Papua, the last Indonesian frontier with a large swath of forests and rich in biodiversity,  needs to make sure that conservation efforts can assure a balance between its ecosystem, it is high biodiversity and its ability to provide a sustainable source of livelihood for local people and government. An involvement of local customary societies is important in achieving that, Greenpeace is arguing.

“Conservation is very important so that the ecosystem remains balanced and regions rich in biodiversity in Papua are maintained and can be used as sources of livelihood for the customary societies in a sustainable way,” said Forest campaign for Greenpeace South East Asia-Indonesia Global Head of Indonesia Kiki Taufik.

“At the same time, it is as important to put the customary societies in Papua as a subject or player in conservation, using local wisdom in the sustainable use of land,” Taufik added. He said that conservation should be decided by the government. together with local communities, environmental groups, and institutions.

customary societies

Papua’s customary societies

Indonesia mostly relies on a top-down approach in development with the major policies decided by the central government and often imposed in disregard of local variations.

Development should be focused at the grassroots level, meaning it should start with planning at the village level then sub-strict and afterward, district and province. Taufik said that the planning of development in the regions should be with aspiration and participative and that the objective conditions of the local communities should be given a priority.

“What we need to understand now is that the forests in Papua are the remaining forests in Indonesia and they have a high biodiversity value. They have been used by local customary societies from a long time ago up until now to meet their needs in a good manner,” he added.

According to Taufik, industries, including in agriculture, plantation, forestry, and mining have so far failed to lift Papuan out of poverty. The failure was because the national development policy did not give full authority to the local population as stipulated in the Special Autonomy Law for the two regions.

Taufik said that while Papua province had a “very ideal” regional development plan which maintains 65 percent of its total zoning area as protected, in the form of nature reserves, conservation areas, national parks as well as wildlife reserves, and the remaining 35 percent are designated for other purposes including cultivation, West Papua province had the opposite, with protected areas only accounting for 34 percent.

He said that the figures for West Papua “are in contradiction to the aims of the West Papua Province government to encourage the establishment of West Papua Province as a Conservation Province or Sustainable Province.” He said that the figures should be at 70 percent protected area and 30 percent for other uses for the province to be the “Conservation Province” status or that of a sustainable province.

Official data from Papua province administration showed the province to have some 28.62 million hectares of forests, 16.034 million of which are in the form of primary forests. West Papua Governor Dominggus Mandacan said in June this year that the province’s forest stood at 9.73 million hectares.

Taufik added that, even in Papua where the development plan was ideal, the reality was otherwise, with deforestation there taking at quite a high pace.

“The quite rapid deforestation rate is an impact of the expansion of palm oil plantations in the southern regions of Papua, in Jayapura, Keerom and the Cenderawasih Bay. The opening up of areas for palm oil in Papua and West Papua almost all took place in primary forests.”

He admitted that the government of President Joko Widodo’s focus on the accelerating the provision of infrastructure, including in Papua, has helped open up the region from its previous isolation, and improved the distribution of goods and services to improve the economy there.

“But it cannot be denied that the transportation access that has been built also provided an access to transportation for the exploitation of natural resources. The thriving trade in Merbau wood, taken out of Papua and for the export market, is proof that illegal logging continues to thrive and this only benefits outsiders/ entrepreneurs and does not provide a significant impact on the life of customary societies,” he said.

He added that it had also opened the way to new corrupt practices in various sectors. Infrastructure development in Papua did not involve the local population and often led to social jealousy, with companies and workforce from outside Papua seen as the main benefactors.

The evaluation showed that palm oil plantations, especially state-owned ones in Papua and West Papua, according to Taufik, have resulted in local customary society not only losing their land but also sources of livelihood and therefore, had failed to bring positive changes into the life of Papuan communities.

He cited Raja Ampat, a district in West Papua as a good model for non-destructive development that was also sustainable. The district relied on nature conservation and ecotourism.  He also cited a number of other districts such as Sorong, Wondama and Nabire, and the Arfak Mountains as using innovative approaches that relied on tourism to provide an income for local societies while helping preserve the environment.

Other innovative development approaches that can become alternative economic schemes, he said, relied on local potential and were also non-destructive in nature, such as the production of sago, resins, fruits/food with medicinal properties and handicrafts such as Noken bags and bark paintings.

He said that so far, only one district in West Papua has publicly committed to the green development and aims to become a conservation district, but he did not name the district.

In order to make sure that natural resources and environmental services which are important to the life and welfare of local societies are not depleted by exploitation or because of the pressure of daily needs, the legal management side of the environment needs to be put in order.

“The necessary steps are improving the legal management, and opening access to data to the people. A green development is an indication of improvements in management and the strengthening of transparency of environmental and areal data for the customary societies,” he concluded.

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