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TCUS senior editor Kalpana Jain explores Indigenous communities in Indonesia − and learns about their struggles to reclaim land

The Conversation’s senior religion and ethics editor traveled the world to learn more about Indigenous populations. See one piece of what she discov…



Traditional grain houses inside a village chief's residential complex in West Java, Indonesia. Kalpana Jain

Kalpana Jain, senior religion and ethics editor at The Conversation, spent part of 2023 on a trip spanning over 20,000 miles, covering seven cities in three countries, as an East-West Center 2023 Senior Journalists Fellow to pursue issues around the role of religion and identity in the public sphere. On this trip, which included traveling near the border of Myanmar, Jain interviewed representatives from Indigenous communities, minority faith groups, journalists and activists, among many others. She reported on the rise in Buddhist and Hindu nationalism as well as the role of faith groups in promoting peace and care for the environment.

A 2009 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Jain pursued many social justice issues as a journalist at The Times of India. Her reporting in India led to many policy changes in the public health sector and won several awards. In 2019, she received a Pulitzer grant to pursue issues around rising Hindu nationalism in India. Jain has also worked as an editor, writer and researcher at Harvard University. Her case study on modern-day slavery is part of a Harvard course, and her book on the AIDS epidemic in India is taught at many Indian universities. She holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School.

The piece below on the Indigenous community in Indonesia, first published in the Christian Science Monitor on Oct. 10, 2023, shows the depth of expertise on The Conversation team on global issues involving religion, ethics and the impact of colonialism in today’s world. The Conversation is very proud to share it.

CISUNGSANG VILLAGE, INDONESIA: Once isolated from the rest of the world, the Kasepuhan Cisungsang – an Indigenous community in Indonesia – has been inviting outsiders to get a glimpse into their lives.

Their village rests at the foot of Mount Halimun in western Java, a six-hour drive from the bustling megalopolis of Jakarta. When visitors arrive, a band of musicians dressed in flowing black robes and colorful headdresses greet them by playing the angklung, a traditional bamboo instrument, while young girls dance. The guests are shepherded into a spacious hut where a Kasepuhan Cisungsang representative explains that the community is led by the abah, or father, and that they’ve lived in this forested area since before Dutch colonization.

“Our ancestors have left us a message to protect and defend the environment,” says Raden Angga Kusuma, the abah’s eldest son and crown prince of the village.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 50 million to 70 million Indigenous individuals, or nearly 20% of the country’s population. However, Indigenous communities’ claims to their homeland are precarious, often hinging on a community’s ability to convince local authorities of their Indigeneity. Add to that pervasive stereotypes about Indigenous communities being anti-development or stuck in the past, and the challenge for many of the archipelago’s Indigenous leaders becomes retaining their traditional culture and customs while also evolving with the times. For the Kasepuhan Cisungsang, opening to visitors is part of that strategic thinking.

Through a translator, Kasepuhan Cisungsang elder Apih Jakar shares another saying from their ancestors: “Cope with the dynamics of time and adapt with it.”

Battle over land

For the Kasepuhan Cisungsang and the 56 other Kasepuhan groups living in the Halimun Salak area of Java, the battle for land rights dates back to the 19th century, when Dutch settlers failed to acknowledge the communities living in and around present-day Mount Halimun Salak National Park. The colonizers’ demarcations and land practices persisted after independence in 1945. Under Suharto, Indonesia’s second president, Indigenous land was converted into state forests and redistributed as private concessions to rubber, mining and palm oil companies.

Throughout the Suharto era “the Indonesian government argued that the country had to catch up and needed to achieve higher rates of growth,” says Timo Duile, an anthropologist at the University of Bonn who has spent years researching land rights in Indonesia. “That could be done by cooperation with the West and by opening the country to foreign capital. … Land was an important issue that created a lot of conflicts.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that a historic ruling known as MK35 provided Indigenous people the opportunity to reclaim ancestral land. However, this has proved to be a long and complicated process.

An independent mapping initiative has recorded over 50 million acres of Indigenous land in Indonesia, but only 15% has been recognized by the government. Critics blame the bottleneck on slow bureaucracy, poorly implemented and conflicting forest laws, and corporate land-grabbing.

But the first hurdle many communities face is proving their roots.

Proving Indigeneity

A community’s Indigeneity must be recognized by an administrative unit in a province, known as a kabupaten.

A group can qualify if they have markings as an Indigenous people, such as following customary laws and retaining unique social institutions, says Muhammad Arman, director of advocacy for policy, law and human rights at Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, or the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago. But many kabupatens have ill-defined regulations, and proving Indigeneity can depend on the whims of local politicians.

“If you wear modern clothes, the government can say you have changed socially and culturally and therefore are no longer a member of an Indigenous community,” says Arman. Legal recognition is also no guarantee that a community’s wishes will be respected.

Mama Rosita Tecuari is one of several leaders from the Namblong Indigenous community in Papua province fighting to defend their land from the expansion of a palm oil plantation. A company got the license and a permit to use the land without any consent from the 500 tribes settled there, says Tecuari. Even after local laws recognized the Namblong community’s right to the land in 2021, the company has not retreated.

A group of five Indonesian men sit on a rug in a sparse but elegant room with a hutch in back. This is a room where they receive visitors. The men are royalty in this Indonesian community
Crown Prince Raden Angga Kusuma, far left, sits with other inner circle members on a rug in a room where visitors are received. He says, ‘Our ancestors have left us a message to protect and defend the environment.’ Kalpana Jain

“It’s not that we don’t want development,” she says, they just don’t want it to come at the expense of the environment. “We in Papua think of forests as our own hearts. If you clear our forests, it is the same as killing us.”

Still, for Indigenous groups to have a shot at local autonomy, they must show that they retain their Indigeneity. “To get land rights, they have to prove continuity between past and present with Indigenous institutions and Indigenous laws,” says Duile. “They can be in a process of change but have to convince officials that they are the same.”

History of transformation

That emphasis on continuity means that Indigeneity can get conflated with primitiveness, says scholar Rebakah Daro Minarchek of the University of Washington.

For her 2019 dissertation, Rebakah Daro Minarchek spent years studying how three Kasepuhan communities, including Kasepuhan Cisungsang, were embracing technology.

After the central government brought the internet to Ciptagelar village through a universal connectivity program and built a TV station and a radio station, villagers trained youth to interview elders on traditions and record their musicians. One village leader even turned to YouTube videos to teach himself how to use GPS technology to map land boundaries.

Daro Minarchek also observed Ciptagelar village send two young men to Japan to learn how to do commercial gardening and increase productivity. Many Indigenous communities are hesitant about certain kinds of education that distance youth from the community, she explains, but they don’t look down on education.

In the case of Kasepuhan Cisungsang, the crown prince and a few others have been allowed to go to a university under the condition they will return to their village and their way of life.

In recent years, the village has also invited international visitors to attend an annual harvest festival, known as Seren Taun, a thanksgiving ceremony for all the blessings received during the year. The tradition was captured in a 2016 short documentary called “Harvest Moon Ritual.”

This adaptation isn’t new, Daro Minarchek notes, pointing to the community’s religious practices. The Kasepuhan Cisungsang currently practices Islam but incorporates it with ancestral practices, including shamanic animism, along with Hindu and Buddhist practices.

“To say that this is a community from 700 years ago that hasn’t caught up to the future is dehumanizing,” says Daro Minarchek.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…



To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….



Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 


About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. 

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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.



Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 


This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

More Travel:

With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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