class=”pg-headline”>’They destroyed our trees’: Women say their farms were seized to support Indonesia’s electric vehicle boom

Masita, along with her entire village in East Luwu regency, was evicted from the lands they were farming in 2015 so that dog fucking a girl company could build a nickel mine, she said. Like Masita, many Indonesian farmers do not have any clear land titles — leading to land disputes and conflicts over territory. It’s a problem made even more complicated by the fact that some regions on the national mapping appear uninhabited even if the land has been cultivated for generations. Land in East Luwu was seized as part of Indonesia’s push to become a world leader in the surging market for nickel, a crucial element long used in stainless steel.

Extra demand has been created by the global push away from planet-heating fossil fuels toward renewable energy. Nickel is also used in lithium-ion batteries found in everyday objects like electric toothbrushes, laptop computers and cellphones. But those batteries are increasingly being used to power electric vehicles (EVs) and e-bikes. The government’s rush to expand its nickel processing and EV market has come at a cost to women like Masita who rely on pepper farms as their only source of income.

Farming is one of the few industries available to women for jobs and economic opportunity. Masita said she received a one-time payment from the mining company of around $50 million Indonesian rupiah (around $3,223) in exchange for the land. With the farm, the widow and mother of four could make up to 6 million rupiah (around $386) in one month from her year-round harvests. Now she’s lucky to receive a quarter of that selling cooked food like chicken curry from her small stall in a nearby village.

“If we weren’t evicted, we could have still earned millions of rupiahs. We’re not rich people, but it’s enough to cover our daily living costs,” she said. “Today, I borrow money from the bank … My life has become difficult.” Masita, a former pepper farmer, now sells meals from a small stall after her land was seized by a nickel mining company. Indonesia’s electric vehicle ambitions Indonesian President Joko Widodo has mandated the development of the EV industry as a national priority, introducing EV-friendly policies and incentivizing tax breaks aimed at luring foreign investment.

In recent years, he banned the export of raw nickel ore to encourage the development of the country’s own nickel processing facilities. Between 2015 and 2022, the value of Indonesia’s processed nickel exports surged from $1 billion to an estimated $30 billion, according to Reuters. Widodo has also mandated the development of Indonesia’s own domestic EV industry, aiming to compete against Thailand and India as a viable alternative to China, which hopes to become the world’s leading EV maker.

With it comes an ambitious goal to produce 600,000 EVs by 2030. Many of those vehicles are destined for overseas markets as countries aim to meet their national emissions targets by decarbonizing road transport, a sector that accounts for over 15% of global energy-related emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. However, Indonesia’s demand for nickel has meant farms, like Masita’s in South Sulawesi, have been seized to support the expansion of nickel mining operations, smelting centers and refineries, as many don’t hold formal land titles.

Now others fear their farm could be the next to go.