Oil palm is today the fastest growing monoculture in the tropics. Indonesia is the world's largest producer. The country has witnessed a massive conversion of customary (adat) land to oil palm (and fast-wood) plantations. Between 1967 and 2007, oil palm monocultures have increased about 50 times and the government is planning to expand the area under plantation.
Starting in 1979, PTPN XIII has become a pioneer of oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan. Established with World Bank support, the oil palm plantation in Parindu was designed to complement a transmigration program to which 80–90% of the project’s land was allocated. The remaining 10–20% was to be allocated to local communities that would, in return, transfer their land to PTPN XIII. Local communities strongly protested this policy. They could not accept the fact that not only they had to give up their land to the transmigration scheme but that, while the transmigrants would participate directly in the oil palm scheme as smallholders, they could only participate by giving up further land to PTPN XIII under the 3:2 formula*. Although the government tried to overcome community objections by various means, the community continued to voice its sense of injustice, notably through demonstrations, and rejected the scheme. In the face of these persistent objections the government finally changed its policy by carrying out an oil palm plantations project exclusively for local community smallholders but with no transmigrants. Yet the damage had been done and the bad relationship between the government (including PTPN XIII) and local communities persists. As a consequence, any consultations now carried out by PTPN XIII never get a serious response from villagers (Colchester et al., 2008).
Another example of irregularities is the fact that since the handing over of their customary land to PTPN XIII over 20 years ago, there are still families who surrendered their land but have not yet received their promised smallholder plots (White and White, 2011).
In May 2010, three members - two women and one man - of Anbera Hamlet were arrested, tried and convicted for the theft of 60 kg of palm kernels (worth approximately US$ 7). This was the first court case against palm kernels thieves. Despite the fact that the two women were willing to return the berondol they collected, PTPN XIII insisted to have the case tried. The accused villagers obtained legal assistance from a local NGO and the case caught the attention of West Kalimantan’s Regional Representatives of National People’s Representative Council, with the assistance from one of DPD members who even sent a Note of Protest to the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises (as PTPN XIII is a state-owned company). Following this publicity, the three Anbera villagers were released despite the fact that, in the formal statement of court verdict, the two women were sentenced to 1 month jail with 2 months probation, while the man accused of illegal oil palm trading was sentenced to 20 days jail with 2 months probation. The case also was publicised in both local and national media; judging from the way the news was written, the media were also in support of the three local villagers, especially the two women. White and White (2011) wrote that "The release of the berondol [palm kernel] scavengers was considered a rare case of successful local resistance against the big oil palm company, as more often the stories are about local communities or NGO workers who helped advocate their cases ending up in prison." The authors continue by saying that in stark contrast to this case, when PTPN XIII celebrated its 15th anniversary in one of the luxury hotels in Pontianak (March 2011), the Head Director stated that the company was expecting annual profits of approximately US$ 100 million by 2014.
* That is: 5 ha of local land becomes 1 ha for the local peasant, 2 ha for peasant-owned oil palm plantation, and 2 ha for the plantation.