Forests for people or people for forests: Notes from Papua

Freddy Pattiselanno & Agustina Arobaya (Universitas Negeri Papua, Manokwari).


Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces on New Guinea encompass 404,600 km or approximately 42 million hectares (Baplan 2002) of which 80% is tropical forest. The term of “Papua” on its own, is used to represent both the provinces of Papua and West Papua. It is currently considered an area of global s priority for biodiversity conservation due, in part to, the species rich forest environment for the Australopapuan fauna as well as many uniquely New Guinean species (Robbins 1971 mentioned in McPhee 1988).

It represents one of the highest levels of flora and fauna diversity and endemism in Indonesia; 15,000-20,00 plants, 146 mammals, 329 reptiles and amphibians and 650 birds inhabit the diverse ecosystems of Papua. These 1,125 species comprise more than 50 percent of Indonesia’s terrestrial vertebrate fauna biodiversity (Conservation International 1999).

Forests for people

Commercial forest product

Commercial forest product

Forests and the benefits they provide in the form of food, income and watershed protection have an important and often critical role in enabling people around the world to secure a stable and adequate food supply. Forests are important to the food insecure because they are one of the most accessible productive resources available to them.

Sastrapradja and Rivai (1989) indicated in Indonesia 4.000 plant species that currently directly utilized by people and approximately ¼ of them was cultivated. Several studies conducted in Papua indicated that using plants was commonly found among ethnic groups in Papua.

Buah merah food source and medicine

Buah merah food source and medicine

Using plant for ornamental purpose was playing an important role among ethnic groups in Papua, because local people was dependently on local tradition and culture that require natural resources (plant and animal) for the traditional ritual and cultural ceremonies.  In addition, though modern medicine is currently provided, native Papuans are still rely on traditional medicine.  Different studies in some parts of Papua indicated that the use of traditional medicine is still put into practice.

Food sources from coastal sites

Food sources from coastal sites

Many people in West Papua rely on the benefits obtained from the extraction of plants and animals in the tropical forests. Currently, limited access to domesticated meat and the easy availability of wild meat from the forest are major reasons for those who live in remote areas participating in hunting.

Gathering and hunting activities conducted for the purpose of obtaining food and collecting ceremonial materials also play important roles in their traditional cultural life. For instance, hunting of some bird species is performed for both meat supplies and for acquiring their colorful plumes for traditional costume decoration (Beehler 1985; McKinnon 1984; Petocz 1994).

Decision to hunt or trade wildlife depends on both nutritional and economic reasons. In addition, available opportunities for free food from nature and alternative income for the low income farmers is often drove people to perform hunting. In Papua for example, the geographical barrier lead to a problem for livestock distribution program by the government.

However, access to the copious wildlife sources in the forest is unlimited therefore local people take advantage from wild animals’ species for their dietary protein. Therefore, they may still depend on wild meat because its cheaper and more accessible. This is true because in remote areas where accesses to animal protein from livestock are limited local communities mostly rely on windfall of wild animals sources in the surrounding forests.

Land conversion for agro-industrial purpose

Land conversion for agro-industrial purpose

Along with the province development the dependence on extraction industries and agricultural industries lead to unsustainable use of the forest resources. In Papua, land conversion includes extractive industries such mining operation, forest concession and agriculture plantation (oil palm, cacao and coffee) tends to increase over time.

Human activities are highly variable in their influence on the components and attributes of biodiversity. Deforestation and coastal development for example, have escalated over the last 10 years and are leading yet unmeasured. Deforestation impacts loss of mangroves due to logging and road construction, thus though the estimation of 85% areas in Papua covered by intact forests (GRM International 2009), most of the lowland forests have been designated for logging and agriculture (Mangubhai et al 2012).

Any human activity that results in substantial resource extraction or modification will always entail significant, often un-known, and almost always unappreciated consequences for one or more biodiversity components, primarily by re-directing matter and energy flows.

Conversion, degradation and fragmentation threaten the integrity of Papua’s forested ecosystem. What should be done?

People for forests

The Government of Indonesia (GOI) policy on forest moratorium has been implemented in related to the allocation of forested land for conversion to oil palm and other agro-industrial crops in late 1998.

Over the last 15 years the policy dialogue in Indonesia’s forestry sector has been dominated by proposal to reform the HPH – Forest Exploitation Right related to timber concession system. The central aim of this reform has been to reduce Indonesia’s aggregate timber extraction rates to supposedly sustainable level of 25 million m3 per year.

Human development brings with it an increase in the number of roads to fulfill transportation needs, but this rise has costly implications for nature. Why are roads so bad for rainforests?

Road development

Road development

The expansion of roads not only leads to increasing loss of forests at a rate of 50 football fields a minute, but it also spew billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. Scientific evidence shows that road-less area are critical in maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem processes, connectivity and overall ecosystem integrity. Therefore, maintaining road-less area is urgent for preservation of native biodiversity and potential in providing sufficient habitat for viable populations of species of conservation concern.

Furthermore, the implementation of relevant regulations and strengthened law enforcement is needed to encourage better practices for extraction industries such as logging and mining.

Legislation is the essential pre-cursor to an effective EIA system (Wood 2002) however the legal basis of EIA systems in many developing countries may be weak, non-mandatory or non-existent. A common weakness of legal provisions for EIA in developing countries is that they are often expected, unrealistically, to resolve environmental problems resulting from the absence of, or shortcomings in, environmental planning and pollution control systems.

It is particularly urgent that local government agencies improve their overall coordination in order to achieve the more efficient counseling provisions, increased monitoring and strengthened law enforcement needed to encourage better mining practices. Periodical monitoring is important to ensure that contractors comply with their commitment to lessen their environmental impact. Such monitoring can also secure working conditions for employees and fulfill their social responsibility. Sanctions over substandard compliance need to be implemented as a disincentive for poor performance.

Notes: A summary of paper presented at the Institute of Foresters of Australia National Conference (7-11 April 2013, Rex Hotel, Canberra)

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