Protecting the Last Forest of Lamandau

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Kompas, Indonesia

Lamandau, CENTRAL KALIMANTAN_Amid an expansion threat from an oil palm plantation, the youth of the Dayak Tomun tribe in Kubung village, Lamandau district of Central Kalimantan, have been in a planting frenzy in a bid to protect their forest areas. 

Albert Himawan, one of the youths of the village, was seen sorting out durian as others were unloading the green, yellow, and red spikey fruit from baskets. 

“Those were [harvested] from menyandau (waiting for fallen durian) in the forest all night," said Albert, speaking from his house in mid-January. 

Durian is one of the main fruits in the forest areas around Kubung Village. Albert says he can collect between 40 to 45 durians and sell them at a range of Rp7,000 (US$0.50) to Rp10,000 (US$0.71) each. 

“If you’re diligent enough, you can earn about Rp13 million (US$930) in less than a month. That’s [the result] of waiting all night in the forest. If you want to be rich here, then you need to go to the forest more often,” he said after earning Rp450,000 (US$32.19) that day. 

In addition to durian, Kubung villagers also rely on jengkol (Archidendron pauciflorum) as a source of income. 

Jonathan Pondar, 13, helps his parents harvest jengkol in the forest, approximately five kilometers from his house in Kubung village. On the day he spoke to this reporter, Pondar waited for Toni, 35, who had already climbed a jengkol tree, locally known as jaring, to throw the fruit down from above. 

“The branches need to be cut. If you take one fruit at a time, it will take a while because there are thousands of trees, we would not finish the harvest, even ‘till next year,” said Pondar, adding that it would take two to three years to harvest from the same tree. 

The inside of the jengkol is what's typically consumed, so after harvesting Pondar continues by peeling the skin off, a process that he says can take up to five hours in order to produce 45 kilograms of green jengkol. 

R.K Maladi, Pondar's father, said there are 1200 trees ready for harvest in his land, located in the Kubung forest. However, he has not been able to harvest all of them, adding that they can only harvest in January, February, and December. 

Based on participatory mapping by local villagers supported by civil society organizations, the total forest area managed by the local community of Kubung village reaches up to 23,000 hectares. 

“The amount of harvest we can produce actually depends on how diligent we are," said Maladi. "But we also get picky because during harvest seasons, we don’t just harvest jengkol, but other fruits as well, like durian, lanzones and others,” he added, noting that the price for jengkol can reach up to Rp15,000 (US$1.07) per kilogram. 

Maladi said he can earn up to Rp4,500,000 (US$322.39) for 300 kilograms of jengkol. 

For Himawan and Pondar, the simplest way to protect the forest and prevent it from being turned into plantations is by continuously planting.

“We don’t just throw away fruits we ate or collect. We will plant them back. That’s what my father taught me,” Pondar said. 

Kinipan villagers standing around and sitting on trees that have been cut down from their forest area. To this day, the village still struggles against the oil palm plantation expansion by a local company that has been clearing forest areas in Lamandau district, Central Kalimantan since 2015 / Credit: Dionisius Reynaldo Triwibowo

Rejects land clearing

While the indigenous Dayak Tomun tribe of Kubung Village continues to preserve customary forest through traditional means and ways, its peers in Kinipan Village, 100 kilometers away, are facing an imminent threat from an oil palm company looking to expand its plantation by clearing out about 1,200 hectares of their forest area. 

This prompted Nisa, a high school student at Batang Kawa State High School in Kinipan Village, to stage a peaceful protest along with dozens of other villagers to reject the land clearing and oil palm plantation expansion.

“I never went to the forest, but I know that my father paid [for] my school from selling durian, jengkol and honey,” said Nisa.

The protest included replanting the cleared areas with durian, jengkol, herbs and spices. 

Since 2015, PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML) based in Pangkalan Bun, West Kotawaringin, has cleared at least 1,242 hectares of forest area in Lamandau and Batang Kawa subdistricts. 

On March 19, 2015, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry granted the company a forest release permit, known as IPKH, for 19,091 hectares, of which 9,435 hectares are classified as core zone and 9,656 hectares are plasma.

Based on the land measurement by the National Land Agency on April 13, 2017, the company has been granted control over about 17,046 hectares of land. 

In October 2018, Haeruddin Tahir, Operation Executive of PT SML, in a meeting with local villagers and administration in Nanga Bulik village, Lamandau district, denied the allegations that his company had encroached on forest land in Kinipan village. 

Tahir went on to explain that the company's core area of operation, which had already been cleared, was in Karang Taba village, located at the borders of Kinipan village. 

This has lead a boundary conflict between the people of Kinipan village, which rejects the oil palm plantation entering and clearing their customary land, with the people of Karang Taba village, which approves and have sold their land to the company.

Willem Hengki, chief of Kinipan village said that the boundary dispute is still being resolved between Kinipan and Karang Taba village.

“I also want to take up [the status about the border] issue with leaders at the district level,” said Hengki. 

Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the South East Asian Press Alliance.