Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Where pristine rainforests once stood.

Report from Palm Oil Plantation Visits in Central Kalimantan,
June 2007 by an Indonesian NGO hired by Nature Alert
with the support of a UK charity.

The photos show land that had until recently been covered by rainforest.

My trip to many areas in Central Kalimantan has just finished, but the impression is still strong in my mind. Almost all of the jungle is now turned into a mono cultural plantation, palm oil producers.

I thought I must have hidden myself for so long in the National Park, where I used to work for three years, and not knowing what was really going on out side of the Park; a massive destruction of bio-diversity is happening nearly every minute.

I was glad to get some good shots of excavators in action, but when I was taking photos and recording the moments, my heart cried with the trees that are torn down by the giant merciless machines. The sound of the machine mixed up with the scream of those poor trees, in my imagination. Don’t we know that human needs them? I questioned in my heart.

Later, the same horrible scenes were enacted over and over again, and it became no longer a surprise during my journey, more and more land the palm oil plantations want to occupy, less and less forest remains, and less wild life will survive. I saw a long tailed monkey that was searching for food in the middle of the road between Sampit and Palangka Raya, he was collecting the palm nuts that fell off from the trucks. I believe this monkey was not the only wildlife that was suffering from the lack of food.

The orangutan probably suffers the most from the deforestation by the plantations. Because the orangutan is the one of the biggest mammals in the forest of Borneo, the size of their body demands a large source of food. The destruction of the forest habitat put them in the forefront for extinction. Beside struggling for their food they also suffer from hunting and presence of the palm oil plantation company that won’t allow orangutans to share the land with them; although maybe only to go across the land to go to another patch of the forest near by.

I had chance to chat with a staff member who worked for the GEMA REKSA MEKARSARI company in Lamandau District, he told me (even proudly) that his friend has just shot an orangutan in their area when he was hunting in the forest next to their palm oil plantation a few days earlier. I controlled myself not to let the anger in me take over my mind when they were making fun of this poor big male orangutan. They said that the orangutan’s belly was burst from the bullet and they guts were spilled out. It is hard not to be sad.

Another story of orangutan killing I heard was from a government official in the same area who used to work for a palm oil plantation company. He told me that the orangutan were easily seen before when he was still working for the palm oil plantation, and when they, the orangutan showed up, they would just grab a gun and shoot them, and give the meat to the Dayak people for their meal. It is known that the Dayak people from this area eat orangutan meat.

Some local people I met during my visit adored the palm oil company because they got a job from them, but some others who still insist on keeping their original work in farming, have to endure great sadness from the palm oil plantation’s greediness for land. A lady from Batuhambawang village in Lamandau District had lost two of her rubber trees plantations from fire last year. One part of her land had 2000 rubber trees in it; the palm oil plantation that is located next to this lady’s plantation was burnt and the fire spread out to her land. In the beginning she could only cry for her misfortune then when she was brave enough to complain through the head of the village to the palm oil plantation company, she got a small compensation for the trees she lost. The company paid her about 200 US$ (Rp. 2 million) for all her lost trees, about the same amount that is needed to buy the young rubber trees, but the rubber trees of hers originally were already ready to be harvested, and it takes 5- 6 years for a rubber tree to be ready for harvesting.

First she has to plant the trees again, and then she has to wait for another 5-6 years. Is it fair for this old lady? Plus, now the other company is taking advantage of this widow lady’s natural source from her land. This lady has stones for building material on her land, every day two or three times a day, a truck from the palm oil company (PT. GEMA REKSA MEKARSARI) takes her stone to build the road in their plantation, and she has been paid nothing by the palm oil company for the stones. She is considered weak as a person because she is old and mentally weak because she lacks of the courage to speak up, so they just take advantage of her.

After all, my travels in Central Kalimantan, I have come to the conclusion that the expansion of the palm oil companies is extensive and the destruction to the forest has been devastating. Is it just to increase Indonesian export until it reach the 0.9 % of the total world export as Marie Elka Pangestu, the Minister of Trade wants? (Rakyat Merdeka newspaper, 11 May,07)? Must we sacrifice the orangutan and the world’s richest bio-diversity in Kalimantan? Must we allow the farmers and the other people indigenous to the land who presently live there and make a living from the forest to be superseded and oppressed by the greed of a few rich corporations?

The present time will pass as surely as the clock ticks
Never, ever to go back to the same as it was before..
The present time is the most important time for the well being of the future.
Will we regret later when we look back to these times?
Or will we be glad of what we have done ?
20 July 2007