World Rainforest Movement

Malaysia: Blockades against Sarawak oil palm company

In Europe and the US, palm oil is being promoted as an agrofuel that will allegedly prevent the increase of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Of course, it is the large scale and not the small-scale diversified model which is being implemented and in fact it’s just a way of delaying the imperative need of changing energy-intensive production, consumer and trade patterns. Oil palm plantations for agrofuel just add to the already damaging effects of palm tree plantations for industrial use.

In the meantime, big corporations take the lion’s share profiting from the burgeoning market of an industrial crop that covers wide areas. Southern countries are being targeted, but the fruit of palm trees tastes bitter for their communities, that receive less than the promised crumbs. The following is one more example of this.

In 1996, Iban landowners in Sarawak agreed that their land in the Kanowit District be planted with oil palm. A joint venture between Boustead Plantations (60%), the villagers (30%) and the state government agency Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) (10%) was established.

Through the agreement, villagers were promised roads that would connect the longhouses in the area, electricity and piped water supply, as well as 60-year land titles for the Native Customary Rights (NCR) landowners.

However, it was reported that despite the fruits have been harvested for many years, NCR landowners have been paid no dividends up to now except for an initial meagre advance paid in 1997. None of the other promises has been fulfilled.

The natives could no longer bear the abuse and decided to take action to protect their interests. In April a blockade action was staged to stop the company from entering their oil palm plantation. At first it was carried out only by three longhouse communities but later on others followed up to the present 20. According to an article by Tony Thien, about 400 people from 20 Iban longhouse communities in Machan have stopped the company from entering their oil palm plantation while at one access point into Ladang Kelimut situated on the right bank of the Rajang River, the villagers placed their own people to prevent workers from entering the estate. At another access road, they erected two barriers across. Many more villages are expected to join them in the blockades.

At the same time, the villagers lodged a police report in Kanowit, saying the company had failed to pay dividends to them and that they were giving the company notice unless such payment was made soon they would have to take the case to court and at the same time stop the company’s operations.

As usual in these cases, the journalist reporting on the issue informs that “the company could not be contacted immediately for comment”.

Article based on: “Angry native landowners act against Sarawak oil palm company”, Tony Thien, Malaysiakini,