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.
In 2004 in the present case, representatives of the three villages and some 30 more tribes coming from the region of Tongod met Sabah’s Deputy Chief Minister of Land in Kota Kinabalu. The group demanded the government to recognize customary rights and to halt reallocation of lands to logging and plantation corporations. In Tongod and across Sabah, entire villages have been resettled against their will. Important areas of rainforests and farms have been clear-cut. Replanting in oil palm monocultures is causing erosion, contamination from agrochemicals and loss of livelihoods. Peaceful protests have resulted in both government silence and police repression. With the assistance of NGOs, villagers have filed a court case against the State and two plantation companies. The case is the first deliberate test of Sabah’s land tenure laws with regards to indigenous peoples.
After a long legal battle that involved different appeals, residents of seven indigenous villages of the Tongod region are now closer to their goal of benefiting from the recognition of their ancestral land. In March 2012, a High Court decision to allow their case to go to trial.