Indigenous traditions vs. economic growth: Indonesia plans rainforest clearing for palm oil.


A recent high-profile legal dispute has arisen in Indonesia, where both a corporation and an indigenous tribe are claiming ownership of a plot of rainforest land.

In a remote jungle corner of Papua, Indonesia, the Awi tribe is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling that will determine whether thousands of hectares of rainforest will be cleared for large-scale palm oil plantations. These forests are the burial grounds of their ancestors.

"There are birds of paradise, cassowaries... sacred places, and the footprints of our ancestors," said Awi tribesman Hendriks 'Franky' Woro. "If we move the ancestral graves, it would be a crime against them."

The court is hearing three cases that will decide the fate of nearly 115,000 hectares of forest, part of the largest single collective palm oil block in Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil exporter.

This block, located in Boven Digoel, Papua, covers 270,000 hectares and is divided into seven concessions, three of which are currently under legal dispute.

Lawyers anticipate that this month's court ruling will set a significant precedent for the country, which has pledged to protect both its $30 billion export industry and improve governance in the face of deforestation and human rights allegations.

"This is the first time a clear indigenous-climate relationship argument has been proposed in such a case," said Difa Shafira from the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, referring to calculations that clearing the land would emit roughly 23 million tonnes of environmentally harmful carbon dioxide.

Representing the Awi Woro clan, who claim customary ownership of the land, Franky has been opposing the granting of a 36,000-hectare concession to PT Indo Asiana Lestari (IAL), an area larger than half of Jakarta.



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