Borneo forest people reject oil palm plantation on their land
October 5, 2008
Indigenous forest dwellers in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, have rejected a proposal to turn 80,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of the land into an oil palm plantation, reports the Malaysian Star.
In a two-hour meeting Saturday in the city of Miri, representatives from the Berawan-Tering ethnic group officially rejected an overture to turn their land over to a private firm for oil palm development. About 90 percent of community members opposed the deal which would have given the oil palm a 60-year concession to their land, according to former Baram District Councillor Philip Ube, who represented the native.
“We are also worried that if we give up our land, we will lose our food resources and, once the land is turned into an oil-palm plantation, the social structure will be changed,” Ube said at a press conference, adding that while the company had offered community members jobs as plantation workers, "we don't want to end up as laborers on our own ancestral land."
STEPHEN THEN and SHARON LING. Natives reject plan for oil palm project. The Star Online. Sunday October 5, 2008.
THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF OIL PALM IN BORNEO
For most of its history Borneo was scarcely populated by humans. The unforgiving climate and dense rainforest kept populations small and scattered. In the past half century this has all changed. The influx of more than half a million transmigrants into Borneo over the past thirty years has doubled the island's population and created tremendous demand for jobs. Initially the rubber and logging industries provided employment, but when this collapsed in the mid- (Malaysia) to late-1990s (Kalimantan), work opportunities dried up for most of the local population. Despite this, hundreds of new arrivals continued to show up in Borneo on a weekly basis.
Rising unemployment was a serious concern in Borneo in the late 1990s and early 2000s and ethnic conflict raged in parts of Kalimantan during this time. The sudden rise of the oil palm in the late 1990s and early 2000s was seen as a welcome opportunity for many residents and local governments. Observers are only now seeing the full-cost of rapid growth in the sector.