Palm Oil Controversies
Local People, Their Land, & Their
Economies Are Being Exploited
The palm oil industry has brought great new wealth to Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia. But not everyone is experiencing the resulting prosperity.
Above, Sekonyer community members watch as an excavator tears down trees and digs a drainage canal in preparation for new plam oil plantations in one of the last areas of natural forest remaining in the buffer zone of the Tanjung Puting National Park.
Photo inset: A bulldozer clears land for new oil palm plantations in the Muara Tae village in East Kalimantan. Large-scale commercially owned monocultures such as this often mean local people lose access to the forests and lands which were traditional sources of subsistence.
For many indigenous communities in Indonesia, land is an essential part of their everyday livelihoods. A variety of small-scale economic activity flourishes in and around forested areas. Forest is cleared to provide land for subsistence farming and growing cash crops, while fishing is a common activity in rivers in the area.
The forest itself provides a multitude of vegetables, meats, and fruits that cannot be domesticated. While these forest foods are generally not enough to consistently sustain a community year-round, they add variety to local diets, can provide an additional income source, and serve as a valuable source of free food during economic hardship or emergency situations. Forests are also a source of medicinal plants and supplies like rattan, bamboo, and leaves for small-scale handicraft work.
The palm oil industry, which relies on abundant arable land and may use, take, or buy land under customary title to local communities, poses a threat to many of these subsistence and small-scale trade activities, pushing local people into increasing states of economic hardship and food insecurity.
“Oil Palm Expansion in Southeast Asia: Trends and implications for local communities and indigenous peoples,” Forest Peoples Programme and Sawit Watch, November 18, 2011
“Social Conflicts – Inequity and Rights Abuses,” Sawit Watch, July 26, 2011
"Subsistence Foods to Export Goods," Meri Orth, August 2007.
“Palm oil and indigenous peoples in South East Asia,” Forest Peoples Programme and the International Land Coalition, January 17, 2011
“Land is life: Land rights and oil palm development in Sarawak,” Forest Peoples Programme, 2007.
Next: Public Health
"Manufacturing Consent" is a short film by the Environmental Investigation Agency which shows footage of oil palm plantation development in rainforest in East Kalimantan. The film provides testimony from the Dayak Benuaq community of the Muara Tae village, who claim palm corporations have illegally taken their ancestral land and forcibly evicted them.
Inset Photo | From "Manufacturing Consent," Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
Photo | Rainforest Action Network
On this page
FILM: "Manufacturing Consent,"
by Environmental Investigation
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3. Human rights abuses & other controversies
4 | Local people, their land, their economies
Our investigation reveals that some palm oil--the most widely used vegetable oil in the world--is produced with slave labor. Palm oil is in all the products above, and many more.