Indonesia continues crusade against black campaign of its crucial commodity

After battling against what it called an unfair global campaign on its palm oil industry in 2017, Indonesia has vowed to continue the fight against one of its key economic drivers that generated more than US$17 billion exports in 2016.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in her annual press statement on January 9 that palm oil – one of Indonesia’s main and strategic products – “faces negative campaigns and discrimination in Europe and the United States.”

“Indonesia shall not stand by idly,” she told an audience of foreign ambassadors.

She added Indonesia was stepping up its efforts to counter anti-palm oil campaigns and to promote a sustainable palm oil production with all stakeholders,including the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC).

President Joko Widodo raised the issue during the Asean-EU Summit in Manila in early November 2017 and later in the month during their annual bilateral consultation, Widodo called on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to be jointly up in arms against discriminative attitude and policies toward palm oil.

The European Parliament last April called on the European Commission to take measures to phase out by 2020 the use of vegetable oils including palm oil, which the parliament said has caused deforestation. The parliament also notes that biofuel imported into the EU, 23% is derived from palm oil and most of it is from Indonesia.

The palm oil industry in Indonesia has also been blamed for rights violations including child labor, seasonal forest fires that sends choking haze to neighboring countries, and rapid loss of biodiversity and natural habitats of some of the world’s most endangered species such as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger.

Greenpeace has slammed the government for being so defensive towards EU’s stance. The group said as a party to the 2016 Paris climate accord, Indonesia should not view EU policies as detrimental to the industry and the economy.

“The government should be ashamed that deforestation, forest burning, land grabs and exploitative work system still occur. Land expansion is also ongoing not just in Sumatra and Kalimantan but it has encroached on forests in Papua,” Ade Komarudin, Greenpeace Indonesia’s forest campaigner said in a statement.

Citing data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Komarudin said palm oil plantations had expanded from 8.3 million hectare in 2010 to 12.3 million in 2017, encroaching on more protected forest and peatlands.

In a bid to show that palm oil industry in Indonesia is not as bad as it has been projected to be and highlight the positive steps being taken, the Foreign Ministry jointly organized a three-week palm oil course last last year with the team from Collaborative Research Center 990 or CRC 990, which brings together three Indonesian universitities the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The course participants were researchers, business consultants, environmental activists, academicians and diplomat from Germany, Italy, Colombia, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain and Indonesia. They visited palm oil plantation sites in Jambi and lived for a few days with palm oil smallholder farmers, who account for 40% out of the country’s producers.

Markus Wolter, the program officer for agricultural commodities and animal husbandry at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Germany in Berlin, was one of the participants and said that the course provided an opportunity to look into different aspects of palm oil production and that it was “invaluable” to see and to feel how the smallholders work and live.

“It was really good to see how palm oil is improving the livelihoods of the smallholders,” Wolter said, adding that the experience had completed his understanding of the whole supply chain and how important palm oil is for the economy.

Indonesia is the top palm oil producer in the world with more than 35 million tonnes output, 25 million of which is exported around the world. The EU is Indonesia’s second largest export destination and the export volume to EU in 2016 was 4.4 million tonnes, an increase of 3% from 2015.

The industry provides job opportunities for about three million people and is the main source of income for many smallholders, therefore the government regards the industry and plantation as having significant roles in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Indonesia, including poverty alleviation and narrowing the development gap.

Winandriyo Kun Anggianto, a civil servant at the Foreign Ministry who also took part in the program, said that participants – some of whom had never been in Asia let alone visited a palm oil plantation, learned that smallholders in Jambi could earn a net monthly income of around five million rupiah from planting palm oil trees in two hectares of land.

The amount is far higher than two million rupiah provincial minimum wage in Jambi.

“They could earn a lot more if they don’t hire daily workers to help them,” he said, adding that the participants were also able to see that child labor allegations were not always the case on the ground, where children occasionally helping their parents to work in the field is part of the local custom.

“The children are not formally employed but they lend their hands to their parents, which is normal in their existing social system. They don’t even always do that, just occasionally when they are on holiday and out of school hours,” Winandriyo said.

Participants agreed that while there had been some progress on Indonesia’s palm oil practices, there are still rooms for further improvements, such as stricter law enforcement.

Wolter concurred, saying that the government needed strong regulation and law enforcement to deter massive deforestation and to foster certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), considered as the world’s flagship certification in the industry that companies can voluntarily apply as their commitment to promote the use of sustainable palm oil.

Wolter also said that the smallholders and environment would benefit if growers adopted the University of Göttingen’s enrichment plots by planting six different tree species, including three fruit trees and three logging trees in between two palm oil trees to diversify the plantation and land cultivation.

“Palm oil is a product that is used all over the world, so what to do now is to do it as sustainable as possible without producing too much greenhouse gases, without deforestation and by avoiding land conflicts,” he said.

The EU Ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend told journalists in December that as an export market, the EU is very open to Indonesian palm oil as the duties are very low.

“There is a very high level of concerns in Europe among consumer about their own consumption patterns and the way they behave as citizens, so there is a very strong expectation in Europe to have a sustainable consumer goods and great respect for sustainable palm oil,” Guerend said.

The story first appeared in Bangkok Post


Indonesia struggles with human trafficking networks

In August 2016, Tyas Weningsih Putri left her village in Kendal, Central Java to try her luck for the second time as a migrant worker in Malaysia.

She had been recruited to work in a birds’ nest cultivation factory and expected to receive 900 ringgit salary per month, as stated in her contract.

Continue reading “Indonesia struggles with human trafficking networks”

Repentant tattoo artist on crusade to remove ink

Sandi Widodo used to be a prolific tattoo artist with a self-described wayward lifestyle, until he decided that it was not the life he wanted and re-embraced religion.

Today, he runs a tattoo removal clinic near the Indonesian capital Jakarta for Muslims who have returned to Islam, charging little to nothing for the service.


Sandi Widodo, founder of Tattoo Hijrah Removal, sits at his clinic in Serpong

“I had an established tattoo studio when I began studying religion and realized that tattoos are haram (forbidden),” says the 31-year-old, himself sporting intricate tattoos all over his body, including one on his left temple and neck.

“I kept thinking about people I have made tattoos for,” he says. “So I made a resolution to remove them for those who have abandoned their old ways, which, like mine, often involved drugs and alcohol.”

In 2014, he sold his tattoo kits and studied in an Islamic boarding school before returning to his parents as a devout Muslim. After consulting a doctor, he started an online fundraising campaign in July to purchase laser tattoo removal machines, which cost about 3,000 dollars each.

The public’s response to the campaign was unexpectedly strong and in less than two weeks he managed to raise 90 million rupiah (6,300 dollars). He then converted his tattoo studio attached to his parents’ suburban house on the outskirts of Jakarta into an ink removal clinic, equipped with three laser machines.

So far, more than 200 people have come to his clinic to have their tattoos removed, Sandi explains. They include punk rockers, musicians and gang members.

“Some of my friends in the tattoo community have followed my steps, but there are also those who stayed away from me because they thought I had become weird,” he says.

Repentant Muslims who want their tattoos removed for free must memorize 50 verses from the Koran that focus on God’s attribute of mercy and grace. Many in the world’s largest Muslim nation consider permanent tattoos forbidden in Islam, arguing that the practice inflicts unnecessary pain and is a form of deception.

“People want to remove their tattoos for a lot of reasons, such as bad designs or inability to get jobs, but we only help people who have shown repentance,” he says.

With no money to have their tattoos removed safely, some people have gone as far as using a hot iron, injuring themselves badly in the process, he says.

Laser treatment to remove tattoos is considered safe, but it can leave superficial skin wounds.

Sandi says he himself has not been able to remove all of his tattoos and has only undergone two sessions of laser treatment. “It takes about two weeks for the blisters to heal from the last treatment,” he admits.

Azri Rachman, a former rock band vocalist with tattoos of his parents’ portraits on both arms among images of a skull and rose, has undergone two sessions at the clinic. The 30-year-old father of two has completely abandoned music and is now a businessman selling clothing printed with Islamic messages.

Wearing a beard, a pair of glasses, a white shirt emblazoned with the writing “I don’t follow trends” and pants ending above the ankles, he still looks more like a hipster than a born-again Muslim.

“It’s painful,” Azri says of the laser treatment. “But it shouldn’t discourage people who want to be closer to God.”

Azri says that, as a band member, he lived a lifestyle that he was “too ashamed to recall.”

“One day I got tired of it all and told my mother, who has stood by me even when I lost my way, that I would start praying again.”

Ahmad Zaki, a social worker who founded a charity group called Punk Muslims, runs a mobile clinic offering tattoo removal services to those who have found their way back to religion.

“A tattoo is a sin that is visible until you die, unless you remove it,” says Zaki, during a tattoo removal clinic at a mosque in Purwakarta, about 100 kilometres east of Jakarta.

“You don’t have to remove it if it’s already there, as God is all forgiving, but it’s better if you can,” he says.

Andini Erisa, who was among nine women who took part in the tattoo removal session in Purwakarta, says she wanted to do away with a star on her right arm and a ring around her ankle.

“I’m getting married next year,” the 22-year-old says. “A three-year-old girl once told me that she wanted to have a tattoo like mine because it was beautiful.”

“I don’t want my future children to do what I did.”

Indonesian Constitutional Court rejects bid to ban sex out of wedlock

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has rejected a petition to criminalize consensual sex outside of marriage.

The petition was filed by a group of conservative academics, who argued that provisions in the criminal code on adultery should extend to sex involving unmarried people.

The petitioners also wanted sex between people of the same sex to be outlawed.

Five judges of the nine-judge panel rejected the petition.

The judges who rejected the petition argued that it was not in line with civil liberties afforded by the constitution.

They also said the court had no jurisdiction to change the criminal code.

“The fact that the legal provisions are incomplete does not make it unconstitutional,” the judges said in their ruling, adding that the petitioners should instead propose changes to lawmakers.

Rights groups had voiced fears that a ruling in favour of the petition would threaten personal freedoms.

Pre-marital and homosexual sex is not illegal in Indonesia, except in autonomous Aceh province where a version of Islamic law, or sharia, is in force.

“The judicial review brought by the applicants is an attempt to undermine human rights protection in Indonesia,” said the Community Legal Aid Institute, a non-governmental organization, in a statement.

“We hope that in the future the Constitutional Court can maintain its role as a negative legislator and will not bow to pressure from various groups that act in the name of religious morality,” it said.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, where many see sex outside of marriage as taboo.

Indonesia’s House speaker evades arrest in graft case

The speaker of Indonesia’s parliament has evaded an attempt by the country’s anti-corruption commission to arrest him as a suspect in a huge graft case, the commission said.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has accused House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto of corruption in a 440-million-dollar project to make electronic ID cards during the previous government.

Investigators came to Novanto’s house late Wednesday with an arrest warrant but he was nowhere to be found, said KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah.

“We’re still looking for him, but we don’t know where he is,” Diansyah said.

Novanto’s lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said his wife did not know where he was.

“The family is very worried but there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Losses to the state as a result of corruption in the project are estimated at 2.3 trillion rupiah (172 million dollars), according to the commission.

Novanto is also the chairman of the Golkar Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and an ally of President Joko Widodo.

KPK first named Novanto a suspect in the case in August but a court ruled there was insufficient initial evidence to justify the step in a pre-trial decision.

Last week, the commission again formally named him a suspect.

A wealthy businessman himself, Novanto met US President Donald Trump in September 2015, while the latter was campaigning for the presidency, to discuss investment in Indonesia.

After Trump came to power, President Joko tasked Novanto with establishing a rapport with the new US administration.

Novanto has denied any wrongdoing.

Two officials at the Home Affairs Ministry have been sentenced to seven and five years in prison in the case, while a businessman is also on trial.

More than 30 members of parliament from the 2004-09 period, plus a former Home Affairs minister, have been implicated in the case.

In April, a top investigator for the anti-corruption commission investigating the case, Novel Baswedan, had acid thrown in his face by two attackers.

He is still being treated in a Singapore hospital. Nobody has yet been arrested for the crime.

Local livelihoods at the mercy of rumbling Bali volcano

With just a bag full of clothes, Ni Nyoman Maneh fled her home near the rumbling Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian resort island of Bali and sought refuge about 20 kilometres away. Continue reading “Local livelihoods at the mercy of rumbling Bali volcano”