Protecting Indonesia’s forests is a global responsibility.

A forest in Papua, Indoneisa.

Kwatisore is a tiny coastal hamlet in Papua, Indonesia, famous for the fragrant bark of Gaharu and Moso’oi trees that grow here. For the people of Kwatisore, the business from the trees is not only their main source of income but also a continuous practice in sustainable forest management. On May 15th 2013, I along with a few other colleagues from Greenpeace, traveled to Kwatisore to discover the collective wisdom of the villagers in sustainability without threatening the biodiversity and the forest.

“We plant the Gaharu and Moso’oi trees along with the other food plants that we need for living. We do not cut down other trees or clear a particular area for planting these trees. The forest is sacred to us and we cannot destroy it for our selfish purpose.” , said one of the villagers I was talking to as we hiked our way to the top of the mountain forest in Kwatisore.

An endemic orchid from Merauka in Papua

The fragrance from the Gaharu and Moso’oi trees is imported to Arab countries in large quantities as the organic nature of the fragrance is quite popular with the consumers of Middle- east who consider Alcohol in fragrances as Haram. The global trade of these indigenous products has resulted into an increased demand in the international market for many years now. Yet, the villagers of Kwatisore are not swept away by greed and continue practicing the sustainable method of cultivating the trees.

As we reached the mountain top, we were asked to make an offering to a huge rock with some leaves and twigs. It was humbling to see the respect the villagers had for the forest and how much they valued the gifts of nature. An estimated 40 million people in Indonesia are directly dependent on coastal resources. Just as we made the offerings, we saw a pair of Blyth’s Hornbills playing with each other. It was a sight I would never forget. I had widely read about the birds of paradise before coming to Indonesia but the encounter with the giant hornbills was out of this world, it surely felt like paradise!


The day before, we snorkeled in the Indian Ocean to experience the exquisite life under water. An amateur snorkeler myself, I was amazed to see the diversity in the corals and the fishes, without swimming the depths in the waters. The biodiversity in the ocean was as varied and complex as the forests in Papua.

However, even as a first timer, I felt that there were not many fishes in the ocean and later my fellow snorkelers and divers confirmed this. One of the reasons for the decline in fish as explained by Bustar Maitar, the Head of Indonesia, Forest Campaign is that the fishermen have been moving into the deep waters to catch fish as the fish are depleting due to unsustainable overfishing by large fishing operations from the industry. The local fishermen are forced to move deeper in the ocean in search of a sizable catch. The indigenous people of Indonesia have been practicing the age-old tradition of sustainable fishing called ‘Sasi.’

Pristine reefs in Cenderawasih Bay National Park

Sasi is a community based mechanism to manage natural resources where the community decides to conserve particular areas where the fishes are allowed to replenish for a year or two before the catch. The communities take turns to utilize the natural resources and do not overfish a particular area. Utmost care is taken in the way the resources are obtained. The use of artificial methods like Oxygen compression and dynamites are banned. 1

In this way, the communities not only benefit from the biodiversity of the forests and oceans but also help in conservation and sustainable management of resources. The traditional wisdom of sustainable management of natural resources is getting lost at the hands of multinationals who exploit the forests and oceans beyond the point of no return.

Especially in Indonesia, the palm oil plantation nexus has led to social conflicts over livelihoods. The indigenous farming areas have been restricted by the massive palm oil expansion leading to a biodiversity crisis and deflating the traditional food systems with long-term socio-cultural implications.  Indigenous farmers get caught in the industrial agreements that provide meager wages, poor working conditions and inept labour or legal rights. The widespread plantations also lead to loss of natural tropical forests and convert landscapes into monocultures. 2

A whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay National Park.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), India is the largest importer of palm oil in the world followed by China and the European Union. The narrow pursuit for profit by Indian companies is actually making Indonesian corporations largely successful in driving out the indigenous populations from the forests they depended on for living.

The transnational link in the plundering of local communities can be seen as the countries profiting from the import of Indonesian palm oil have a stake in the destruction of the forests and livelihoods in the country. Indonesia loses approximately 1.1 million ha, or 1.2% of its forest area per year. 4

The deforestation is not only leading to the loss of precious forest cover and biodiversity in Indonesia but also contributing to large scale carbon emissions, making Indonesia, the third largest emitter in the world. The destruction of the world’s forests is one of the main causes of climate change, second only to the energy sector.

Hence it is a collective responsibility and economically sensible to protect the Indonesian forests from deforestation by the palm oil companies. The repercussions of the loss of forest cover have already been documented. They range from the loss of tiger and Orangutan habitats in Indonesia to human beings losing their livelihoods at the hands of palm oil multinationals. The human rights violations and local conflicts escalating from the palm oil controversy in Indonesia are yet to see the light in terms of recognition and solutions.

palm oil destruction

And solutions are what we need to save the Indonesian forests which house 20 % of the world’s total biodiversity. In May 2011, Indonesia introduced a two-year moratorium on permits for new concessions in primary forests and peatlands. While this moratorium was a welcome step in terms of the signals it sent, in practice most of the primary forests that it covers are already legally protected; the remainder are largely inaccessible and not under immediate threat of development.

However, it leaves almost 50% of Indonesia’s primary forests and peatlands without any protection as they lie within already designated concessions and other significant areas of high carbon forest are not covered by the moratorium, as they are considered to be secondary forests.

Also, last week on May 13 2013, the Indonesian government extended the forest moratorium for two more years. However, the moratorium has not been strengthened to cover all forests of Indonesia and this poses as a big threat to the biodiversity conservation effort on a global scale.

Greenpeace has been campaigning tirelessly for more than a decade now to promote solutions to protect the forests on Indonesia and around the world. It has been one of the few environmental organizations in Indonesia and abroad to highlight the importance of conserving biodiversity in environment. Having worked responsibly with the key stakelholders in preserving the Indonesian forests, Greenpeace demands that identifying those responsible for deforestation in Indonesia is the first step.

The Indonesian government must pledge to become more transparent in granting the licenses for palm oil plantations. Companies should only be granted licenses when the land allotted is not primary forests, peat lands or high carbon stock forest.  Also, there should be a mandate for FPIC (Free Prior Informed Consent) by the community before handing out concessions. And as the issue of protecting Indonesia’s forests is no more a national issue, key global partners should come together to strengthen Indonesia’s forest moratorium for the collective good.


  2. The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia: A Transnational Perspective -2013. A Transnational Perspective, pg – 49-51.
  4. Wardoyo & Sugardiman (2009) Overview of the Ministry of Forestry’s Remote Sensing Capacity, Ministry of Forestry, Jakarta, 2009; DNPI 2010. Indonesia’s greenhouse gas abatement cost curve Dewan Nasional Perubahan Iklim, Indonesia, August 2010

Author: Pari Trivedi

This blog was originally published on