Parapat, North Sumatra – 20 July 2022. A giant banner unfurled by a team of local women activists reading “North Sumatran Women Against Deforestation” floats upon Lake Toba. The action conveys a message to the participants of the W20 Summit in Parapat, about the importance of protecting forests and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous Women, from the threat of deforestation and land theft.

“This action conveys our call for the W20 Summit to promote gender equality, health and an inclusive economy, and highlight ongoing discrimination and marginalization of women. We should reflect on what is happening in the forests of North Sumatra and its surroundings. Many Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous and rural women, have lost their livelihoods due to land and forest theft by big companies, for the sole purpose of making profit,” said Sekar Banjaran Aji, Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia.

Indigenous Women in North Sumatra and almost all parts of Indonesia have long been victims of structural inequality and exploitative development that does not pay attention to gender issues. Various development programs have led to social conflicts and environmental destruction overriding women’s rights. Women are the most vulnerable to losing their livelihoods due to forest destruction and land grabbing, and often experience violence in areas of agrarian conflict.  

“Although President Jokowi signed four decrees for customary forests in Lake Toba in early February 2022, it has not answered the problems of Indigenous Peoples in Lake Toba. There are still many agrarian conflicts that have not been resolved. In the name of development, land grabbing continues. Besides expropriation of customary lands, forest and environmental damage is also not taken seriously. Land grabbing carried out due to the presence of PT Toba Pulp Lestari has lead to structural impoverishment for more than three decades, and has contributed greatly to worsening women’s quality of life,” said Rocky Pasaribu from local NGO KSPPM.

The presence of two large companies, PT Toba Pulp Lestari and PT Dairi Prima Mineral, has impacted the rights of rural women in the Toba region and destroyed their forest of Kemenyan (benzoin) incense trees. Environmental damage has caused local climate changes that make it difficult for farmers to successfully plant. Farmers often experience crop failure due to unpredictable bad weather. 

In mid-2020, a new threat came with the birth of a large-scale Food Estate project. The project, which was billed as a food security program to deal with future food crises, has in fact eliminated the culture, experience, and knowledge of women in local farming styles. They now must rely on the market system determined by the government and large corporations. This project, like the previous agricultural projects, will only give birth to new conflict, food industrialization that marginalizes the community, and the monopolization of agricultural lands. 

G20 member countries must play a strategic role in improving environmental sustainability and climate crisis management. Indonesia as the holder of the G20 Presidency must ensure that there is a more ambitious agreement reached promoting sustainable economic development, by shifting to equitable renewable energy and ending land-based economic and development policies that benefit elites while encouraging deforestation, depriving Indigenous Peoples and farmers of their rights.

Organizations involved: KSPPM, Greenpeace, KPA, AKSI, RAN, AMAN, BAKUMSU, BITRA, PDPK, Petrasa, YAK, Yapidi

Media contacts:

Rocky Pasaribu, Study Group and Community Initiative Development (KSPPM) 0852-5262-4955

Sekar Banjaran Aji , Greenpeace Forest Campaigner, 0812-8776-9880

Photos and videos of the action here: