Land conflicts in Kutai resulted from indiscriminate allocation of land to private companies for oil palm plantations on the 90s given that local communities rights were not recognized under national laws.
The majority of the people living in the area are indigenous Dayak. There are also indigenous Kutai and immigrants from other regions (Eg. Chinese, Javanese, etc.). Before the establishment of oil palm, the Dayak people held customary land collectively, which they used to grew fruits, vegetable and rice. They also practised some fishing and gathering from the forest . However, after the arrival of palm oil and rubber plantations which ignored their traditional rights, a process of individualization of land tenure has taken place. Land was allocated to private companies without consultation nor consent of local communities.
The lack of official recognition of customary rights enabled the obtainment in 1991 of a license to start operating a palm oil plantation by PT REA Kaltim Plantations. The land acquired figured as owned by the state. Subsequent planting of oil palm in Kembang Janggut sub-district began in 1994. Participatory mapping by the local communities was not undertaken .
PT REA Kaltim Plantations received RSPO certification in 2011 after an auditing process –which presented some irregularities and inaccuracies- took place. A part from joining efforts in certain protests, communities in the area remain divided, given that they did not receive equl treatment by the company or the government.
Protest have taken place in several villages due to unfulfilled promises of plasma, unpaid compensation for losses of land and lack of proper communication from the company.
In may 2004, a protest over pending plasma and compensation took place at one of the mills temporarily shutting down the mill’s operations. Another protest took place in 2011 as a response to river pollution derived from waste disposal.
The passivity of governments in protecting communities’ rights led to protests in front of the district’s government office on February 2012.
Later in the same year, five company roads were blocked under 25 days –ending on the 8th of June. The company agreed to give compensation to the protesters, but did not formalize it. After these protests, some conflict resolution mechanisms were put in place by both the company and the government .
Later, in 2013, a letter of complaint was sent to the RSPO by community members. The letter stated the incompliance of the company with the plasma schemes and the pollution of water. The RSPO closed the complaint without reprisals .
However, the majority of the people living and working on the plantation are unaware of the membership of PT REA in the RSPO and its implications for them.
Given that the local communities are economically dependent on the plantations, protests have arisen to demand the fulfilment of their rights, but not the shutdown of the company’s operations.
PT REA Kaltim Plantations hired private community guards to ensure security, while the mobile police brigade entered the plantation when protests and demonstrations occurred.
Regarding expansion of planted area in its current concession, the intention of REA is to plant palm oil on all suitable undeveloped land available following the RSPO New Plantings Procedure .