Who is Destroying the Forests in Borneo?

Who is Destroying the Forests in Borneo?

One of the triggering factors for inter-ethnic conflicts in West Kalimantan (Kalbar) is the unfair management of forests and agricultural land in West Kalimantan.

For many, this situation seems nonsensical. How could the management of Kalimantan’s forests suddenly become a source of dissatisfaction, and who should be blamed?

Whether we like it or not, this is the reality we must confront. The exploitation of Borneo’s forests has reached a critical point. In fact, over 30% of West Kalimantan, equivalent to 146,700 square kilometers of land, has turned into barren wasteland due to excessive logging.

One of the major issues in the management of Kalimantan’s forests is the perception of “injustice” within this system. On one hand, Forest Concession Holders (HPH) harvest both large and small timber, while on the other hand, local residents who rely on wood for household needs are considered thieves. Yes, they are regarded as thieves in their own homes!

The entry of HPH into Kalimantan’s forests began with the enactment of Law No. 1 of 1967 on Domestic Capital Investment (PMDN).

This was justified by the idea that forest management would benefit local communities, as stipulated in Law No. 5/1967 on the Basic Principles of Forestry and Government Regulation No. 21 of 1976 on Forest Ownership Rights and Forest Product Harvesting.

As noted by Walhi, conservation concessions have increased dramatically in the last two decades. In 1968, for example, there were only 25 timber concessions, but this number increased to 574 by 1990.

At the same time, wood production also saw a sharp increase, with timber harvested rising from 6 million cubic meters in 1967 to 31 million cubic meters per year in 1990.

The success of this industry is reflected in foreign exchange earnings from wood exports, which soared from $3 million in 1960 to $300 million in 1988.

Shortly after the launch of these concessions, West Kalimantan witnessed the arrival of the PIR (Peoples Plantation) and HTI (Industrial Timber Estate) packages.

These packages were well-received by many, especially investors who knew these projects would soon yield profits. Under the pretext of “helping the poor community,” investors successfully convinced local residents to relinquish their land ownership rights.

The destroyers of Kalimantan’s forests are not the indigenous people (who would never burn their own kitchen), but rather forest entrepreneurs, illegal miners, and greedy investors.

The approach used by investors was quite persuasive. Initially, they opened roads, compensated local residents for their land, and employed local workers at minimum wages.

Research conducted by Syarief Ihrahim Alqadrie from Tanjungpura University, Pontianak (1996), revealed that in the HTI location in Sanggau Kapuas, the local workforce mainly consisted of high-ranking project supervisors.

Unfortunately, the forest mapping often conducted for PIR and HTI disregarded the fact that these areas were the customary land of local residents, leading to conflicts of interest between forest managers and local residents.

When residents demanded their rights, they were seen as obstacles to development, and unfairly labeled as legally ignorant.

It’s no wonder that many conflicts and riots have erupted between entrepreneurs and local residents in West Kalimantan’s forests. One example is the Jekak case in Ketapang (1994), where there was a conflict between concession holders and landowners, and the expulsion of illegal loggers in Sengah Temila, Pontianak Regency.

Similar conflicts have also occurred in mining and gold mining projects.

The issue of unfair forest management is likely to continue. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Indonesia has not yet ratified ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, issued on June 27, 1989.

On the other hand, the indigenous Dayak people of Kalimantan have various patterns of forest ownership.

As a result, resistance to injustice and arbitrariness has emerged as a local community’s effort to defend themselves, in line with the Dayak motto: “Step on a dog’s tail enough, and it will bite, especially if provoked by human negligence!”

So, the destroyers of Kalimantan’s forests are not the indigenous people (who would never burn their own kitchen), but rather forest entrepreneurs, illegal miners, and greedy investors.

In the image that serves as an illustration for this narrative, we witness sand mining or dredging within the Kapuas River.

This could potentially lead to riverbed sedimentation and may cause significant future floods in the Kapuas River. It’s an example of environmental degradation driven by short-term goals and a group of people without consideration for the long-term environmental effects.

How is it possible, and impossible, for the Dayak people to harm the environment that serves as their breath, longhouse, and their own habitat?

For thousands of years, the indigenous inhabitants of Borneo have demonstrated their ability to wisely protect their customary territories.

However, now the Dayaks are confronted with formidable forces, in addition to the ever-increasing prevalence of the “post-truth” era.*)

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