Sugar Cane Expansion Continues, Aru Islands Community’s Lives Threatened Once Again

June 23, 2015

Bogor, 22 June 2015. The government is deemed to have committed public deception regarding clearing for sugar cane plantation in Aru Islands. Statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Amran Sulaiman, as quoted by on 18 June 2015, explains that the government has prepared three sites covering 500,000 ha for sugar cane plantation development in Indonesia. The three sites are Aru Islands, Merauke, and Southeast Sulawesi.1

Previously, Aru Islands’ natural forests were threatened due to plans for sugar cane plantation clearing plans in the islands.2 But on 4 April 2014, Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan stated that sugar cane plantation expansion principle permits were cancelled in Aru Islands due to land unsuitability.3 The continuation of sugar cane plantation plans in Aru Islands will certainly threaten the natural forest covering an area 12 times the size of Singapore or 730,000 ha, and in turn potentially threaten the lives of 84,000 Aru Islands communities. “The government’s insistence to continue with sugar cane plantation development in Aru Islands clearly shows their disregard to natural forest conservation in Aru Islands,” stated Mufti Barri, FWI Campaigner. “Some of us even believe that the main goal of this plan is merely to harvest natural timber from Aru Islands,” Barri added.

Jacky Manuputty, the man behind the #SaveAru campaign said, “The Agriculture Minister’s reinstatement of Aru Islands as one of eastern Indonesia’s sugar industry development area is arrogant and arbitrary, without considering the aspirations of the Aru indigenous peoples who strongly refused this plan in the past.” This reinstatement clearly left the Aru indigenous peoples feeling like they have been fooled by the government. This arbitrary reinstatement will lead to a new social unrest in Aru Islands. “We will fight against this one-sided policy, and the government must take responsibility,” Manuputty declared.

A similar expression is shared by Abdon Nababan as Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). “Reestablishing Aru Islands as a target for sugar cane plantation is a contradiction of the Environment and Forestry Minister’s commitment who had promised not to extend the forest release principle permit in the islands for land conversion into plantations,” said Nababan. “The presence of plantations in Aru Islands will not only degrade small islands ecosystem but lead to human rights violations against the indigenous peoples who have traditionally controlled and managed their agriculture lands and forests in the islands,” Nababan stated in his press release.

Small islands protection in Indonesia

By considering an area’s vulnerability, there should not be any more land-hungry investment activities in small islands. Investments such as logging concessions, industrial timber plantations, large-scale plantations or mines will only destroy the sources of community’s lives.

One impact is water crisis due to loss of community’s freshwater sources. FWI’s study indicates that 2.97 million ha out of 7.40 million ha of Indonesia’ small islands still contain natural forests.

From the total small islands area, 1.3 million ha or 18% has been allocated for land-based investment permits such as logging concessions, industrial timber plantations, oil palm plantations, and mines.

Another new threat to small islands’ natural forests emerged after the Ministry of Forestry issued a policy which allocated land use for timber concessions, industrial timber plantations, oil palm plantations, and mining concessions through Decision Letter No. 5984/Menhut II/BPRUK/2014. This policy allocates land for concessions covering 0.85 million ha distributed throughout 242 small islands in Indonesia. “To date there has been no clarification from Ministry of Environment and Forestry concerning this policy’s revocation,” Barri said. “The minister must immediately revoke this policy as part of a permit review process as mandated by the National Movement to Save Natural Resources (Gerakan Nasional Penyelamatan Sumber Daya Alam – GN PSDA),” Barri stated in his press release.

On the effort to protect Indonesia’s small islands, Nababan added, “All Indonesia’s small islands must be released from large-scale nature exploitation such as plantations, logging, and mining activities because their long term social and ecological costs are far greater than the short term economic profits.” The Coastal and Small Islands Management Law clearly regulates this. “The Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Madam Susi Pudjiastuti must be ready to prevent small islands ecosystem degradation, not only in Aru Islands but in all of the nation’s small islands,” stated Nababan.




Editor’s Notes:

1. Small island category based on Law NO. 27 of 2007 and Law No. 1 of 2014 are islands with areas ≤2,000 km2.

2. The Last Forest in Small Islands of Indonesia factsheet, available for download from (Bahasa Indonesia version) or (English version).

3. Forest Watch Indonesia, abbreviated to FWI, is an independent forest monitoring network incorporating individuals committed to fostering a transparent forestry data and information management system which can ensure just and sustainable forest management. One of FWI’s activities is campaigning and monitoring forest degradation and crimes in the forestry sector.

4. Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) is an independent community organization whose members comprise indigenous peoples’ communities throughout the nation.

Contact persons for Interviews:

1. Mufti Fathul Barri, FWI: +6282110677935,

2. Abdon Nababan, AMAN: +62811111365,

3. Jacky Manuputy, SAVE Aru: +62821 2592 4466,

Contact person for map and documentation:

Sukarno: +62812 1811 5474,

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