MAC: Mines and Communities

Poboya, Rio Tinto and PT CPM

Published by MAC on 2002-04-06


(Notes from Mengeruk Emas Menebar Bencana, JATAM/SPRA, Jan 2002)

Original in Bahasa Indonesia. Translation by DTE 6th April 2002

Introduction (by Chalid Muhammad)

PT Citra Palu Mineral (CPM) is only one of many companies with plans to mine in Indonesia. The majority shareholder was Rio Tinto[1]. The company is lobbying hard to open a gold mine in Poboya-Tahura Forest Park in Central Sulawesi.


The Poboya-Palu Forest Park[2] is located in the hills east of  Palu, the provincial capital of Central Sulawesi. Local people call the area the Kambuno mountains. In terms of administration, this forest park comes under the control of Donggala district forestry office, although the hamlet of Poboya lies within the Palu municipality -  about 7km from the city centre and 3 km from the airport.

Poboya hamlet covers 14,035 hectares of a valley surrounded by rugged hills.  It lies at 200m above sea level. The area has some tree cover, including endemic species of sandalwood, ebony and rattans. There is also extensive scrub and grassland. In addition to its rich biodiversity,  Poboya has an important hydrological role. This is part of the water catchment area which supplies the city of Palu.

The forestry minister decreed that the Poboya area should be protected as a  Forest Park in 1995 (SK Men No.461/Kpts-II/1995). The Poboya Forest Park[3] covers 8,100ha made up of Poboya Nature Reserve (1,000ha); Paneki Protection Forest (7,000ha) and 100ha of reforested land. The Forest Park status means the area has a high conservation value and allows it to be used for research, education and tourism. 

Natural resources

The Forest Park is a hilly area with a characteristic ecosystem dominated by sandalwood (Santalum album), Acasia sp and extensive areas of shrubs and grasses. Orchids are to be found in the Poboya part, while the Paneki part has many tree species such as Anthocephalus sp, Callophylum sp, Dryera lowii, Dracontomelon magniferum and Ficus sp. Ebony (Diospyros celebica) has also been replanted in the park. The fauna includes the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), pigeons (Geopelia sp); eagles (Elanus hypolaneus) and monitor lizards (Varanus sp). Protected species such as deer (Cervus sp); the endemic dwarf buffalo (Bubalus sp) and various primates are commonly seen along the rivers.

Poboya has a number of springs and fast-flowing clear rivers including the Mavuta, Kawatuna and Poboya. These are important water sources for the local community and the Palu valley. For example, the R. Vatutela supplies Tadolako University, including the lecturers’ housing complex. Local people catch fish, eels and shrimps in these rivers.

Indigenous people and local knowledge

Many traditional settlements (known locally as ngapa or boya) are still to be found within the Poboya-Palu Forest Park. Two of these are Vatutela (officially part of Tondo hamlet) and Poboya Bulili (officially part of Poboya). These communities have lived in this area for generations – long before it became a Forest Park.

Most of the indigenous people in and around the Forest Park practise a traditional form of agroforestry based on their local knowledge. Their use of natural resources and land is much the same as their ancestors’. Coffee, coconuts, cocoa, candlenut, maize and rice are the main crops. For example, under Bulili customary law, primary and secondary forest and water sources are owned communally. There is a high degree of social cohesion and land disputes within the community are unknown. The forest and other land is used rotationally. Mature forest is used for collecting non-timber forest products such as rattan (used for building their houses) and hunting  – although hunting is now forbidden in the Forest Park. Some of this forest, by mutual agreement, can be cleared to grow crops, then allowed to become secondary forest and eventually mature forest again. Some areas are specifically allocated for cultivation or hunting. Each type of forest land has its own local name and customary practices. As part of the Bulili’s customary lands is rugged hills and gorges, the areas which they farm may be a considerable distance from their homes, but it is still part of their territory. The boundaries of their lands are only marked by natural features such as rivers.

Other communities, like the Tara and Ledo, make a living on the savanna-like grassland through a mixture of cultivation and livestock rearing. Sheep and cows are grazed on the grasslands and the people grow a range of crops even on the steepest slopes by piping water from springs and streams. They also rely on collecting and trading non-timber forest products.

In these and many other ways, local communities have developed their unique land use systems, customary practices and cultivation skills in response to their natural environment. However, the local economy has been affected because Poboya-Paneki has been declared a Protected Area. The authorities are trying to restrict traditional land use practices in the name of conservation. Ironically, at the very same time, the local government has opening up the area for mining. Such contradictory decisions make the local people confused. Hence the banner at the entrance to Vatutela which reads “We reject the Forest Park and Mining”.

Sacred places

While some of the forest is used rotationally for cultivation and agroforestry, other parts are considered sacred and cannot be touched. For example, the Vatutela community recognises three kinds of sacred forest or pangale katumpua.

Many of the indigenous people of the Forest Park use these areas of sacred forest for special ceremonies, such as to call for rain during a prolonged dry season. Many are along rivers towards their sources. People believe their ancestors lived there high in the hills, before the communities settled in the valley. At one such location -  Pomene on the R. Poboya -  there are two ancient grave sites. Less than 1km from this sacred forest, PT Citra Palu Mineral has made four exploratory bore holes.

The arrival of PT CPM

Reasons for rejecting the Poboya-Palu mine

Other Rio Tinto and Newcrest operations (more detail in original)



[1] UK-based mining giant Rio Tinto planned to sell its  90% stake to Australia’s Newcrest by mid-2001, but there has been no official confirmation that this sale went ahead.

[2] Taman Hutan Raya (abbreviated to TAHURA)

[3] Officially called Tahura Poboya Paneki, but commonly known as Tahura Palu or Tahura Poboya

[4]  The report does not include a map, so it is not clear exactly what the area of the Poboya mine will be within PT CPM’s huge concession area. Only 500ha (page 25) or 14% of the Park (p27) may be taken for the mine – the rest could be outside. Hence PT CPM’s interest in changing the boundaries of the Forest Park.

[5] However, his predecessor, Brigadier General Bandjela Paliudju, sent a letter to the Department of  Mining and Energy (No. 540/537 29 Nov 1997) saying the mine would not harm the Forest Park as only 14% of it would be used. It is also not clear whether the new governor would permit the mine to go ahead outside the Park by moving the boundary.

[6] Mining within protected forests is banned under the Forestry Act No. 41/1999. Note that the mining concession was granted in the Suharto era, 2 years before the new Forestry Act was in place. This bans mining in protected areas, but mining companies argue it cannot be retroactive. Pobobya is just one of  50 cases which are the focus of a major battle currently taking place between the Indonesian Forestry Department and the Mining & Energy Dept as to whether mining can go ahead in protected forest areas.

[7] Error in original?

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