Friday, 2 January 2009

Pulau Malan... portrait of a village threatened by palm oil industry

Pulau Malan... portrait of a village threatened by the palm oil industry

By: Nabiha Shahab. The Centre for Orangutan Protection

Tura Village is one among a number of villages dotting the banks of the Katingan River in Central Kalimantan. The community like many villagers living on forest fringes in this country, are “spoilt” people.

They are spoiled by nature. They are never deprived, and never hungry.

Their land, which by “Javanese standards” and infertile with high acidity, is actually fertile enough, nurturing the people’s livelihood.

They plant rice with shifting agriculture system, a system they had used from generation to generation in their community forest. Of course it is different compared to Javanese irrigation rice fields that can be harvested up to three times a year. They left their rice to grow by itself, with no pesticides and no fertilisers to be harvested at most twice a year.

The community lived off the forest around their village. Some tap rubber and some harvest rattan. A barter system is still used here. A fisherman can trade his fish for some rice, sugar or salt from his neighbour.

They work according to what’s in season. They can catch fish, or tap rubber or hunt. Everything is within their hands’ reach. Now all the “ease” is threatened to be taken away by the industry.

In the past, the wood industry take away big logs for plywood, sawn timber and other wood products. Now the high demand for palm oil drove the expansion of palm oil plantations across Indonesia.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest has been cleared in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Now the industry have also reached Papua and threatened the livelihood of the indigenous people there.

The people of Tura, who were surprised when the district head of Pulau Malan told them that the forest where they had leaned their livelihood on, is eyed by the palm oil industry. The Tura village head then gathered strength by asking several neighbouring village to reject the industry away from their area.

It is not hard to imagine what will happen to the people and environment when the industry comes in and clear the forest, where the community had been living off. There will be no more easiness, no more abundant fish catch and forest products to support their living.

What else can the community do when all of this are taken off their hands?

Didn’t the government learn from their past experiences?

Plantation concession holders, that do not need to set up their plantations by clearing natural forests, prefer to cut down forests to capitalise on the wood that can be directly cashed far before their palm oil mature in five to seven years time. The same mode of operation that has been happening over and over again more than twenty years of forest plunder, destroying the environment and the social lives of forest dwelling communities, is sustained for the sake of the greed of a small number of people.

The result? Socially, lost of income and deception of the local communities and also the inciting of conflicts of previously peaceful peoples. Degradation of the environment lead to the instability of the world’s climate…

The Stern report recently said that to cut carbon emissions by half we need billions of dollars a year and to totally stop it we need to stop deforestation and forest degradation completely. Is this possible?

Are people who live in the cities like us should just keep a blind eye and not say a thing to prevent this disaster? Will we end up like the proverbial frog in the pot, that is slowly cooked under slow fire, not realising what was happening until the water is too hot and it got killed?