No bulldozers! Plans for reforesting

guardians of the forestRecently, Ruwi (Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto) visited Muara Tae to meet with the Dayak Benuaq tribe and learn what is needed for them to begin restoring the areas of their forest that have been illegally destroyed by palm oil companies. He sent this update for friends who supported the ceremony they completed in September 2014 to protect their ancestral forest in Borneo:

There is good news, there is sad news, and there is weird news. The good news is that Muara Tae is having their rice harvest these days, and the harvest is very good. The natural world has been very gracious to them. A family harvest averaged 200 jars of rice, which was more than enough, as usually a family needs 100 jars for a year. Masrani says it’s a good time to come and visit, with the harvest and fruit season. (Anyone..?) More good news: Masrani’s iPhone [donated by a supporter] fell into the river. He simply picked it up and let it dry for three days and now it’s back on again.

The weird news is that two coal mining companies operating in Muara Tae have pulled out. Probably they are just waiting until global coal prices rebound, though. And one more news: A sad one. These days many people from neighbouring villages come to Muara Tae for fruit, wood for their houses, and rice to survive. They beg, buy, and steal. One night, a truckload of people came to a rice field here, cut and loaded all of it into the truck, and sprinted away. Leaving behind tire marks and the tragic realisation of how poor our neighbours have become since they surrendered their lands and forests to the oil palm plantations.

There have been no disturbance from the police since January of this year, and there is still no more forest clearing by the companies on Muara Tae land. However, the threats are there. A new Chief of Village was elected in a rigged election. He is a company man. The Tribal Chief, who is protecting our people and forest, is being warned by the district officials. He was given three months to “correct” policies or he will be sacked. An election for Chief of District is coming in December. This is a time when political dealers meet with business interests. Whichever candidate promises to surrender more forest to industrial plantations will be the one winning the election. This is the way it has always been in political processes in the region.

Masrani has moved to his own house [at the time of the ceremony, he and his family shared with his father, Asuy, and his family]. It is not yet fully completed, so he and his wife and their two kids occupy one bedroom. And guess what? Masrani installed solar cells! I am so amazed. He said the cost is Rp 2.8 million (that’s about USD $250). This is the price of the cells, cables, current inverter (from DC to AC), and controller. The price excludes the battery, which Masrani got from a broken truck. The system is able to power three or four LED lamps, and a moderate use of the water pump. I said to myself that I should really look for this in Jogja — it will be much cheaper there, and will be a solution to the unreliable grid we are all on in Java.

I also visited Pak Kilo. It was the morning he came back from gathering honey. I wish I could go with him doing it. It’s an expedition into the forest. They put a big fire under the honey tree, then climbed with their specially made rattan ropes. Pak Kilo gave me 1.5 liters of the 40 liters they collected that night.

Everything is good, they tell me. Everything is ok. The worry and anger sometimes come visiting but are not staying and dominating.

On the last night of my visit, Saeful and Masrani called the others and we had a meeting. In that meeting, they agreed that it’s 700 hectres of land that they urgently need to replant and reforest. This 700 hectres is the frontier — in border areas of Muara Tae. Of this 700 hectres, 100 is forest already cleared by the companies but not yet planted, and 600 is areas cleared and planted already with oil palm. I told them that I will be happy if they would share with me their plan of action once they have it. 

I talked with them about bringing in others to support their reforestation with a “Let a forest adopt you” program. Of course, they are not amazed with the idea. They have always been in a mother-children relationship with the forest. The Adat Chief told me that when they go into the forest they offer the food that they bring with them and say, “Mother, here I am, your child visiting you. So please be kind, protect us and bless us with whatever we need from you.” So, if ever we get a “Let A Forest Adapt You” program going, our friends in Muara Tae will be ready.

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