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Timber plantations threaten Mentawai’s forests

First, civil organisations had to stave off palm oil plantations. Now they’re facing another threat against the rainforest.

A total of 200 km2 of primary rainforest and indigenous lands on the Mentawai islands in Indonesia are threatened by a company that wants to create industrial timber plantations.

Biomas Andalan Energi plans its timber plantations on the biggest island of the archipelago, Siberut. This is according to the UNESCO, “one of Indonesia’s most unique cultural and ecological assets”. It is the most forested of all Mentawai islands, and has a Biosphere Reserve on a third of its territory.

It is also the home of the indigenous Mentawai people, many of which still have a traditional lifestyle which is highly dependent on the forest.

Calling for a stop

Local civil society organisations are now calling for a stop in the license-granting process and are pressing the Indonesian ministry of environment and forestry to stop giving out licenses on the Mentawai islands.

The civil society organisation fighting for Mentawai peoples’ rights and the protection of natural resources is Yayasan Citra Mandiri Mentawai (YCMM), a long-lasting partner of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

“The Indonesian government’s policy is not consistent. On one hand it says it wants to preserve the outermost islands and that the Mentawai islands are in the national strategy for tourism. On the other, it grants licenses to companies that will exploit the natural resources of the Mentawai and deprive its people from their means to live”, says Rifai Lubis, director of YCMM.

Not the first time

Siberut has been threatened before. In early 2014, after several years of struggle and political pressure on the local and national authorities, the Mentawai communities convinced the Regent to stop plans for palm oil industrial plantations on 1000 km2 of forests and indigenous territories.

In the case of the timber plantation plans, YCMM and the Mentawai communities have convinced the Regent Yudas Sabaggalet to send a letter to the Indonesian Ministry of Environment to revoke the letter of approval and freeze the permit-granting process.

“We want the government to stop the granting process of this 200 km2 timber plantation license. We also want it to start seeing the Mentawai as small islands whose natural resources need to be preserved, not exploited and destroyed. We are also lobbying for a moratorium for all exploitative activities of the natural resources of the Mentawai”, says Rifai Lubis.

Dire consequences for the people

If the final license is approved, nature is not the only thing that will struggle. It will also have economic, social and cultural impacts for the livelihood of the Mentawai people: Loss of food such as fruits and hunting game, loss of income of the non-timber forest products like honey that they sell on markets, loss of traditional medicine and all bases for their livelihoods.

It can also create conflicts between communities, displacements on a very limited territory, and stop the Mentawai tribes in passing on their ancestral lands to future generations.

Bad for the island

The plans are also a disaster in terms of soil erosion, which can have terrible consequences on the whole island. The Mentawai islands are in a high tsunami risk area. The forest and the mangrove protect the islands from such erosion and from drowning under a 10 meter high wave coming in the case of a tsunami.

Also, Siberut has a large amount of mangrove. In case of plantation, this will emit large amounts of carbon emissions. Cutting down the forest of Mentawai is not just bad for the people living there, it is also bad for the climate.

Still hope

There is still hope, though. Biomas Andalan Energi has only received a principle approval letter, not the final approval to start operations, by the Investment Coordinating Board.

To stop the company’s plans, ask the Minister of Environment and Forestry to cancel the permits through this petition.