January 23, 2009 The Jakarta Globe
Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Villagers Say Forest-Protection Program Having the Opposite Effect
Representatives of two villages in Timur Tengah Selatan district in East Nusa Tenggara Province have criticized a government program meant to curb deforestation in their area.
Rison Taopan arrived with a small group in Jakarta from the villages of Polo and Linamutu to denounce the Forest and Land Rehabilitation Movement “We want the government to return the rights to manage the [Besipae] forest to local people,” Rison said during the rally his group held on Thursday in front of the Ministry of Forestry. “[The program] has done nothing good for us. It has only brought misery and drought.”
The Forest and Land Rehabilitation Movement, also called Gerhan, was introduced by the Ministry of Forestry in 2003 to restore critical lands by planting new trees.
By virtue of a presidential regulation that was issued in 2007, the movement was implemented nationwide.
But Rison claimed that the program had instead destroyed 400 hectares of the 6,000-hectare Besipae traditional forest in Polo and Linamutu.
“There were no rehabilitation efforts in the area, only massive logging,” he said. “We demand an explanation from the government.”
Rison said that the villagers had already gone to the district and provincial administrations to air their grievances, but they were told to consult with the ministry.
Accompanied by members of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi, the villagers rallied in front of the Ministry of Forestry,
reiterating their rights as caretakers of the Besipae traditional forest.
Nikodemus Manao, who came from Polo village, said he could not farm his rice field because rivers had dried up. He said the rehabilitation program was to blame.
“We didn’t have any trouble getting water for drinking and irrigation before, but now we have to travel five kilometers just to get to the water source,” he said.
Nikodemus said that drought started to hit his village in 2006, or three years after the forest and land rehabilitation program was launched.
Masyhud, the head of the information center at the Ministry of Forestry, said only that certain individuals were at fault, not the whole program. “It is obvious that there are rogue officials taking advantage of the program,” he said.
Masyhud urged the villagers to submit evidence and the names of people or companies suspected of illegal logging.
Rison said that they had already done that. “The facts are in front of their eyes. We can also give more evidence, but we have no authority to investigate.”
Masyhud said his office would follow up the villagers’ report, but he offered no timetable.
“We will send our officers to investigate the case as soon as possible,” he said