Papua food drive sparks fears over forests

Tom Allard; 3/4/10

Indonesia’s government plans to create a vast agricultural estate in the restive province of West Papua, sparking fears of environmental destruction and a return of mass migration policies that have antagonised the indigenous population. Launched last month and already piquing the interest of foreign investors, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) will initially earmark 1.6 million hectares of land for development but could expand to 2.5 million hectares, or about half the area of Merauke district in south-east Papua. The proposal marks a return to the massive agricultural developments promoted by former dictator Suharto. Some of these were spectacular failures, such as the 1 million-hectare ”mega rice” project in central Kalimantan that devastated peatland forests and did not produce a bushel of rice.