Book launch: Human rights fulfilment for smallholder farmers in and outside the oil palm sector

Over 300 people joined as the book, Dalam Perangkap Sistem Monokultur Industri Perkebunan Sawit by Sri Palupi, Prasetyohadi, Yulia Sri Sukapti og Aksel Tømte, was launched on 31 March (available in Indonesian).

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Asfiniwati, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, moderated the event whilst Sri Palupi from Ecosoc Institute presented the research findings. Among the speakers were Professor Tania Murrai Li from the University of Toronto, Rimawan Pradiptyo, head of the economy department at Gadjah Mada University, Hendro Sangonkoyo, from the School of Democratic Economy, and Roy Murtadho from Pesantern Ekologi Misykat Al-Anwar.

The book compares the economic, social and cultural rights of villagers living in a palm oil economy, with those living off alternative crops. The welfare of smallholder farmers plays a key role in justifying the expansion of the oil palm sector. The book focuses only on those smallholder farmers who keep oil palms on their own lands. Moreover, it purely focuses on indigenous communities, not on transmigrants or other more recent settlements. It uses aggravated data to distinguish between those owning large lands, and those owning smaller plots.

The book confirms that many of those communities who enjoy relatively higher income are still worse off than more subsistence-based rural economies when it comes to fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights, such as access to food, water, and health. When switching to cash crops such as oil palms, incomes levels may increase, but so does the expenditure. Not only the expenditure related to investment in production (cost of seeds, fertilizer and pesticides and so on), but also the cost of food, water, and housing. Thus, pure monetary indicators may be insufficient or even misleading as an indicator of welfare. Another finding is that that those owning large lands benefit more from oil palms than those owning smaller lands. The findings are too many to be conveyed in full in this article, however, the book ends with a number of recommendations to local and district government on how to improve the situation for smallholder farmers.

The research is based on 749 household surveys amongst smallholder farmers, 24 focus group discussions involving 360 respondents, and 180 interviews with key informants in the Indonesian Provinces of Central Kalimantan, Bengkulu, and Central Sulawesi.  Three field researchers each spent about 14 weeks in the field, in addition to six local research assistants. Preliminary findings have previously been presented to local stakeholders for discussion and criticism in all three provinces.

The book builds on previous cooperation between the NCHR and the Institute for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  

  • The report, The Palm Oil Industry and Human Rights: A Case Study on Palm Oil Corporations in Central Kalimantan (2015), is based on interviews with indigenous (Dayak) communities, migrant communities, palm oil plantation workers, and companies, in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan. It uses the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a central reference. It documents several examples of corporate land-grabbing, and describes in detail how various social-economic rights are affected. It also describes in detail the working conditions for plantation workers and how their rights are affected.
  • The report «Privatisasi Transmigrasi dan Kemitraan Plasma Menopang Industri Sawit» focuses on transmigration programs linked to oil palm development. It also focuses on human rights aspects of cooperation schemes between companies and tied smallholders. Such schemes have often been integrated into transmigration programmes. This was commenced at a time when the Indonesian government planned to move 4 million transmigrants within a 4-year time span; plans that were later abandoned.
Tags: NCHR International Department, NCHR, Business and Human Rights, Human Rights, Equality NCHR By Aksel Tømte, Victoria Skeie
Published May 10, 2021 11:33 AM - Last modified Oct. 4, 2021 2:08 PM