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“Money thrown out of the window”: Article in taz.de about the Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership

Money thrown out of the window: Article in taz.de about the Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership

The Australian-funded Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership is in for yet more criticism after Annet Keller, a German journalist, visited the project last month. She found that villagers are sceptical about the benefits of the project and are asking why they should clear up Australia’s environmental pollution.

Villagers have received pathetically small amounts of money for looking after the tree seedlings handed out by the project. The seedlings that villagers have planted out have largely died. Villagers are clearly frustrated with the project. While villagers were happy to speak to the journalist, KFCP staff declined to be interviewed. REDD-Monitor looks forward to hearing KFCP’s response to this article in the comments, below.

Here is REDD-Monitor’s translation of Keller’s article in the German newspaper the Tagezeitung:

The butt of the world

Mining, oil palm plantations, REDD+. The international rainforest conservation projects are degrading Indonesia’s last forest dwellers to sweepers away of climate change.

By Anett Keller, Published in taz.de, 30 November 2011

Central Kalimantan taz | Abdul Hamid goes into knee-deep water. The 31-year-old undresses down to his underpants to do his morning wash. The rain lashed for hours last night, and thunderstorms made the wooden stilt houses shake on the Kapuas River in Central Kalimantan. In the morning, the sun shines again. But the river has swallowed the walkway leading to floating little “bathroom” of wood with a hole as a drain in the middle.

There is no water well in the village of Katunjung, where 275 families live scattered over several kilometres. The muddy brown river water brings the waste-water from the gold mines further north. “Skin rashes and diarrhea are our constant companions,” Abdul’s wife Elyana complains.

Elyana and Abdul belong to the Dayak people, the indigenous people in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island. For decades, timber companies, mining and palm oil plantations have reduced their habitat. Behind the huts starts a landscape that is their hope in this world in times of climate change: peat, several metres thick.

Peat soils are carbon sinks. If they are deforested, they release huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Indonesia’s government has now named Central Kalimantan as the pilot province for projects that conserve or replant forest. These projects are financially rewarded when governments or companies, that are the major climate destroyers, buy certificates. It’s called REDD+ in the technical language. The Australian-Indonesian Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership (KFCP) REDD pilot project now covers an area of 120,000 hectares.

The residents of Katunjung initially had hope in REDD. Behind their homes, you can see small wooden crates filled with seedlings in black plastic bags. “We have looked after them like our children,” says the 38-year-old Neneng. “But if they do not give money for them soon, we’ll probably throw them away.”

Everyone is waiting for money

The seedlings are supposed to grow into trees. But since they were planted in July in the plastic bags, no one really knows what to do next. And everyone is waiting for money. The first installments were in July and August. Neneng got 300 000 rupiah (25 Euro). “That is just enough for food for a week,” says the mother of three children. If she had carried out her usual activities – harvesting rubber from the trees near the village – she would have earned more, she says.

Katunjung is in the area of ​​the “mega-rice project”, under which Indonesia’s former military dictator Suharto wanted to grow rice on a million hectares of rainforest. In the late 1990s, the clearing and burning led to the largest forest fires ever known in the region. And the largest ever measured increase in global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile, palm oil plantations have produced new issues.

REDD

REDD+ stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation”). States and companies thereby acquire the right to CO2 emissions by funding forest conservation projects. Prior experience with REDD and possible further developments are a key topic at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference in Durban.

“Previously, the forest started right behind the village,” Neneng’s mother Dimas remembers. The 69-year-old sits cross-legged on the floor, rolls betel nut and chalk into a leaf and chews with relish until her mouth is red. “Back then we did not need doctors, we would go out and collect roots, bark and seeds.” Dimas is a walking encyclopedia. While she spits out her red betel juice, she lists what helps against diarrhea, how postnatal bleeding is stopped, how you can treat asthma. As many medicinal plants as possible should be planted again, Dimas hopes.

Deep black water, beyond that wasteland

In December 2010, tree seedlings were planted on 25 hectares of land under the REDD+ programme. “83 per cent of them are growing,” the village coordinator proudly reports. Whoever wants to see for themselves has to take a small boat five kilometres along small canals. The canals were dug in the peat soil with heavy equipment for the Suharto’s mega-rice project. The water is pitch black. Beyond that is wasteland, as far as the eye can see. Some charred tree trunks stand out from the ferns and scrub.

A barely legible sign at the channel edge refers to the 25 hectare planted area. Abdul Hamid makes his way strenuously through the knee-high ferns. He looks at dozens of sticks about one metre high. He finds not even ten per cent are living trees. Almost all are withered stalks. “This is money thrown out of the window,” Hamid complains. “If they had included the villagers’ knowledge, this would not have happened.”

The 58-year-old Arben Anus looks at the list of the 34 species of trees that were planted as part of the project. Seven of them will not grow at all on peat, he says. With the others, it depends on the thickness of the soil.

“To choose Indonesia as a target country for the reduction of emissions is correct,” says Arie Rompas of the Indonesian environmental group WALHI. “But REDD is the wrong solution because it does not stop deforestation.” Of Central Kalimantan’s 15.3 million hectares of land, timber, mining and palm oil companies have already received allowances for 12.8 million acres. “We should simply stop awarding concessions. Or withdraw existing concessions.” The forest protection moratorium that has been in place since May does not help, because it protects only primary forests. “Only 4 to 6 per cent are primary forests.”

In Katunjung, a speedboat appears on the Kapuas River. An employee of KFCP has arrived. She is not allowed to speak with the reporter, she says. For this she needs approval from her boss. Several requests from the taz remain unanswered.

Residents are skeptical

Will the grandchildren of the 69-year-old Dimas ever be able to get their medicine from replanted forest? The residents of Katunjung are skeptical. They have their experiences. An hour up the river is a research station of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS).

There is no primary forest there, but there are 30 feet tall trees, from all directions the chirping of birds, orangutans, bears, wild boars. Researchers from all over the world visit the station. The neighbouring indigenous people are not allowed to enter the forest. “The animals are more important than people,” Alfianus G. Rinting, of the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples (AMAN), criticised.

REDD is also an elite project, for Rinting. “The workshops take place in cities, with selected representatives. The people in the villages know nothing about the meaning of REDD.” He fears that the indigenous peoples land will be taken in the name of climate protection. Traditionally the villagers themselves come to agreements about the borders of their land, trees and rivers are regarded as landmarks. In 2009, the governor of Central Kalimantan decreed that Indigenous Peoples could secure their land rights, if they submit the relevant maps by the year 2015. “What looks like an opportunity,” said Alfianus, “is a great danger. The villagers have no possibility at all to survey the land.”

In the Governor’s office complex in the province’s capital Palangka Raya, Dewi Eliyana tries to give information about the bureaucratic monster REDD. The 34-year-old UNDP staff member moved in May to the province. Unused computers stand in an information centre and broachures and films about peatlands lie in a glass cabinet. In 2012 REDD is supposed to be implemented in the whole province. Where exactly? Based on what experience? With how much money? Everything is unclear. Two different worlds collide in Central Kalimantan.

Last week was, at last, payday in Katunjung. Per seedling, the residents get 1,140 Rupiah (about 10 cents). If the trees are 20 centimetres high and can be planted out, for each tree there is another 100 Rupiah (about 1 cent). Each family has about 600 seedlings. That gives a total revenue of about 60 Euro. No one told the villagers that the height of the trees plays a roll in the amount paid.

“Anyway, why do we need to worry that the Australians are cleansed of their environmental sins?” Asks Abdul Hamid. “Katunjung does not belong to Australia. It is as if they go to the toilet and we have to wipe their butts.”

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  1. great article that highlights the on-the-ground challenges of implementing REDD+…thanks for this rich compendium of resources on REDD+. I will be donating by the end of the year!