Sembuluh Voices

Stories from the Palm Oil Lake

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This is the second of the Films4Forests initiative community and company dialogues films.

Central Kalimantan 2007: deforestation continues to accelerate, the rise of biofuels has caused the demand for palm oil to skyrocket. The people of Sembuluh are watching as the forests surrounding their village are destroyed, replaced by vast monoculture plantations.

Ibu Haji 3 - Version 2

“The palm oil plantations will be here for at least thirty years. What’s going to happen to people here? What hope is there for people with nothing, no land? I’m begging the government to be more selective when choosing investors for this area.

Palm oil began to expand into the Sembuluh area in 1995. By 2006, more than 1.1 million hectares of land in Central Kalimantan had been granted for palm oil concessions. Many local people in Sembuluh have found that their claims to customary land rights have been ignored.  


This is my land…According to this document, all these oil palm trees are on my land. All the information is clear on this tribal document…my land has been taken illegally by the oil palm plantation company PT Hamparan Persada.

The area around Sembuluh, when still forested, provided an important habitat area for orangutans. Since 2005 over two hundred orangutans have had to be rescued as the forests were destroyed. The increase in erosion due to deforestation has had negative effects on Sembuluh Lake: the fish stocks have halved, and children are suffering from skin diseases. The common company practice of using fire to clear land – though officially illegal in Indonesia – is causing a sharp increase in respiratory diseases. The depletion of natural resources has caused the once thriving local boat building industry to all but perish.

Haji 2 - Version 2

“Where can we find the raw materials? We know that in these plantations, even wood as small as matchsticks and cigarettes gets flattened by the companies.

In this film the villagers are given the opportunity to testify – directly to the companies involved – and explain the tragic environmental and social consequences to their lives and their landscape. The companies are asked to respond to these testimonies.