Wednesday, 25 February 2009

INDONESIA Church educates villagers on impact of oil-palm plantations

INDONESIA Church educates villagers on impact of oil-palm plantations

February 24, 2009

PONTIANAK, Indonesia (UCAN) -- The Church in Kalimantan is working with NGOs to educate villagers on the impact of oil-palm plantations in their areas.

Seventy companies are clearing land for the plantations in West Kalimantan province, which is covered by Pontianak archdiocese and Ketapang, Sanggau and Sintang dioceses.

"In many cases, people do not get much information about the plantations and their impact," said Kristianus Jumpat, executive secretary of the commission for socio-economic development of Pontianak archdiocese. "They just get promises from companies. So we need to inform them about the positive and negative aspects of the plantations."

Since early this year, a task force comprising 15 representatives of the commission and several NGOs has visited two of 50 villages in the affected area. The intention of the visits, to be conducted at least once a month, is to inform villagers about employment opportunities and infrastructural development as a result of the opening of the plantations. It also deals with environmental destruction as well as the possible problems of prostitution and drug trafficking that might arise.

According to Jumpat, oil palm plantations have reduced water flow and even dried up rivers and lakes, killing fish and other freshwater creatures. Forests and animals living in them have also been destroyed to make way for plantations. "Imagine the huge biological destruction when companies clear 10,000 hectares of forest, level the land with bulldozers and plant it with just one plant, the oil palm," he remarked.

Even before the task force was formed, the Church had organized programs in the area to empower villagers. In 2004, the Pontianak archdiocesan commission set up a Training and Education Center in Nyarumkop village, about 300 kilometers north of Pontianak by road. More than 1,000 villagers, mostly farmers, have attended training on how to make organic fertilizers, breed cattle and manage their finances.

"Selling land for a low price to companies is common nowadays. We are trying to tell villagers not to sell their land but instead cultivate it. This is also a way to save the environment," Jumpat said.

In 2005, the Church commission started to organize campaigns against environmental destruction through posters, leaflets, pamphlets and stickers, as well as through its annual Lenten action program.

This year, the Catholic Church in Kalimantan has chosen "Rebuild Kalimantan as God's creation in the diversity of life" as its Lenten theme, according to Capuchin Father Yeremias Melis, the commission's chairperson. "The Catholic Church has the moral responsibility to save Kalimantan," he said.

Meanwhile, neighboring Ketapang diocese on Feb. 7 organized a seminar on the same topic.

In his talk, Bishop Blasius Pujaraharja of Ketapang said plantations bring both positive and negative results. "We have roads connecting villages, but we also see many springs drying up," he pointed out. He called on Catholics to cooperate with others to maintain the ecological balance. "We cannot work alone," the prelate said. He appealed to all people, especially Catholics, to take immediate action, "starting with planting fruit trees in our house compounds."

Yohanes Terang, a Catholic farmer who attended the seminar, noted that the government has funds for reforestation and environment preservation. He asked the Church hierarchy to cooperate with the government in executing such preservation programs.