Why Resistance toward Food Estates: Learning from MIFEE’s Power Structure and Geopolitics

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The 2010s Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) in West Papua had created some resistance to land grabs due to the power structure and geopolitics behind this project. The land grab is becoming more and more a part of political and social conflicts that provoke local struggles to regain their land and become the material of global campaigns. The proactive role of the national and local government, the key involvement of domestic agribusiness conglomerates, and the state condoned violence were some specific aspects of land grab projects.

In MIFEE, a characteristic feature of land grab is the gap between planned territorialization and real investment, which opens up opportunities for resistance to the land grab. This resistance is reasonably well organized, thus has the opportunity to stop or reduce the planning fantasies of the government and companies involved.

From the resistance emerged several potential strategies as well as some limitations. There is a marked contradiction between the forest-livelihoods strategy, the ethno-territorial strategy, and the land reform strategy. Forest-livelihoods strategy underlies local community development aspirations, whereas ethno-territorial strategies prevent class-based alliances between indigenous and migrant farmers. The three strategies are closely interconnected, and finding complementary connections to one another might be a key to developing new models of resistance.

The challenge for emerging resistance to MIFEE is developing alternative means and better agricultural investments around locally adapted land reform programs. The success of these alternatives depends largely on how they are developed, particularly on smallholders being promoted and supported by the government or still being indebted contract workers. Current divisions between indigenous peoples and transmigrants require imaginative and creative strategies to create alternatives that can attract small farmers in both groups. Foker LSM Papua had taken one step in this direction. This NGO brought the two groups together: Migrants and natives listened to each other’s problems and agreed that the two were not to blame, but the government. This discussion can become one step that leads to a thousand steps to address the land grab conflicts.

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