Green Investment in Papua Should Not Just Be Jargon

Recently, the Coordinating Minister (Menko) of Maritime Affairs and Investment of the Republic of Indonesia has been intensively promoting green investment in Papua. The media has reported that “Luhut Will Offer Coffee and Nutmeg Plantations in Papua to Investors” or there is also another headline that states “Refusing Oil Palm, Luhut Offers Nutmeg, Coffee, and Cocoa Investment in Papua”. Hopefully the Indonesian government does not really propose that plantations in Papua are a pathway for sustainable investment.

To be financially viable, investment in agriculture requires an adequate, expansive scale of production therefore any commercialized commodity will threaten the natural forests which cover more than 80% of Papua. In these forests and lands, indigenous people have customary rights claims. This unique local context has been recognized by the central government, especially through the Special Autonomy Status granted to the Provinces of Papua and West Papua. Therefore, green investment in Papua must be inclusive, namely by positioning indigenous peoples as the owners of their lands.

The green investment narrative for Papua, made by the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, which relies on the development of agricultural commodities other than oil palm, seems as though it can be considered as sustainable. Oil palm is often associated with the clearing of natural forests which results in the destruction of wildlife habitats such as orangutan habitat. As a matter of fact, any agricultural commodity that is cultivated needs to consider the level of productivity per hectare as well as the required scale of production to make it financially viable.

Cocoa, for example, can be planted without clearing the natural forests in Papua. Cocoa plantations can be built under the natural forest cover by using agroforestry systemsAccording to research on cocoa agroforestry plantations in Sulawesi, published by Ecology and Society (Feintreine et al., 2010), cocoa cultivated using agroforestry systems only yields IDR 2.7 million per hectare. Compare this value with a cocoa plantation that is developed in a monoculture system, which can generate IDR 9.7 million per hectare. However, establishing cocoa monocultures in Papua will certainly require the clearing of natural forests and cause deforestation.

Just like investing in general, green investment must bring benefits to investors. Agricultural products produced in Papua must also compete with similar commodities produced in monoculture plantations in other regions of Indonesia, which are better connected to supply chains than Papua. Commercializing endemic plants that are found in the Papua will be more competitive than adopting commodities produced in other regions. Papuan Nutmeg, for example, which is endemic to Papua and different compared to Banda Nutmeg, is a potential commodity that can be commercialized on an industrial scale. Another is Masohi tree bark, which can be processed into essential oils, hence its high economic value. However, there is no guarantee that deforestation can be avoided in Papua when these commodities are commercialized. The masohi tree, which is increasingly rare in Papua, shows that there has been excessive exploitation of endemic species.

Only customary law can prevent the over-exploitation of the forests of Papua. Indigenous people have traditional land uses in Papua, but indigenous wisdom such as the sasi and pamali traditions, unfortunately, are not reflected in the conservation approach adopted by the state. Recognition of the rights of indigenous and tribal people is a necessity to avoid deforestation in Papua because it can combine customary rules with the state’s approach to conservation. This aligns with the process to revise the spatial plan (RTRW) to integrate the West Papuan Governor’s commitment for a sustainable province.

Green investment in Papua must also be inclusive where indigenous Papuans are the owners of these business activities. In reality, indigenous people usually only become laborers or workers in these economic activities, both in plantations and mines. Indigenous Papuans, as part of their livelihoods, have hunted and gathered natural products from their forests for generations. To be able to participate in modern economic activities, people need assistance to change their behavior and learn cultivation practices. Knowledge of cultivation practices must be followed by postharvest techniques and agribusiness skills so that people no longer work as laborers in their customary-owned lands.

Simultaneously with strong customary laws on land uses, Papua’s green investment must focus on empowering indigenous people to be able to reap benefits from the value added of processing agricultural commodities into derivative products. The added value of processed agricultural products is expected to increase the economic value per hectare of land so that the pressures to clear natural forests can be reduced. Therefore, people must have access to postharvest technology to obtain this added value. Postharvest technology requires a reliable source of energy, whereas based on data from Statistics Indonesia in 2018, only 71% and 38% of households are electrified by PLN (State Utility Company) in West Papua Province and Papua Province respectively. The government should encourage investors to bring postharvest technologies and access to affordable renewable energy for indigenous communities.

Papua does not lack investors because almost all of the land in both provinces has been allocated to permit holders or private companies for forestry, plantations, and mining. Investment promotion should focus on establishing markets for indigenous Papuan commodities, which currently have limited market access, and developing derivative products from these commodities. Papuan Nutmeg, for example, is often seen as an inferior product, compared to Banda Nutmeg, because it does not yet have a national standard, even though they are different species.

The government must also reflect on the impact of investment in Papua on human development and the recognition and protection of Indigenous Papuans’ basic rights. Very often, development activities ignore the unique consideration that has been given to Papuans through their Special Autonomy Status. Thus, it often triggers prolonged conflicts between corporations and indigenous people. These conflicts are even passed down from generation to generation within the indigenous Papuan community. Therefore, green investment in Papua requires an innovative approach that is different from models applied in other islands in Indonesia.

Author: Herman Orisu, Senior Staff of Inobu    

This article has been published on Kompasiana and can be seen at the following link:


Green Investment in Papua Should Not Just Be Jargon


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Nutmeg, Cocoa, Agriculture, Papua.