Global environmental challenges
Making REDD work for illegal loggers
It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.
And the reward for this effort? About 125,000 rupiah, or roughly $12 per tree measuring 30 cm or more in diameter. Hendri and the three other members of this local gang of illegal loggers make about $45 a day (not including expenses and bribes) cutting down between 4 and 5 trees and slicing them into planks with a chainsaw, using no protective gear. They work for about 10 days at a stretch.
Their work is tough and highlights the challenge of finding alternative livelihoods in communities surrounding projects that aim to save large areas of forest in the fight against climate change.
Another member of the gang, Maulana, 40, explained he didn’t like the work but he had six children to feed. If given a choice, he said he’d switch to growing rubber or managing a small area of palm oil if given the seedlings and land. Just a hectare of palm oil would be enough to meet his needs. That was preferable than the dangerous work cutting down trees in the steaming, flooded peat swamp forest, he said.
Indonesia has emerged as one of the leading countries in a U.N.-backed scheme that hopes to reward developing nations with carbon credit payments in return for saving forests, particularly carbon-rich peatlands found in southern Borneo.
Called REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, the idea is to pay for reductions of greenhouse gases, such as the carbon dioxide that forests absorb to grow and release in large amounts when cut down or burned. The greater the amount of carbon prevented from being emitted, potentially the greater the rewards in a scheme that could eventually be worth $30 billion a year in annual trade in CO2 credits, the United Nations says.
In Central Kalimantan, there are a number of large REDD projects, including where Hendri and his workers were operating. But project developers know that their investments will only pay off if the loggers are found new jobs, such as rangers, guides for ecotourists or given assistance to set up their own cash crops, such as rubber, rattan or even quick growing timber.
It’s a key focus of Indonesian business partners Rezal Kusumaatmadja and Dharsono Hartono, who are working hard to preserve and restore a carbon-rich peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan between the Mentaya and Katingan rivers.
About 100,000 people live around the oval shaped project that stretches about 120 km (70 miles) end to end, many in the large trading town of Sampit. For the past two years, Kusumaatmadja and Hartono have been working with local communities and with an NGO to explain their project, hear concerns and to work on ways to develop livelihood programmes.
Many in the area survive on low incomes derived from farming, trading or working on the rivers.
Deep inside another part of the project along a river flooded with tea-coloured water from the peat forest, Mastranhani, 50, said he turned to illegal logging after months of rains meant he couldn’t grow enough rice to feed his 7 children.
“Carbon credits for forestry is a way to finance conservation efforts, such as restoration, or preservation,” said Kusumaatmadja. “You need to do community work because REDD projects can only be successful with the participation of communities so they don’t encroach,” he said during a recent visit with Reuters to the project.