National

Harapan rainforest raises
hope amid overexploitation

Sumatra's low-plain forests are fast diminishing, currently measuring only 400,000 hectares. The main cause of the deforestation rampant illegal logging and clear-cutting, and if this prevails, experts warn, low-plain forests in Sumatra will likely be completely wiped out by 2010.

The Harapan rainforest, spanning 101,355 hectares and located in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces, is part of the remaining low-plain forests on the island.

It straddles the four regencies of Batanghari, Muarojambi and Sarolangun in Jambi, and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra.

The area is currently being reforested to replenish the damaged forests, formerly a timber concession.

"We're currently repairing the damaged ecosystem," said Harapan rainforest agency intern head Yusuf Cahyadin recently.

As part of the reforestation efforts, the agency will issue an outright cessation on logging in the area, or at least a 20-year moratorium.

This, Yusuf said, will allow the forest to be densely wooded once again.

The ban will not affect local communities that live off the forest, particularly the Anak Dalam and Bathin IX tribes that use non-timber products such as rattan and resin.

Communities living near the forest will also stand to benefit, Yusuf says, by growing rubber, for instance.

"We're currently initiating a community-based forest through an agreement between forest caretakers and local residents, in the hopes that they can also protect the forest," he said.

He added 30 percent of the forest has been damaged through clear-cutting, particularly for oil palm plantations.

"Oil palms are not suited to the forest," he pointed out.

In Jambi province, the problem of clear-cutting of forests for farmland has been underway now on a large scale.

Jambi has a total area of 5,100,000 hectares; around half of that, or 2,482,315 hectares, are forested areas, stretching from the Kerinci Seblat National Park in the west, to the Berbak National Park in the east.

"Forests function as water catchment areas as well as homes for wildlife and plant species," said Arief Munandar, head of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment's (Walhi) Jambi branch.

However, the area's natural bounty has gone to waste under poor forest management that has hastened the rate of environmental destruction, Arief said.

He added the widespread deforestation can be blamed on the Forestry Ministry's policies, which favor investment over conservation.

The ministry has issued permitted a host of state and private companies to clear large swaths of forest to make way for hectare upon unending hectare of oil palms and rubber trees.

The total current timber concession area in the province is 487,249 hectares, while the area of forest cleared for oil palm estates is 403,467 hectares.

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