No Man’s Land

“No Man’s Land” is an attempt to show the effects of landgrabbing on villagers in Indonesia. After a large part of Sumatra’s rainforest has been destroyed, investors have started to expand into Papua since 2010.

  • Auszug aus dem Paradies: Das Papua-Dorf K. hat gerade 14.000 ha Land an einen Investor verpachtet – zu einem Spottpreis.
  • Ihre Zukunft steht auf dem Spiel: Indigene Kinder in Papua.
  • Hotlan hat bei einem Überfall seinen Daumen verloren – ein Palmölkonzern will sein Dorf vertreiben.

The NGO UEM and Bread for the World assigned me to report on a three-weeks work meeting on landgrabbing with activists from Asia, Africa and Europe. It consisted of several research trips in small groups to Western Papua and North Sumatra and ended in a conference, in which the effects of land grabbing (mining, palm-oil, deforestation) on indigenous people in the area were documented for UEM’s advocacy work at EU level and at the German embassy in Jakarta.

No Man’s Land is an attempt to document the process and the effects of landgrabbing on villages in Indonesia. After a large part of Sumatra’s rainforest has been destroyed, investors have started to expand into Papua since 2010. The photos show a village in Papua that was hornswoggled, and a community in Sumatra who resists landgrabbing – at a high prize. Whenever the company’s militia attacks, there is nobody to help them. They are surrounded by palm oil plantations, everyone else had left. (article here >>)

Before this voyage to Indonesia, I had edited articles on landgrabbing, but did not fully understand its dimension. In Sumatra we travelled along nothing but palm oil plantations for a full day until we came to one of the few remaining villages which dares to resist its expulsion. Its only neighbour for dozens of miles is the company that wants to get rid of them to expand further. When a militia attacked the village few months before our visit, nobody could see the flames when their huts were set on fire and nobody heard their screams when some of them were mutilated. Still, most community members – men, women and children – stay on their land, with their ancestors’ graves in their backyard. Migration would empoverish them even more.

Since the food price crisis in 2007-2008, landgrabbing has spread like a disease all over the Global South. If an investor approaches a village and it is unprepared to foresee all consequences – which is usually the case – it will probably loose its land, its livelihood and its social cohesion within months. As goverments and investors usually do not meet their duty to wait for a “free, prior and informed consent” on land issues, NGOs like UEM have an important task in informing communities at risk and in procuring formal land titles. I have continued my research and reporting on land grabbing since this memorable encounter, because I think that it is up to photographers and journalists to inform the world on these large-scale human rights abuses. This is a topic that should concern all of us, as our choices in consumption can trigger or stop it.