Merauke Regency is located in the south-eastern part of Indonesian Papua, in a region ecologically characterised by flat forest, savannah and swamp land. Papua is home to the third largest tropical forest in the world and after the Amazon and the Congo Basin. The region is traditionally inhabited by a big number of indigenous groups, the biggest one being the Malind people (1, 2). The Merauke region has long been seen by the state as having good potential for productive large-scale plantation agriculture (2, 3). The initiative to the establishment of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) was taken by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the estate has been further endorsed by current president Jokowi. The project was initiated in 2011, in line with the Presidential Regulation No 32/2011 regarding the ‘acceleration and expansion of the economic development of Indonesia, 2011–25’ (2, 3, 4). Merauke has been referred to as the 'future breadbasket of Indonesia' and the MIFEE aims to increase national self-sufficiency in food-crops such as rice, corn and sugar and thereby reduce the dependency on food imports. However, as of 2014, a large part of the concessions granted were for crops to be exported (5, 6). The department of agriculture decided to allocate 1.6 million hectares to MIFEE, an area that did not only include agricultural land, but also primary and protected forests, residential areas and indigenous settlements (3). More recent sources claim the estate to have reached around 2.5 million hectares, occupying land belonging to 160 villages in Merauke (6, 7). As a result of high labour demand at the plantations, an influx of 2-4 million migrants are expected to the region, which has actualized the discussion on genocide (7, 8). Prior to its establishment, the region was by the government referred to as 'unproductive and sparsely populated' (6). As such, negotiations concerning the design of MIFEE included only the central and regency governments without seeking consent from the local population (3). Today around 80 companies operate in the estate and MIFEE has been referred to as a 'textbook landgrab' (5). Activists and opponents claim the government to be using the argument of food security to justify domestic and foreign investments in the region, as well as its prioritisation of those over the rights of the Malind people to its customary territory (2). Forest Peoples Programme in a joint effort with 26 Indonesian organisations have repeatedly submitted a 'Request for Consideration of the Situation of Indigenous People in Merauke' to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (7, 9). As a response to one of those, submitted in 2011, the Committee referred to an earlier letter sent by CERD to the Indonesian government, dated 28 September 2009, where it urged the Indonesian government to take actions toward ensuring the rights of the country's indigenous peoples (10). However, no measures seem to be taken by the government, and rapporteurs have been denied to enter the area (5).
The struggle against MIFEE spans across different scales and involves a large number of organisations whose areas of concern cover conservation, indigenous rights, social justice and humanitarian support. Those are organised into bigger networks, such as the Civil Society Coalition Against MIFEE (Masyarakat Sipil Tolak MIFEE), which organizes 30 local and national organisations, as well as one of its members Papua NGOs Cooperation Forum (Forum Kerjasama Lembanga Swadaya Masyarakat Papua, or FOKER LSM Papua), an umbrella organisation with 118 members. The struggle also involves national organisations such as Green Peace Indonesia, WALHI and PUSAKA (5). On local community level, mobilization and resistance has been seen in the form of street protests, damage of company property, installation of signs around plantations urging companies to leave, occupation of company offices, official pledges to the regency government, among other actions (7, 11, 12). Despite this, the MIFEE remains intact and in operation.