Plantations, Mining and REDD a Threat: Dayak

Source : Jakarta Globe – October 25, 2011

Expanding oil palm plantations, mining concessions and even forest conservation projects are threatening to wipe out the traditional way of life of the Dayak tribes of Kalimantan, tribal elders say.

A group of 10 elders representing four Dayak villages in Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan, said on Monday that they had been in Jakarta for the past week to present their case to the Forestry Ministry, the House of Representatives and the National Land Agency (BPN).

Berkat, the head of Katunjung village, said his tribe was fast losing its ancestral lands to operators of oil palm plantations and mines, as well as to groups running schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

“The way we see it, our traditional way of life stands to disappear,” he said. “The management of forests should comply with both government regulations and tribal requirements, but the latter are always overlooked.”

Tanduk, the head of neighboring Pulau Kaladan village, said indigenous communities were usually left out of the management of their ancestral forests by operators and government.

“It’s like some stranger just walks into your bedroom and does heaven-knows-what with your wife, all while you’re there,” he said. “If there is no respect for our traditions in governing our forests, how can our way of life continue?”

Tanduk said that what the Dayak tribes were ultimately seeking was the return of their ancestral lands, allocated by the government to plantation and mine operators.

“We will gladly give the land back to the local people to set up rubber plantations and so forth, but only as long as it’s what they want and not what the government is imposing,” he said.

The Petak Danum Foundation, which advocates forest conservation through indigenous methods and is supporting the Dayaks in their cause, said that even well-meaning REDD projects were considered outside meddling.

“There’s no need for any outside intervention to get the tribes to protect their forests,” said April Perlindungan, an activist for Kapuas district. “They don’t need to be taught how to grow rubber trees or fish sustainably — that’s already their way of life. We just need to let them do as they’ve always done, and engage them in discussion.”

He cited the case of forest rehabilitation efforts in the wake of the Mega Rice Project, a scheme in 1996 to clear-cut a million hectares of centuries-old peat forest in Kalimantan for rice paddies.

“You had people coming in trying to block up the canals dug to drain the peat swamps, but they never succeeded because they never consulted with the locals,” he said. “On their own initiative, though, the locals reforested the land, dug ditches to re-divert the water back into the swamps, and built fish ponds that doubled as reservoirs. They’ve always known how to protect the forest.”

Abdul Hamid, an elder from Katunjung village, said the issue of REDD schemes had caused a rift within the village, with some residents supporting the efforts and others advocating traditional conservation methods.

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