- New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest rainforest, also contains the world’s largest planned oil palm plantation.
- Covering 2,800 square kilometers (1,100 square miles), the Tanah Merah project is almost the size of the US state of Rhode Island.
- However, the true owners of the seven concessions that make up the project remain hidden through a shroud of corporate secrecy.
- We speak with Philip Jacobson, editor of Mongabay, and Bonnie Sumner, investigative reporter at the Aotearoa New Zealand Newsroom organization, to discuss the project from its inception until today, the involvement of a New Zealand businessman and the direction the project might take. .
The sixth episode of Mongabay explores New Guinea shares what has been learned from nearly two years of investigative reporting by Mongabay, Malaysiakini, Tempo, Earthsight and The Gecko Project, as well as what we know now about the Tanah Project Merah – and still don’t know – including who owns this company that is currently converting a giant swath of rainforest into palm oil plantations.
The Tanah Merah project, which is located in the Boven Digoel district in the Indonesian half of New Guinea, threatens the dense, primary rainforest at the heart of the giant island. If cleared, an area of tropical forest cover and native land twice the size of Greater London will be lost and release as much carbon as the US state of Virginia burns in an entire year.
But who owns it?
No one knows for sure, as the project is split into seven different concessions, each owned by a host of companies, many of which are housed in secretive offshore jurisdictions that conceal their true owners.
While the project has changed hands several times since its inception in 2007, three concessions are currently held by Digoel Agri. We spoke to Bonnie Sumner of the Newsroom news agency, who was able to meet New Zealand businessman Neville Mahon who, at the time of their interview, was listed as the majority shareholder of the three concessions owned by Digoel Agri .
We also spoke with Mongabay’s Southeast Asia Editor, Philip Jacobson, about the project’s complex web of disguised transactions, financial dealings, legal loopholes and policy implications, and the current situation. of the project in light of the recent lifting of an Indonesian government. moratorium on new palm oil permits.
Mongabay Explore is an ongoing episodic podcast series about the world’s unique places and species. Each season plunges into new areas with astonishing natural heritage, their environmental challenges and their conservation solutions. This season he explores the great conservation and cultural richness of New Guinea. If you missed the first five episodes of this season, you can listen to them here.
Sounds heard during the intro and outro include the following: rusty warbler, growling rifleman, raggiana/little bird of paradise, superb fruit dove, long-billed honeyeater, lesser thrush, brown cuckoo dove, black-headed lori. Special thanks to Tim Boucher and Bruce Beehler for identifying them.
Musical ambiance credit: recorded in the Adelbert Mountains in Papua New Guinea by the communities of Musiamunat, Yavera and Iwarame in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Zuzana Burivalova/Sound Forest Lab.
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Banner image: An indigenous Auyu man and child in Boven Digoel. Image by Nanang Sujana for The Gecko Project.
Mike Di Girolamo is Mongabay’s Public Engagement Associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, instagramor TikTok via @midigirolamo.