A special investigation by the media outlet Newsroom has revealed relations between large-scale deforestation in West Papua and a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. Neville Mahon allegedly holds 51% shares in the Indonesian Digoel Agri Group. Three of the group’s subsidiaries, including the companies, PT. Bovendigoel Budidaya Sentosa and PT. Perkebunan Bovendigoel Sejahtera, operate oil palm plantations with a concession area of 78,630 hectares.
The analysis of satellite imagery illustrates that the companies have cleared vast areas of land since March 2021 (see photo on the right, source: Newsroom.com). Previous logging operations were temporarily stopped, allegedly because the companies did not pay salaries to their employees. The newly felled areas of the rainforest are marked pink.
The companies’ leaders claim “that the tree removal, delineation of wildlife corridors, land preparation and subsequent farming activity which occurs is to the highest farming and agricultural standards in the world”. Both plantations are located in the Boven Digoel Regency, Papua Province, where the Government has paved the way for the Tanah Merah project.
The agricultural project is still in the early stage of its development. In total, 270,000 hectares have been allocated to the mega project, mostly covered with pristine rainforest. However, the group was alleged of clearing forest areas without the consent of the indigenous land rights holders in March 2021.
Environmental defenders harshly criticize the Tanah Merah project. The implementation of the project is estimated to cause the release of hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon. Indonesia will likely not reach its targets in reducing carbon emission if the project is fully implemented. Moreover, such a huge amount of carbon is a threat to the achievement of the internationally declared goal to avoid climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.