REDD: Interview with Tejo Pramono, La Via Campesina, and Elisha Kartini, Indonesian Farmers’ Union

“REDD is just a project that the industrial countries use to try to keep their economic benefits”

By Chris Lang, 27th March 2012
Cross-Posted from REDD-Monitor

Interview with Tejo Pramono, La Via Campesina, and Elisha Kartini, SPI

Interview with Tejo Pramono, La Via Campesina and Elisha Kartini,Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI – Indonesian Farmers Union) at SPI’s office, Jakarta, February 2012.

REDD-Monitor: Please explain what Via Campesina and the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI) are and how they work. What are the aims of the two organisations in Indonesia?

Tejo Pramono: Via Campesina is an international movement of small-scale landless farmers and indigenous peoples. The members are in many countries in industrial countries and also in countries in the Global South. Mainly it’s family farmers and small-scale farmers. We have a membership of national organisations. To date it is around 150 national organisations, in 70 different countries in the world.

In 2004, Via Campesina’s international secretariat moved from Honduras to Indonesia. So we have already been here in Indonesia, hosted by the Indonesian Farmers Union for eight years and in 2013, the Secretariat will move to Mozambique.

The main objective of Via Campesina is to defend farmers’ rights. Several issues are involved: land, water, seeds, and, of course, food sovereignity. We are struggling for agrarian reform and for agroecology.

Elisha Kartini: SPI is the Indonesian Peasants Union. We are members of Via Campesina. SPI started in the 1980s when a group of activists organised farmers in Sumatra, but then they learned that there are also other small groups of farmers all round Indonesia, with similar but different kind of problems. At that time it was not possible to establish a farmers union outside the government-formed union. After the fall of Suharto in 1998 and the reformasi, the different groups decided to organise themselves to have a nation-wide union, but at that time we were still a federation because the situation was not very stable yet and at that time a federation was a safer structure. In 2007, we decided to become a union, so we have a structure from the national level to village bases. Now it’s 13 provinces in Indonesia from Sumatra, Java, Nusa Tengara West and East, and we’re still in the process in Kalimantan. The membership is now individuals or family.

REDD-Monitor: Please describe your work on REDD. Do you have specific people working on REDD in Indonesia or is this an issue that overlaps your other work?

Elisha Kartini

Elisha Kartini: The issue of REDD is very new for us here. It started in 2007, I think, the first REDD pilot project in Indonesia. We were still very much unaware of what was going on at that time.

But we saw that there was a case where people were being evicted from their land. The first project was in Aceh and then in Jambi, in South Sumatra. At first, the farmers only realised that they were being evicted from their land without a clear reason. Then they were told they were destroying the forest. Then we came to learn that it’s part of a bigger project, a global project, that’s related to climate change.

Also for our members in Manggarai in East Nusa Tengara, they didn’t say at that time that it was part of a REDD project or anything, but they said that their coffee plantation is fighting a national park area. The farmers see how their plants are suddenly being destroyed, their houses are being destroyed and they are told that they are the ones that caused the destruction of the forest.

In Central Java, I don’t know if it’s part of REDD, people came there and offered to provide seeds for trees like teak wood. They said to the farmers, “You don’t need to work on your land any more and you will get money in the next ten years”. For the farmers, it’s a bit weird. They asked, “So what will we do for the next ten years? Where do we get our food?” They had many questions. It’s not easy for the farmers to understand this kind of concept, where there’s a country or an industry somewhere that doesn’t want to reduce their energy use so they buy carbon on a piece of land to offset their emissions.

They understand that their rights to land, water, the air and livelihood are being violated through this kind of project, but they don’t get informed before it happens.

So at the beginning it was just overlapping with our work on agragrian reform and land conflict, because most of the members of SPI are farmers or indigenous communities that have land conflicts. REDD is now becoming part of the struggle in the organisation.

REDD-Monitor: What is Via Campesina’s position on REDD and why do you take that position?

Tejo Pramono

Tejo Pramono: Via Campesina’s involvement with climate change, and particularly the UNFCCC, started in 2007, when the COP took place in Bali. At that time, Via Campesina was starting to develop its position. Via Campesina said that the solution to climate change is to give the farmers land to produce food organically, agroecologically, and then we stop the importation of food from other continents.

In 2008, in Poznan, we brought a farmer from the Harapan project in Jambi province and we testified about what is happening there, so that people will realise how the REDD project is expropriating farmers’ land.

Again, in 2009 in Copenhagen, we discussed REDD. For farmers it is not easy to understand what UNFCCC is and how will it affect them. They started to understand the greenhouse effect. Then they realised that the main cause of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is coming from industrial countries, mainly in the North. And it’s mainly corporations, manufacturing and transportation, so they decided, it’s not our responsibility to reduce emissions. The polluters must reduce emissions domestically.

That is why Via Campesina took the position of “No REDD”. Industrial countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions locally. That is the starting point of why Via Campesina says we don’t need REDD. We were also reflecting on the experience from our partners in Indonesia, the solution from the agriculture sector to environment depletion, including climate change, is agroecology. But when we practice and strengthen our movement on agroecology it is not because of REDD. Without REDD, farmers have been maintaining the forest and doing agroecology practices for so many years back. And farmers will continue to do their agroecology farming, without REDD. So let the polluters change their production model, reduce their emission locally. We are very upset with the result from Copenhagen and then from Cancun where REDD was really part of the decision there. We said in the demonstrations in Cancun, “REDD no, Cochabamba si”.

REDD-Monitor: What is your position on carbon trading?

Tejo Pramono: As I said already, industrial countries need to reduce their emissions. So we reject carbon trading mechanisms.

I’ve discussed with friends from Australia, why Australia doesn’t want to reduce its own emissions. They frankly say that reducing locally is very expensive. They don’t want to risk their economy. That’s why they want carbon offsets in Indonesia.

REDD-Monitor: There’s another aspect to it, I think. In Indonesia, the president has said there will be 26% emissions reductions or 41% with international support. He’s also said that most of those reductions are going to come from forests and peatlands. So if carbon credits are traded that means the reductions are not going to be counted in Indonesia, they are going to be counted by whichever country buys the carbon credits.

Do you think that it would be possible for REDD to succeed if it were not a carbon trading mechanism?

Tejo Pramono: You mean that polluters have to reduce emissions domestically and there is some recognition of historical emissions? If we see the main problem with the forests as deforestation then the main actors for deforestation are timber companies and plantation companies and it is nothing to do with small-scale farmers and indigenous people. If the government gave the farmers rights to control, to manage their own forests, we wouldn’t have any deforestation. So that is the solution.

For example, now people are very busy discussing REDD. They are calculating how much carbon can be stored in the forest. But they don’t talk about the rights of farmers in the forests. History has told that it is not the responsibility of the farmers, it is the responsibility of the corporations, so we have to control the corporations and give rights to farmers.

I think if I have to answer your question, the solution is just giving rights to farmers.

Elisha Kartini: In Indonesia, what the government says and does is contradictory. There are already millions of hectares of land being used for REDD projects in Indonesia, but at the same time the government is giving bigger and bigger concessions for plantations. So which area do you consider to reduce deforestation? And then they take over a piece of land belonging to an indigenous community that has been living there for centuries. They work and they live from the forests, it’s not them that’s causing deforestation.

On the other hand the Indonesian government has a target of expanding oil palm plantations to 20 million hectares by 2020 and opening up a bigger mining area. So that’s a contradiction with the REDD projects that are implemented in Indonesia.

REDD-Monitor: Via Campesina and SPI have put out critical information about the Harapan project in Sumatra, which you’ve already talked about a little. It was very controversial, and still is. The project proponents argue that they are doing the right thing, and they argue that the farmers are from Java, they only came in recently and the project has to do something to control the deforestation. One argument that I’ve heard is that the project actually doesn’t want to compensate these farmers because of the risk of there being a flood of farmers moving in and demanding compensation. Could you please say a bit more about your work on the Harapan project.

Elisha Kartini: The project created quite a harsh conflict with the people who lived on the border of that forest.

The process in Jambi is still ongoing. The farmers in that area are still working to take the land back. But they stay along the border of the Harapan project and grow paddy fields and rubber trees.

Actually, just a few weeks ago, the company gave a letter to us, to our member organisation in Jambi. In the letter they said that they want to negotiate, to sit together and see what’s going on, to see what can we do about this.

REDD-Monitor: Is that the first time that they’ve contacted SPI?

Elisha Kartini: No.

REDD-Monitor: But is it the first time that they’ve said let’s sit down and talk?

Elisha Kartini: Yes. In the beginning they wanted to go to court. I think it’s going to be a difficult process. I think they realised that after some time. After they sent this letter, the leader in Jambi came to Jakarta. He met with the Minister of Forestry and he called the farmers illegal loggers. They explained that they are not illegal loggers, they were moved there under the transmigration programme and that they’ve been here for 20 or 30 years. And they don’t cut much, there’s still a big part of the forest. Because farmers don’t have the ability, the capacity to clear out all the forest, they just take a small plot for their farm.

Because the farmers in Jambi keep struggling, they don’t want to be evicted from that land, we stayed strong with the way we think. When they say that these farmers are from Java, they are there because of the transmigration programme that was going on in the 1980s and 1990s. Through that process, they left their homes in Java and had to start all over again in that place, which is not an easy thing to do. When they are placed in that area, it’s a swamp, it’s a forest, and then they have to work for many, many years to clear the land. When they start to have to benefit from their work, suddenly another group of people came and told them they don’t belong on this land. Of course the farmers question this. “The government placed us here”, they say. “Why are you now saying we don’t have the right to stay there.”

And especially for SPI, it doesn’t make sense, because this is a conservation project. It’s strange that they protect the birds, they protect the animals, but they don’t really care about the people that live in that area.

If you talk about compensation, so far they don’t have any compensation. Also in REDD projects in other areas, they haven’t yet received anything. So to say that it will create a flood of farmers going there, I don’t think that kind of argument that should be used, first because there is no compensation yet and second the situation of the farmers in that area is pretty terrible right now, their crops are being cleared, their houses are being bulldozed.

This kind of project doesn’t give the farmers any benefits. In their perspective, the land is being abandoned. They ask, “Why are you abandoning fertile land? For nothing. For whom?” Especially with the issue of agrarian reform, to abandon fertile land is like a sin for the farmers. They can use that land to grow food for their family, for the village. Not doing so, it is the farmers that lose out.

REDD-Monitor: One of the arguments that you hear a lot of in REDD discussions (internationally and in Indonesia) is that as long as we have safeguards (like the right to free, prior and informed consent), then REDD will be a good thing. What’s your opinion about that?

Tejo Pramono: I will ask the question, “Has there been any free, prior and informed consent done? Could you show us if there is any free, prior and informed consent?” Because if they really want to do free, prior and informed consent then they will come to Jambi and talk about livelihoods with the farmers and the indigenous people who live there. They will ask them questions about what they want to plant on their land, what they see for their future and so on.

That’s very different from coming to the village and telling them that there’s a possibility of making a lot of money with REDD. If we are just farmers in the forest and we are poor and we hear that there is some possibility of money, of course we will agree. So that is not free, prior and informed consent.

REDD-Monitor: Indonesia is one of the main countries in the REDD debate, partly because it’s got such a high rate of deforestation, but also because President Yudhoyono has onseveral occasions talked about the importance of saving Indonesia’s forests. Meanwhile, the rate of deforestation is still very high, there is still exploration for oil (Chevron is spendingUS$6 billion between 2008 and 2015 on an oil project off East Kalimantan), and mining for gold, copper, coal continues, while oil palm and pulpwood plantations are expanding. Given that scenario, are you optimistic or pessimistic about REDD in Indonesia?

Elisha Kartini: This is a tricky question! I’m not going to say if I’m optimistic or pessimistic about REDD, but like I said before the way that the government takes their steps is very contradictory. They really have this big target on reducing emissions but without any real effort to do it and through that REDD project it is not the Indonesian emissions that are being calculated, as you said. And so they say, “Let’s protect our forests,” but they still expand mining, plantations, everything.

So I feel like the government is just doing lip service. They are only going after the money. They created the Indonesian Trust Fund for Climate Change outside the National State Budget, so the House of Representatives cannot monitor the Trust Fund.

There’s not even one project that really helps the people, the farmers, the fisherfolk or the indigenous communities to really cope with climate change. For example, in agriculture sector, the government promised to give an insurance for crop failure due to extreme climate. But when the farmers go to the agriculture office in the district, they are told that the office doesn’t know anything about that. Meanwhile at the national level they say that they have already distributed this amount of money to each province for insurance. It’s very difficult to access the money and it’s very bureaucratic.

So I think, speaking of REDD money or carbon trading in Indonesia, it’s not going to help the people against climate change. REDD is just a project that the industrial countries use to try to keep their economic benefits and to avoid taking any responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD-Monitor: Recently the EU and Indonesia signed an agreement about illegal logging and FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade). It took several years to negotiate this agreement, on something that’s illegal, whereas with REDD what they are saying is that all we have to do is get the price on the forest carbon right and everything will change. Does Via Campesina have a position on illegal logging?

Elisha Kartini: The farmers are often accused of doing illegal logging or burning the forest, so there’s that kind of discussion. But we don’t have a position yet on illegal logging. The farmers always say if you compare our capacity to cut down the forest with mining or with plantations it’s not the same. They take wood for cooking, or chop some trees just for everyday use. So for us, if you accuse the farmers of doing illegal logging, why don’t you do something about the real illegal logging – the pulp and paper industry or the palm oil industry that cut down huge areas of forests. Some of the plantation companies operate even before they have got a legal concession. There are several steps to get a legal concession but once they get only one approval from the district, and then start operating even though it’s not yet legal. And no one does anything to them.

Tejo Pramono: The permit is always given to the corporation, the timber company, there is no permit for small-scale farmers. From what I see is that the government doesn’t actually have any concept of people’s forestry. What they have is industrial forestry. That is the main problem. That’s why they accuse the farmers of doing illegal logging.

REDD-Monitor: What is your view on the US$1 billion deal between Norway and Indonesia, specifically on the two-year moratorium?

Tejo Pramono: What’s happening now is that we did the moratorium because of the agreement with Norway. Why doesn’t the government have the moratorium, but not because of Norway? That would mean that the government is thinking about the farmers. The government has to realise that farmers’ landholdings are just 0.3 hectares on average. They have to see that. And they have to think how to give access to the farmers. Even if we open the forest, it will not go to the farmers, it’s for the corporations.

I reckon that Norway has to solve their own problems domestically. And Indonesia has to solve their problems domestically.

REDD-Monitor: When you say that Norway has to solve its problems, what do you mean?

Tejo Pramono: They benefit from oil and they have to reduce their consumption. That is the logic. They can’t just produce as much oil as they want. This is an agreement between governments. That’s the problem. Indonesia has the problem of deforestation and Norway has the problem of emissions levels. But they don’t solve the real problem.

REDD-Monitor: What is your opinion of the REDD discussions at the UNFCCC level? And what’s your reaction to whatcame out of the Cancun and Durban negotiations on REDD?

Tejo Pramono: We are very sad with the decision in Cancun. It is not the solution to climate change.

Elisha Kartini: It’s really difficult to talk about the UN results because sometimes we just don’t know what we can do to change the results. We are focussing more on the issues that we face every day rather than focussing on the UN negotiations.

But carbon trading from agriculture is creating a more complex problem for us because now on one side we will face this REDD project but then you’ll have this kind of agricultural mega-project that says it is more emissions friendly. Then they say that the small-scale farmers are the ones that create more emissions and they are wasting so much water and very inefficient. There are two sides of a bigger problem: REDD and now carbon trading from agriculture. Now we have more enemies in that sense.

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