Food Estate in Central Kalimantan: An Instant and Controversial Policy

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The webinar, organized by Pantau Gambut, discussed several points of violation of food estate planning and implementation. The area is divided into 5 blocks (A-E) where 64% of the area is protected peat ecosystems with depth of > 3 meters. To convert peatlands, drainage measures are usually carried out by building canals so that crops such as rice, oil palm, and vegetables can grow. However, dry peatlands emit pyrite which results in uncultivable soil. Pyrite also pollutes surrounding water.

There are also social impacts. For example, many transmigrants were sent to the Ketapang Food Estate, but in the end, they experienced wage uncertainty and social jealousy. Furthermore, the natural resource management in Central Kalimantan has eliminated the community’s agricultural land. This is driven by very large investments due to fear of a food crisis. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry Regulation No. 24/2020 was issued in November, while the land clearing process was already underway. This raises several questions:

1) Is this project for the benefit of the people or the industry?

2) How is the community involved?

3) What rules and rights must be obeyed?

This food estate seems rushed without careful preparation. It is an exclusive process, in which the community is not fully involved. Academic studies are also sidelined, although a project this size should be studied comprehensively. Despite various criticisms, the project continues, violating the principles of legal certainty, of accuracy, of abuse of authority, and of information disclosure. Now, the non-involvement of the local people who have more wisdom of the situation on the ground is reflected in “crop failures” in several food estate areas. If communities have sufficient space to manage land, Indonesia will have better food diversity and security.

For the future, the implementation of this food estate could risk the loss of natural forests in other provinces if it continues with 40% of protected peat ecosystems. An analysis by Yayasan Madani shows that natural forest in this food estate project can produce timber worth 209 trillion rupiah, while the allocated budget is 104 trillion rupiah. Such a question arises if this project exists to make profit. In the end, the speakers of this webinar emphasized the importance of safeguarding the implementation of food estate, which should not be rushed and based on precise and careful studies, without calling the pandemic as an excuse to exploit nature.

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