MUARE TAE, Indonesia — The fate of a Dayak community deep in the interior of East Kalimantan demonstrates how Indonesia must safeguard the rights of indigenous people who practise a sustainable lifestyle if it is to meet ambitious targets to reduce emissions from deforestation, alleges an organisation that specialises in investigating environmental crimes.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) claim Dayak Benuaq of Muara Tae, in West Kutai Kabupaten, today face a two-pronged assault from palm oil companies aggressively expanding into their ancestral forests. Together with Indonesian NGO Telapak, the community is manning a forest outpost around the clock in a last ditch attempt to save it from destruction.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has witnessed at first-hand the Dayak Benuaq’s struggle, and how their sustainable use of forests could help Indonesia deliver on its ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
EIA Forests Team Leader Faith Doherty said: “There are more than 800 families in Muara Tae relying on the forests for their food, water, medicine, culture and identity. Put simply, they have to keep this forest in order to survive.
“The rhetoric from the President of Indonesia on curbing emissions by reducing deforestation is strong but on the front line, where indigenous communities are putting their lives at risk to protect forests, action is sorely missing.”
President Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce carbon emissions across the archipelago by 26 per cent by 2020 against a business-as-usual baseline, alongside delivering substantial economic growth.
Plantation expansion will inevitably be a significant element of growth, but it has historically been a major driver of emissions and it is widely acknowledged that in order avoid them, expansion must now be directed to ‘degraded’ lands.
The EIA believe that as a result of weak spatial planning, however, the forests of Muara Tae are identified as ‘APL’, a designation meaning they are not part of the national forest area and are open to exploitation. The EIA claim the theft of indigenous forests also raises serious questions as to what form of ‘development’ these plantations offer.
In indigenous communities such as the Dayak Benuaq of Muara Tae, Indonesia has perhaps its most valuable forest resource. It is due to their sustainable methods, honed over generations, that the forest even remains.
The remaining forest is home to a large number of bird species including hornbills, the emblem of Borneo. There are about 20 species of reptiles and it is also a habitat for both proboscis monkeys and honey bears.