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Story Publication logo November 17, 2021

Deforestation by Design in Papua

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A tropical forest is surrounded by patches of empty land in Indonesia.
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Indonesia has some of the most important and biodiverse forests in the world. But the future of...

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President Joko Widodo claimed that deforestation in Indonesia is at its lowest point in the past 20 years. Indonesia’s Nationally Determined Contribution emissions reduction report to the United Nations said that there were only 39,285 hectares of deforested areas in 2013 to 2020. A Tempo investigation in Papua found otherwise: The area of deforestation from 2019 to 2020 alone covered 19,807 hectares. Timber companies have violated some regulations about forest conservation management and have illegally produced wood.

This investigative report is supported by the Rainforest Investigations Network of the Pulitzer Center, in collaboration with Forest Watch Indonesia, Auriga Nusantara Foundation, Greenpeace Indonesia, Pusaka Foundation, Independent Forestry Monitoring Network, and the Panah Papua Association.

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A STOUT man suddenly entered the meeting room at the office of Prabu Alaska in Kaimana, West Papua, at the end of last April. “You know that we are family?” he said to Samuel Farisa, a representative of the Tanggarofa tribe. Samuel did not have time to reply as the man slapped him in the cheek.


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Samuel, 42, winced in pain. The seven representatives from the Tanggarofa and Wanusanda tribes in the room just watched as it happened. Prabu Alaska spokesman Dirgan Laberis also said nothing until the sturdy man left the room.

The person in question was Captain Frans Aboda, Commander of the Buruway Military District Command (Koramil). A Tempo reporter present in the room watched as the discussion between the Prabu Alaska spokesman and representatives of the customary community became awkward. Their talk about wood compensation payments on customary land abruptly ended when the call to perform the Friday prayer was heard from the mosque at the Prabu Alaska company compound.

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According to Samuel, Frans Aboda slapped him because he was upset with the news in the local media that claimed he had illegally received wood from Prabu Alaska. A month earlier, Samuel, along with Sulfianto Alis, Executive Director of the Panah Papua Association, a non-governmental organization that monitors forest area, checked on the operations of Prabu Alaska, which was cutting down trees on ancestral plots of land. During their check they found a cache of processed wood.

Samuel obtained information from the soldiers guarding the wood that it was intended to go to the Koramil commander. Sulfianto shared that finding with some local reporters in West Papua, and the news created quite a commotion. “I don’t know who that wood is for,” Aboda said in July, when he was no longer Koramil commander.

Processing and amassing wood in a concession area is strongly forbidden. Companies with forest concession rights (HPH) must send the logs they cut down to a wood processing site for tax purposes. As it turns out, after that news surfaced in the media, Aboda went looking for Samuel, and he found out that the management of Prabu Alaska had invited representatives from two tribes to the company’s office to discuss the matter of wood on customary land.

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Aboda’s explanation is at odds with that given by Budi Nugraha, a consultant to Prabu Alaska who is responsible for the company in Kaimana. “That wood was for (building) a fence at the Koramil,” said Budi. “I think that it is not a violation because the tax on it has been paid, and it was not cut by employees but by local residents who we hired.”

Tempo checked the wood stacking site a few days after the incident of Samuel being slapped by Aboda. Three soldiers were on guard there, and no wood processing activity was going on. However, sawdust could be seen scattered about. The soldiers said that they did not know who had cut the wood in that customary territory.

Demands made by the two tribal representatives in West Papua had a legal basis, namely the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry’s Director-General for Sustainable Forest Management (PHPL) Decree No. 62/2020 on the PHPL performance assessment guidelines and timber legality verification. This regulation requires companies with forest concession rights to ask the permission of customary communities that live in the concession areas before they cut down the trees.

This decision was strengthened by the West Papua Governor Regulation No. 42014 regarding the obligation for companies to pay Rp10,000-150,000 per cubic meter of wood that they have cut down on customary lands. Dirgan Laberis said that they have paid compensation to the Tanggarofa tribe in Fruata. Samuel disagreed with this explanation, saying the wood that was cut down was located in the Tanggarofa customary area in Rauna, a three-hour trip from Kaimana by speedboat.

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Approval from the customary community is a condition for companies with an HPH, such as Prabu Alaska, in order to obtain a PHPL certificate. This certificate is a condition for companies to sell wood at home and abroad. “Prabu Alaska never disseminate (the information) to us that they were cutting down wood,” said Samuel.

The problem is, even though they did not have a permission from the customary community, Lambodja Sertifikasi went ahead and issued a PHPL certificate for Prabu Alaska for six months cutting period last March. Lambodja issued a certificate with ‘good’ status for the company’s wood management. “We have evidence of dissemination of the woodcutting plan to the public,” said Isbat, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lambodja.

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Dirgan admitted there was an issue with the two customary communities when their company was cutting down trees in early 2021. He said that the operators did not know the boundaries of the customary lands of the different tribes in the company’s concession area. “We only knew the boundaries between concession areas,” he said. “Because the matter is not yet clear, even though there is a certificate, we have not sold the wood.”

To resolve this problem, Dirgan invited the two tribes whose lands fell within the concession area. However, the talks fell apart after the incident when Samuel was assaulted. At the end of their conversation, Dirgan had said that their company agreed to pay for every square cubic meter of wood they cut down on customary land. “As to who has the rights (to that payment), you can negotiate it (internally) in the tribe,” he said.

***

THE concession area of Prabu Alaska Unit I is the largest in Papua compared to 40 other companies’ in that easternmost island of Indonesia. Of the 5.5 million hectares of primary forest in Papua that have been allotted to 41 companies, the concession area of that company owned by businessman Kim Johanes Mulia covers 322,780 hectares, as authorized in 2016. This area is five times the size of Jakarta, stretching from Fakfak and Kaimana in West Papua to Boven Digul in Papua. The company has another concession area in Papua covering 6,435 hectares.

The oldest timber company in Papua still in operation is Hanurata. “We have been in operation since 1996,” said Hanurata Manager Untung Karyadi. The company’s stock is owned by the Harapan Kita Foundation and the Trikora Foundation, which are affiliated with the family of former President Suharto. Just like Prabu Alaska, this company has two concession areas: 234,470 hectares in West Papua and 56,235 hectares in Jayapura, Papua.

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In Papua, the largest forest concession is held by the Korindo Group, a corporation owned by South Korean tycoon Robert Seung. Through Inocin Abadi and Tunas Timber, this company manages 314,000 hectares of land. There is also Bade Makmur Orissa, a subsidiary of Pelayaran Korindo, which controls a 99,750-hectare commercial forest concession.

Global Land Analysis and Discovery University of Maryland, United States, recorded 19,807 hectares of deforestation carried out by timber companies on the island of Papua from 2019 to 2020. According to the calculations of the environment and forestry ministry (KLHK), each hectare of forest lost in Papua will release the equivalent of 412.4 tons of CO2. This means that the carbon released due to company activity comes to 8.2 million tons in two years, equivalent to the carbon emissions of three million automobiles traveling 19,000 kilometers in a year.

Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Chairman of the Environment Ministry’s Climate Change Control Advisory Board, does not take issue with this legal and planned deforestation. As long as it is done according to regulation, said this former environment minister, “they can be called upon to manage the forest in a manner which supports conservation.”

The problem is, not all of the companies have been operating as Sarwono hoped. The regulations on forest sustainable management are rigidly regulated in the Environment and Forestry Minister Regulation No. P21/2020 as well as the Director-General for Sustainable Forest Management Decree No. 62/2020. Those two regulations continue to be updated with additional provisions to prevent environmental damage.

Tempo’s findings in April to May in Papua and West Papua indicate numerous violations of those two regulations. In addition to having conflicts with customary communities, such as has been experienced by the two tribes in Kaimana, some companies have cut down trees outside of their annual work plans (RKT), felled trees located on the land concessions of other companies, and have been shorting their tax payments.

Paiman, a woodcutting operator of Widjaja Putra Jaya, which was contracted by Prabu Alaska, for instance, admitted to cutting down trees in the area of Hanurata in 2020. “I thought it was still (the area of) Prabu Alaska, but it turned out to be (in the area of) Hanurata,” he said.

Untung Karyadi verified encroachment of tree cutting by Prabu Alaska operators on their concession area. According to him, the matter has been resolved amicably. “We took the wood, they paid the woodcutting operator,” he said.

However, this was not the end of the problems. According to the Environment Minister Regulation No. P.54/2019 regarding the compliance audits of holders of forest timber business licenses, Prabu Alaska should have paid a fine 15 times the tariff of the forestry resource provision (PSDH) for cutting down trees outside of their concession area. The PSDH is a sort of tax on wood that is calculated on the volume of trees cut down. In 2020, this company reported a PSDH payment of Rp12.2 billion.

A planet basemaps satellite imagery with a resolution of five square meters indicate that Prabu Alaska also cut down trees in a cutting block on the 2021 work plan in 2020. Three former cutting operators from the company confirmed this. “The thing is, there is more wood in the 2021 area,” said Efron, a tree cutter for Prabu Alaska. Efron noted about 3,000 cubic meters of ironwood (Intsia bijuga), which he cut down in the area in 2021. The market price for this local wood endemic to Papua is Rp13.5 million per cubic meter.

Leaving the area of Prabu Alaska, Tempo moved on to the concession area of Inocin Abadi, a subsidiary of the Korindo Group in Papua. Soldiers were on guard all along the road to the entry to the concession area. According to satellite imagery, this cutting block with coordinates 06.89211 degree South latitude and 140.64296 degree East longitude is located within the 2020 working area. However, in the field, company workers have put up a sign that says “2021 RKT.”

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Mikael Omba, a resident of the Naga customary community whose area falls within the concession area of Inocin, said that each year the company cuts down trees outside of their work plan. “Usually they cut down trees first and ask permission later,” he said.

Yulian Mohammad Riza, Public Relations Manager at the Korindo Group, denied the news that Inocin cut down trees outside of its work area. “We emphasize that the company does not cut down trees which are not on the RKT,” he said. “We have set up clear signs at each cutting block which can be seen by anyone in the field.”

Prabu Alaska Director Adi Gunawan, through his secretary, Santi, declined to make a clarification regarding serious violations committed by their company regarding tree cutting. According to Santi, Adi is busy resolving some company problems. Saeful Ichwan Suryawan, Director of Intishar Sadira Ehsan, which issued the timber legality certificate to Prabu Alaska, also did not want to comment, citing that the certificate expired in October 2020. “Thank you for the information. We must learn more,” he said.

Back in the tree cutting area, Tempo checked on the wood from the concession areas of those three companies at the shipping port. The wood port for Prabu Alaska is on edge of the Mandewa River, two hours from Kaimana by speedboat. One afternoon at the end of April, rain drenched the port, making the yellow barcode papers wet on a stack of ironwood measuring five meters long and 60 to 170 centimeters in diameter.

When those barcodes were scanned with a cellular phone, a link appeared for a website. However, it could not be opened. Scanning done in Kaimana, where Internet connectivity is sufficiently good, had the same result. When using the timber legality verification system or SVLK, a barcode should connect to a website that stores information on the wood. Barcodes act as a tracking device, covering movement of the wood from the time the tree is cut, when it is processed by the timber industry, to the store it ends up at abroad.

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Certificate No. 107-VLK-ISE-X/2017 was printed on that yellow barcode papers bearing the Indonesian Legal Wood logo. The timber legality certificate issued by Intishar Sadira Ehsan was good from October 18, 2017 to October 17, 2020. “Why is it still being used? We have revoked it and asked Prabu Alaska to no longer use it,” said Saeful Ichwan Suryawan, a Director at Intishar.

After October 2020, Prabu Alaska’s timber certificate was issued by Lambodja Sertifikasi. Lambodja CEO Isbat said that their company issued a certificate in March this year. This means, when checked in April, the timber barcodes at the port in Mandewa should have used the certificate from Lambodja. Isbat did not want to comment on this, citing that the audit contract ended in September.

Despite not having a timber legality certificate, Prabu Alaska continued to cut down trees from November to December 2020. During those two months, according to a report recorded by the environment ministry, they were able to produce 24,944.74 cubic meters of wood. They also did not have a timber certificate for the cutting area.

At coordinates 03008°19.71°° South latitude and 133008°59.59°° East longitude, the cutting operator of Prabu Alaska did not put labels on the trees that had been cut down or those to be felled. “They are supposed to be labeled, but they just cut them down,” said Efron.

Keeping in mind all the confusion regarding wood and forest management, legal deforestation done in line with the regulations, as hoped by Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, has not happened in the field. This is the case, even though President Joko Widodo claimed in his speech at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that Indonesia has reduced the rate of deforestation to its lowest in 20 years, indicating a commitment to preventing a climate crisis.

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