Exposing Deforestation in Papua

The province of Papua is the largest of all the provinces in Indonesia. Incredibly, more than 75% of it is still covered by dense tropical forest making it an amazing an interesting place to visit and also a target for those wishing to destroy these forests for profit. Recently there was a film produced to expose the deforestation of this Indonesian treasure.

Papua holds one of the largest areas of forest in the Asia Pacific region. It is also both a home and the grounds for a livelihood for some of the world’s most culturally diverse indigenous peoples. Yet Papua’s forest and people have been facing severe threats from exploitative and unsustainable legal and illegal logging and there are plans for millions of hectares oil palm plantations.

For a long time, the threats to Papua’s forest and people have never been told to the world because of the central government’s policy of banning foreign journalists from visiting the Papua province. Despite the government’s policy, the world can today watch Papua’s deforestation and the impact this has via secret filmings. A unique film compilation on Papua’s deforestation was launched in the last week of November 2007, by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which investigates and exposes environmental and wildlife crimes, and the Jakarta-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Telapak.

The film contains four stories about deforestation and its impacts in Papua’s regencies of Fak-fak, Sorong, Manokwari, Bintuni and Mappi. The film reveals previously unseen stories of timber, oil palm and agar wood companies and horizontal conflicts. It shows environmental damage and the loss of traditional land rights and livelihoods. In some cases these problems are linked to intimidation and deception against the indigenous Papuans. The five short films, launched under the collective banner “Save the People and Forests of Papua“, were entirely conceived, shot and edited by NGO filmmakers from Papua working in collaboration with local communities adversely affected by destructive logging and oil palm plantations. You can see the damage being done to Papua’s rainforests — which the indigenous Papuans rely on almost entirely for food and shelter — through uncontrolled logging and palm oil plantations.

The Papuans traditional way of life is being threatened by the wholesale destruction of their forests. Much of the wildlife, including pigs, deer and birds which the indigenous Papuans from the Mooi tribe rely on for food, have been driven out by deforestation and oil palm plantations. Another film shot in Manokwari regency tells how the indigenous Papuans were deceived for the state-sponsored palm oil plantations.

Tribal leaders were brought by the government to Medan in Sumatra in 1982 to learn about palm oil plantations. The film, then, shows the loss of the locals’ rights to the ancestral land and the destruction of their forests due to palm oil plantations. Promises that palm oil would sustain them for generations fail to materialize and the plantations fall into neglect as they become unprofitable. And the tribal leaders are now regretting their involvement with palm oil plantations. The indigenous Papuans give their testimonies through the film on how their rivers have been polluted by undiluted palm oil from factories, and it shows how they develop rashes when they wash in it.

But the films also convey a message of hope. It shows growing efforts by Papuan civil society groups and local communities to genuinely participate in decisions concerning utilization of their ancient forests. The native Papuans would like to play a vital role in avoiding further loss of the forest. Learning from Papua’s deforestation, as revealed through the films, the government should produce more environmentally friendly policies to preserve the rainforest within the territory of Indonesia.

Ordinary Indonesians could also learn something from the film — they might understand the importance of preserving their rainforests, see the terrible impacts of deforestation, and realize other social and cultural problems generated by the presence and activities of the timber and oil palm industries.

The impact of deforestation in Papua is directly endured not only by Papuans but everybody on earth thorough the increase of global warming. A global action, then, should be taken toward preserving Papua’s rainforest. But this action must also address the problem of poverty in the western half of the island of New Guinea. The international community needs to support any policy and actions taken by the governor and the local people to save Papua’s forest and people.

The writer (Neles Tebay) is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, Papua.