Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biofuels - Bad News From Indonesia

Friends of the Earth have provided hard evidence of the damage being caused by the drive to produce suitable crops for ethanol and other biofuels.

The report, Losing Ground, is a joint work by FOE, Sawit Watch and LifeMosiac and focuses on the human rights dimension in Indonesia of the biofuel revolution.

With palm oil being a key base crop for ethanol, companies are increasingly turning to coercive tactics to force indigenous people from their traditional lands in order to clear forest areas for palm oil production.

Promises to build schools or other infrastructure in return for allowing use of the land for palm oil are being routinely broken as are commitments to compensate subsistence farmers financially. One community leader from Sumatra explains:

"This all used to be the community's land! It was all seized [by the company]. It was
defending this land that two of our men got killed. They were kidnapped and killed. Just
because they wanted to defend this land, close to that [palm oil] factory over there. We do
not know who killed them and it has never been investigated.”

With Indonesia ranked 143 (of 179) in the Transparency International corruption index, it is no surprise to find local law enforcement officials frequently siding with the palm oil companies and plantation owners in the inevitable conflicts that this land grab is producing. Local human rights monitor group Sawit Watch claims to be currently monitoring over 500 such conflicts at present between local indigenous communities and palm oil companies.

With much of the dive for palm oil coming from the EU who are setting ambitious targets for biofuel to replace fossil fuels at an increasing rate, Europeans are strategically placed to influence the situation in Indonesia by calling on their elected officials to abandon these misguided plans. As Swerge Marfi from LifeMosiac says:

In Europe we must realise that encouraging large fuel companies to grab community land across the developing world is no solution to climate change. The EU must play its part by abandoning its 10 per cent target for agrofuels."

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