Salt firm leaves Indonesian farmers feeling bitter

Locals in West Timor fear the coming of an ecological catastrophe as mangrove forest is eaten up for industry
Salt firm leaves Indonesian farmers feeling bitter

Heavy equipment is used to clear a mangrove forest for salt company PT Inti Daya Kencana in West Timor’s Malaka district. (Photo supplied)

Farmers and fishermen in West Timor — mostly Catholics — have called on the Indonesian government to revoke permits granted to a salt company they say has destroyed much of their land and risks causing an ecological disaster.

Hundreds of hectares have been affected, including mangroves on the southern coast of Timor Island, they claim.

They are also seeking help from the local church.

The locals say their land and coastal areas are being encroached upon by a private firm called PT Inti Daya Kencana looking to develop the salt industry in East Nusa Tenggara province’s Malaka district, near the Timor Leste border.

Media reports have said the company is looking to swallow up 2,500 hectares of land, or the equivalent of four sub-districts.

Jefri Bria, a local resident said about 430 hectares of land has been destroyed.

"Around 200 hectares are mangrove forests that have been protected for years by the indigenous community. The rest is communal land," he told on March 6.

He said, around 10,000 farmers and fishermen in ten villages were affected by the company's activities, which locals have opposed since the company arrived in 2017.

"We have no idea why it still operates because it does not meet basic requirements, such as providing an environmental impact assessment as required by law,” he said.

During a government-mediated meeting in November last year, the company claimed the assessment was near completion.

“The company’s representative told us that ‘we just work first, the environmental analysis will follow,’" he said.

Ferdinandus Seran, a tribal leader, said the company's activities have damaged their livelihoods and ecosystem.

"Erosion is threatening our lives," he said.

Father Hironimus Kore, the local parish priest in Atambua Diocese said his parishioners want the company gone.

"They promised to create jobs, but that was only for short period of time," he said.

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"These people need help, and I for one will support them," he added.

Support is also coming from Jakarta with activists and students having staged a series of protests, calling for the company to cease operations.

On March 6, the government demanded an urgent meeting with the company after receiving complaints from the farmers and activists.

The Franciscan Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation has also vowed to assist in legal matters following a plea for help from locals.

PT Inti Daya Kencana could not be reached for comment.

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