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The last of the Indonesian forest?

By Colin Ricketts - 02 Jan 2014 11:40:0 GMT
The last of the Indonesian forest?

Wouldn't you love to visit the habitat of the wild Sumatran tiger? - if there are any left when all the wood has been extracted from Indonesian forests. With only a few hundred tigers left, in pockets of less than 50, Panthera tigris sumatrae parts have also been found, smuggled out to Taipei and other Chinese destinations. There is obviously no place left for them to thrive; Sumatran tiger image; Credit: © Shutterstock

The EU is creating some improvement in Indonesian forest conservation. The sponsored auditing process by which trees are tagged with serial numbers is wide open for abuse, but this is an attempt to introduce a legal structure to a thoroughly corrupt system. The disappearance of 2 million hectares (20,000 square km) of forest lands under mining and logging "permits" is the sign of a trend, as we watch species, large and small become extinct. Think also Sumatran rhino, Asian elephant and orang utan, but also tiny insects, other mammals and birds. The use of Far Eastern paper products and palm oil has to be considered carefully now we know how they are produced.

The Indonesian jungle leads EU timber imports from Asia, with the government hoping to double its timber exports to $2 billion pa. However, that clear conscience we have in western countries is rarely matched by transactions that are arranged in Indonesia. Emily Harwell writes for Human Rights Watch, but obviously cares about habitat as she comments, "this system is basically asking, do you have a permit, and if you do, that box is ticked. It's saying anything that the government does is considered legal."

Emily's interest also stems from the reputation of the Indonesian Forestry Ministry. The national Corruption Eradication Commission is hopefully feared by all such officials. When this respected KPK comes calling, the reason is often suspicious logging permits achieved through sheer bribery. The necessary environmental impact assessment or community consultation (carried out in only one-sixth of cases) is often sidelined while the timber companies carry on regardless.

Many countries run this same system, corrupt to the very heart of the wood! Police have been involved in Indonesia, following the arrest of Labora Sitorus at his $150 million business in eastern Papua. His timber products have likely provided you with cardboard, dining table and even your beautiful floor! Other nation's military are extensively involved in timber industries, although it is often impossible to check a top general's business interests !

Borneo has been more successful, with Sumalondo Lestai Jaya tagging everything it cuts and using Dayak communities near Berau to negotiate their concession's usage. The locals get cash, school tuition and some infrastructure, after this one company realised they were stripping the forest and giving nothing back. The people who changed their minds were WWWF Indonesia, who have worked tirelessly in all the major islands for conservation of some of the fauna and flora. The Berau forest is now gone, of course, but at least that one company (Sumalondo) can now hope for the EU Forest Stewardship Council's superior certificate of fair trade and sustainable actions.

The backlash could be that we need to stop buying timber completely, even when the claims of sustainability can be backed up with a piece of paper. Japan or Australia, the US or the EU may then continue buying of course, unless the agreement at the consumers' end is international and as verifiable as the forestry ministries certificates may become, in time. The forest is almost gone, in any case-scenario.

Check out our numerous stories, such as the tiger and toilet paper.