Frankincense, an aromatic tree resin used in perfumes and incense, is the primary source of income for local people in the area. The indigenous people that live in Sipituhuta and Pandumaan villages have farmed resin from benzoin trees in the forests for more than 300 years. Every Monday, most of the men would go to the forest to incise the bark of the trees. They would bring food, drinks, and supplies, working and sleeping in the forest before returning home at the end of the week. In 2009, PT Toba Pulp Lestari announced that it was expanding its pulp and paper operations in Porsea, near Lake Toba in Sumatra from 165,000 tonnes per year to 300,000 tonnes per year. Since then, the company has been clearing communities’ forests, despite on-going land conflicts and protests by local communities.
By destroying the forests and the benzoin trees, PT Toba Pulp Lestari is also destroying their livelihoods. “I struggle now to feed my children,” one of the villagers says to REDD Monitor.
“All that will be left is to be a TPL plantation labourer. I do not want to be a labourer.”
As conflicts between villagers and the company increased, the National Forestry Council recommended that Pandumaan and Sipituhuta villages be excluded from TPL concession areas in 2011.
The recommendation was supported by Humbang Hasundutan Regional Representatives Council (DPRD), which asked in 2012 to revoke the 2005 ministry decision letter to the district government.
In addition, they recommended that the company stop operating in conflicted areas altogether until solutions were reached. At the same time, they also proposed adjustment of the company’s designated working areas, which was at the core of the problem.
In 2013, 31 villagers were arrested trying to stop the company from destroying their forests. 16 of them are still in prison in Medan.
PT Toba Pulp Lestari’s mill is owned by Sukanto Tanoto, the CEO of paper giant APRIL and one of Indonesia’s richest men. Activists in Indonesia are now calling for a boycott of Paper One, one APRIL’s most well-known brands.
PT Toba Pulp Lestari was previously known as PT Inti Indorayon Utama. Since the mill started operations in 1989 it has faced resistance from local communities, because of deforestation to feed the mill and pollution from the mill. In 1998, massive protests by the local community effectively shut down the mill. In January 2000, then-Environment Minister Sonny Keraf recommended that the mill be closed down or relocated. Instead, the company changed its name, changed its board, raised new money and is now expanding its destructive operations.