Hydropower plant in Poso causes flooding of farmland – Peasants go on hunger strike

Farmers living in villages around lake Poso in the Poso District of Sulawesi Tengah province, Indonesia, have gone on hunger strike to protest against the loss of their farming land. They gathered in front of the Governor’s office in the city of Palu on 24 May 2022. Four protesters cast their feet in cement and announced they would go on hunger strike (see photos on top and below, source: Yoanes Litha, Voice of America) until the provincial government had come up with a sustainable solution for the ongoing land conflict.

The farmers called upon the Sulawesi Tengah Governor to protect the interests of local communities around Lake Poso against the company PT Poso Energi. PT Poso Energi should immediately stop lake dredging activities and other operations threatening the ecological balance at Lake Poso. The farmers urged the company to re-establish a natural hydro cycle so that farmers could cultivate their ancestral land.

The peasants fear their existence might be threatened by the presence of a hydropower plant PLTA Poso. The massive hydropower project was officially inaugurated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo on 25 February 2022. The power plant has caused the flooding of communal farmland and houses around the Poso lake since it launched its first operations in 2020. The power plant provides electricity for the provinces Sulawesi Selatan, Sulawesi Barat and Sulawesi Tengah.

Background

PT Poso Energi, a subsidiary of the Kalla Group owned by the family of none other than former Indonesian vice-president Yusuf Kalla, began constructing the hydropower plant without informing about the potential negative effects of the mega project on the local communities at Poso Lake. The mega project had serious effects on the lives of communities around Lake Poso, which is the source of water to drive a total of eleven turbines from PLTA Poso I (4×30 MW), PLTA Poso II (3×65 MW), PLTA extension (4×50 MW).

The water level of Lake Poso has significantly risen from 504 meters above sea level up to 510 meters due to the constructed dams. Buildings and farmland were flooded and became unusable, affecting about 550 households. Most of them are farmers who depend on their land as a source of food and financial income. Many farmers domesticate cattle and plant rice, Indonesia’s number one staple food.

In the Tokilo village, Pamona Tenggara District, half of the land used for cattle farming was flooded. The villages Tindoli and Tolambo were also affected. Before the existence of the power plant, residents of the three villages domesticated as many buffaloes as they could. Now, they are limited to a maximum of three buffaloes per family. The villages’ governments introduced this policy to ensure that the remaining grassland produces sufficient food for all cattle. Local fishermen also reported negative effects of the project.

Since 2020, 266 hectares (657,3 acres) of farmland comprising rice fields and gardens have been flooded. Hundreds of farmers filed a lawsuit against PT Poso Energi to hold the company accountable for the losses they experienced. The company only agreed on a compensation value of 10 kg of rice per acre of flooded rice fields or Rp 87,000 (€ 5.54) for each acre of flooded land to the farmers. The compensation was later raised to Rp 130,500 (€ 8.32) per acre. This compensation is too low, considering that one acre of rice field produces around 40 kg of rice or Rp 362,500 (€ 23.1) per acre.

The farmers complained that this is far from enough to cover their income loss. Most of them refused the offer and demanded more. However, many of them have taken mortgages on their land or house and do not have many options but to accept the unfair compensation. The 266 farmers who accepted the insufficient payment had to sign contracts that free PT Poso Energi from further responsibilities and liabilities. Many affected families have difficulties covering daily living expenses and their children’s education. They are threatened to drift into poverty.

As of today, neither the local government nor PT Poso Energi has offered alternative land for the peasants. While the farmers support projects for green energy, they emphasize their right to their ancestral land and their self-sustaining food production practice. PT Poso Energi and local authorities have reportedly suggested the farmers move elsewhere or start new occupations and sell their land to the company.

On 28 March 2022, the civil society initiative ‘Alliance of Poso Lake Guardians’ published a press release in which local NGOs urged the:

  1. PT Poso Energi to fairly compensate farmers and fishermen for losses caused to local communities at Lake Poso between 2020 and today;
  2. General Director of PT. Poso Energy, Mr Ahmad Kalla, to resolve the environmental, social and economic damages caused by the operation of the Poso I hydropower plant;
  3. Central Sulawesi Provincial Government to ensure that PT Poso Energi must take responsibility for all environmental, social and economic damages caused and to find a fair solution for the affected communities.

Photos of peaceful protest in Palu, 24 May 2022

Four farmers are casting their feet in cement. They want to go on hunger strike until the local government has come up with a solution for the loss of their lands (source: Yoanes Litha, VOA))
Protesters gathered in front of the Governor’s Office in the city of Palu, Sulawesi Tengah Province. The peaceful demonstration was closely monitored by the police (source: Yoanes Litha, VOA)

Further background information here.

Detailed Case Data
name of the location: Danau Poso
administrative region: Indonesia, Sulawesi Tengah Province, Poso Regency
total number of victims: dozens
period of incident: 25.02.2022
perpetrator: PT Poso Energi
perpetrator details:
Issues: cultural rights, food, environment
Sources:
Further HRM News:

NumberName, DetailsGenderAgeGroup AffiliationViolations
dozensunknownunknownunknownfarmers cultural rights, food, environment