Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 3: Indigenous peoples

In previous blogs I have outlined the justice issues surrounding Indonesian palm oil production. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity have been the two directions I have taken in describing and explaining the negative impacts of the product. However, the costs aren’t only to the environment or animals. People are also affected by the oil palm plantations associated with deforestation and have been marginalised in the push for economic gain.

Indonesia is one of the flashpoints in the world where indigenous peoples are fighting to defend their land and livelihoods (The Guardian, 2009). As palm oil companies extend their reach into the rainforests, more and more indigenous tribes are being uncovered and displaced as they fail to defend their lands. Many indigenous tribes all over Indonesia are at risk of losing their land and the possibility of extinction hangs over them due to the pressure imposed on them by state owned oil palm companies. One example of this is the indigenous tribe, the Pompang of the Sanggau region, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Pompang tribe are a small tribe in comparison to many other indigenous peoples in the Diyak Bidayuh district of the Sanggau region. The Malay is the largest ethnic group that line the Kapuas River (Sirait, 2009). However, due to their comparative size and the position their lands fall in the area, the palm oil companies have pressured the tribe in to surrendering their lands in a most unjust manner.

In 1974, the state owned palm oil company PTPN XIII collaborated with police and the military to pressurize the Pompang tribe to release their indigenous lands for oil palm plantations. If the tribe had have rejected this proposal they would have been accused of rejecting the governments program and obstructing development (Sirait, 2009). Two years later, in 1976, each household outlined their land and what they wanted to be excluded from the oil palm plantations. Mostly, this included the rubber gardens and the village settlement. However, their ancestral land, including forest and rubber gardens that were far away from the settlement, was cleared for the plantations, even though they were explicit areas that the indigenous tribe wanted excluded.

If that wasn’t enough of an injustice, the proposed compensation ranging from $2.50-$27.50 per hectare was not administered after the clearing. The Pompang had no means to generate income, little to cultivate to feed their families and had lost their cultural relationship with the forested area that was cleared (Sirait, 2009).

The cost of this forced removal and deforestation was the loss the Pompang’s identity, livelihood and heritage. Some may say that with the 26 tribes in the Sanggau region of Sumatra,that this was just collateral damage in reaching development. But the way the Pompang tribe were treated in the forced capture of their cultural heritage is a worrying fact for human rights activists and other campaigners against the palm oil companies. However, as Geographers, we have the capacity to change this injustice, and this is what I will be discussing in my next blog.


Sirait, M.T. (2009) ‘Indigenous Peoples and Oil Palm Plantation Expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia,’ Indonesia Country Report, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Law Faculty

Anon. (2009) ‘Flashpoints where indigenous people are fighting to defend their lands’ The Guardian [online] (last updated 10.12 am on Monday 15 June 2009) Available at: <; [Accessed 6 May 2012]