For the indigenous people of West Papua, the forest is their food source and the home of their ancestors.
Benny Wenda: Benny Wenda, West Papuan independence leader in the United KingdomFor the Indonesian government, who illegally took control of the region in 1969, it is a lucrative asset, ripe for exploitation by foreign companies.
“Massive deforestation means many Papuans in the Merauke district will lose their source of livelihood,” explains Benny Wenda, an exiled tribal leader from West Papua.
”Most do not have the skills to compete with workers from outside the area to work on industrial agriculture projects. I am also concerned that deforestation will lead to conflict between tribes, who will be competing for food and resources.”
In the face of violent oppression and intimidation from the Indonensian military, Papuans like Benny continue to call for a referendum on independence.
Indonesian company Medco announced last year that it was to use acres of forest in West Papua, Indonesia, to cash in on the increased demand for wood pellets for ‘green’ biomass plants in Europe and the US.
Medco’s management plan, for an area still covered in rainforest, states:
“The land will be divided into six regions in which all broad-leaved trees in one of the six regions will be completely cut down.”
The forests and livelihoods of indigenous peoples in Merauke are already under threat from palm oil expansion for agrofuels, a mega-rice project and mining.