The Jakarta Post
Out of breath, Dance Ullo climbed down from a tree. The 45-year-old man had just pruned tree branches and twigs to prepare his land for crop planting, along with his wife Margaretha Wonggor.
'We're also waiting for the uheye ceu, bipi, cipcai and ngkam trees to bloom, marking the time for us to start planting. But they've been blooming irregularly in the last few years,' Dance said recently.
The four local trees, which grow on Mount Sordobei in the Arfak mountain range, West Papua, are believed by the Arfak ethnic group to be a harbinger of the planting season; when their leaves fall, land preparation begins. When they bloom, the planting season begins.
'As the trees are blooming late, we've often started sweet potato and vegetable planting late,' added Dance, whose farm is located in Anggra village, Pegunungan Arfak regency, West Papua province.
The village is a three-hour drive south of Manokwari, the provincial capital of West Papua. And the journey requires a four-wheel-drive to manage the steep and undulating non-asphalt roads on the hilly slopes of the Arfak mountain range.
Dance, like most other Arfak people, grows crops to make a living. The group use non-forest zones called susti for farming and livestock breeding. All families have plots in the susti zone, but the largely nomadic farmers leave their land after several seasons and return six years later.
The other two zones used to manage the lands of Pegunungan Arfak are nimahamti and bahamti. Nimahamti is the forest zone that can be used on a limited basis for the collection of rattan, fruits, bark and medicinal herbs. Bahamti is the primary forest zone regarded by locals as their live-giving mama to be totally protected.
According to Yakob Wonggor, an Anggra community figure, the Arfaks have a way of life referred to as igya ser hanjop (let's stand up to safeguard), to manage their land and forest. Living by this creed, the Arfak mountain areas are relatively well maintained.
Yakob said residents felling trees in the bahamti zone were subject to customary sanctions, which were decided by traditional judges called nekei.
'The sanctions imposed can be fines of tens to hundreds of millions of rupiah or expulsion. Nekei can also oblige perpetrators of zone destruction to give their daughters to victims of their destruction,' he added.
This Pegunungan Arfak regency civil servant indicated that he was aware of the plan to implement the UN Program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or REDD+ (the plus being among others sustainable forest management) in the bahamti zone, covering 68,000 hectares.
'The Arfak people are fully prepared to cooperate in the realization of the REDD+ program. We're convinced that REDD+ will keep the climate in the Arfak mountain range unchanged so that the local community can grow crops properly,' he said.
Yakob added that the central government had declared the bahamti zone in Pegunungan Arfak regency a nature reserve zone.
Max Tokede, a forestry lecturer at Papua University (Unipa), said people living in the Arfak mountain regency had been affected by climate change, causing season irregularity and rendering locals incapable of preparing land and growing crops at regular intervals.
'When the four tree species bloom and bear fruit is no longer certain. Besides, while they used to bear fruit twice [a year], in the last several years they have three times a year. Naturally, the Arfaks find it confusing to determine the planting season,' he noted.
The member of West Papua Low Emission Development Working Unit appealed for Arfak residents to conserve their forest and avoid burning forests for the purposes of land reclamation.
'If the forest is further destroyed through burning, the climate will change even faster. This year alone the air temperature in West Papua is very high, far higher than that in previous years,' added Max.
In fact, West Papua has become a pilot project of REDD+ along with 10 other provinces in the country. Under the REDD+ program, West Papua is set to reduce emissions as part of climate change prevention efforts.
According to Max, the provincial Working Unit had already completed a West Papua Strategy and Action Plan Document (SRAP) for emissions reduction. 'The document was completed and even endorsed over a year ago,' he said.
Sadly, the SRAP endorsement hasn't been followed by the implementation of the REDD+ program. Low Emission Development Working Unit executive director Herman Orisu said the central government had never communicated any follow-up of the REDD+ program to him.
'We have become confused about the continuation of REDD+. There's no coordination and communication, while we've carried on preparation in the regencies. Strategy and action plan documents in some regencies have been prepared, but no more news has come from Jakarta,' he explained.
The West Papua provincial administration has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the central government due to conflicting schedules, even after the REDD+ national agency (BP REDD+) was disbanded by President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo in January.
However, West Papua Forestry and Estate Agency head Hendrik Runaweri, affirmed that the province was still committed to the emission reduction program. 'We continue our activities to reduce emissions by, among other activities, communicating the program to local people and maintaining the size of the forest zone,' he assured.
The West Papua administration, added Hendrik, wouldn't depend on the central government to implement the REDD+ program. 'The West Papua governor has joined hands with several other governors to form a forum, which is expected to become a medium to raise funds for the realization of REDD+,' he concluded.
Meanwhile, Yakob hoped that Hendrik's plan would soon materialize. 'We're waiting for the implementation of REDD+ in the Arfak mountain range,' he said with anticipation.
' Photos by Muhamad Usman
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