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Increasing Deforestation to Affects Indigenous Communities in Indonesia

Deforestation by increasing palm oil plantations and the launch of the food estate program will adversely affect the indigenous Papuan communities in Indonesia.
Papua's deforestation picture from Greenpeace Indonesia

Deforestation by increasing palm oil plantations and the launch of the food estate program will adversely affect the indigenous Papuan communities in Indonesia.  

Indonesia reported a decrease in the rate of deforestation by 75% or 115.5 thousand hectares. The above data is from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) in 2019-2020. But deforestation rate increased in Papua, the largest province in Indonesia. 

Papua has 46.59% of Indonesia's forest, while 40% of deforestation occurs in Papua. Papua is home to the highest biodiversity in the world. Papua needs protection as it is the last stronghold of Indonesia's tropical forests. 

Nataniel Mandacan, Regional Secretary of West Papua Province, said that the Papuan regional government is currently in line with the 2018 International Conference on Biodiversity, Ecotourism, and Creative Economy (ICBE), where Papua will be used as a conservation area.

"We will keep the forest cover up to 80%. This is Papua's commitment to Indonesia and even the world," said Mandacan.

All land and forests, regulated by the government in various legal products and development planning documents, belong to indigenous peoples. The indigenous people are affected by deforestation in Papua. 

According to Bustar Maitar from the Econusa Foundation, Papua has the largest forest cover area currently in Indonesia.

Deforestation in Papua will have a significant impact on efforts to overcome climate change.

Currently, 25 out of 32 companies have obtained permits for releasing forest areas in Papua Province between 2011 and 2019. One among them is a Korean company called Korindo, a palm oil company with the largest land in the interior of Papua.

Meanwhile, 20.2% of the 16.8 million oil palm plantations in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua are in forest areas.

The emergence of licensing in Papua allegedly involves business interests, state officials and members of influential political parties, and retired police generals.

"Forests that have not been converted into plantations can be saved and returned to indigenous Papuans," said Asep Komarudin, staff at Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, an NGO.

The enormous expansion into the forest in Papua has caused many negative impacts for the indigenous Papuan.

Since 2013, the Government of Papua has proposed a specific approach to development in Papua.

Plans for providing incentives for indigenous peoples are in force so those forest areas can still benefit and be protected. However, many parties take advantage of the economic difficulties of indigenous peoples in Papua by providing inappropriate compensation and destroying forests.

In this regard, Nico Wamafma, Greenpeace Indonesia's Papua Forest Campaigner, stated that "The government must place indigenous peoples who own the land as the main actors in managing land and forests, not prioritizing investment interests that only benefit them." 

Nearly one million hectares of forest in Papua Province have been released from forest purposes since 2000 or almost twice the size of the island of Bali. Most of the releases were for the benefit of the palm industry.

In addition to expanding oil palm plantations, the food estate program can be another cause of deforestation. The government claims to anticipate food scarcity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a concern that the food estate program can be used as another reason by the government to clear forests to encourage further deforestation.

The government has launched a food estate as one of the National Economic Recovery (PEN) programs to anticipate the crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. President Joko Widodo placed food estate as one of the 2020-2024 National Strategic Program (PSN) agenda. 

The government has determined the location of the food estate projects in four provinces, namely, North Sumatra, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Papua.

Since the beginning of the food estate development plan, it has received an objection from various circles and experts. The priority of the food estate program as part of PEN is certainly worrying because it will cause environmental damage.

The development of this food estate program is increasingly opening up opportunities for increased deforestation because the location of this project will be outside of the existing oil palm plantation permits.

Meanwhile, the impact of deforestation not only results in environmental damage, where the habitat of plants and animals will be disturbed, but also harms the people around, because the area is vulnerable to fire, pollution and the loss of food, medicine, and water sources.

Augustinian Father Bernard Baru, a human rights and environmental activist, assesses that forests have immeasurable value for Papuans.

"Forests are places where they can provide a sense of security because there, they can be away from places of conflict and will find food available in nature for them to eat," the priest said.

For indigenous Papuans, who have hunting and gathering tradition, the forest is a "puskesmas" (local health center), a place where they depend for food and medicine," Father Baru explained.

The Papuans see the forest as a mother, not an object of exploitation. They have long lived in harmony with nature. Therefore, they believe that nature can be a protector for them. 

"For Papuans, nature is not a forest to be feared. Nature is the place where they have lived since ancient times. Nature is mother. Because in nature, there are hamlets, there is a place for clans, where they come from, where they also get protection from the spirits of their ancestors, the spirits of nature," Fr. Baru said.

Father Baru adds, "If nature is only seen as economic consumption with large investments coming in, destroying forests and nature, then clearly there is resistance, there is resistance."

Meanwhile, Jora Pither Kramandondo, a resident of West Papua who is a private employee, is concerned about the deforestation that has penetrated Papua.

"Deforestation for oil palm plantations in the Papua region has an impact on the reduction of forest land and even sago trees as a food source for the indigenous people of the Papua region," he said.

"In addition, this situation greatly affects the lives of indigenous Papuans, especially women who develop greater responsibility for providing household food. Because for Papuan women, the forest is their production space where they work, so if we work in the women's office, they work in the forest," said Kamandondo.

For the Papuan women, the forest is a giant market. The forest is their pharmacy, and there is food, water, medicines, and safe spaces. 

Papuans consider sago as an essential value - more than just a food source, but also an identity, division of tribal areas, efforts to protect the environment and matrimonial culture. 

Sago is like a mother who provides for people. The sago forest contains four main benefits for the lives of the Papuans, namely as a source of clothing, shelter, food and ecosystems.

Of the approximately 5.5 million hectares of sago land in Indonesia, 5.2 million hectares are in Papua and West Papua provinces. Forests are home to sago in Papua. Clearing the forest is the same as starving the Papuans. 

Although the Papuans are still struggling to defend their ancestral lands, there is little hope from the Sorong district government, where the mayor is defending the rights of indigenous peoples.

Recently, Sorong's mayor Jhony Kamuru, revoked the permits of several oil palm plantation companies due to the incompatibility of the land use permits that had been issued.

The struggle of indigenous Papuans for their ancestral forest is still far away and will continue because losing the forest means losing their source of life. - Emiliana Saptaningsih



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