variety of non-timber forest products.
  5. Over the years, donor programmes have provided essential support for capacity building for civil society organizations. Our organizations continue to attract young people and new communities in remote areas. Expectations on deliveries are ever increasing. Capacity building therefore will continue to be a key priority for civil society organizations to fulfill their roles to work with communities on the ground and in maintaining balance in sustainable production and trade initiatives.

(translation: Aidenvironment Asia)

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