Good Neighbors, Healthy Forests
Good Neighbors, Healthy Forests
“I think that’s the good news,” I reply.
We were surveying a recently logged section of PT Ratah Timber’s Camp Mamhak Teboq, deep in the Heart of Borneo. Since joining the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) in 2009, Ratah Timber has been implementing reduced impact logging. Now, even sections that have been recently cut remain green and dense enough to keep us from straying too far off the main road.
Previously, when they cut trees, they would haul each one out on its own path. “With reduced impact logging, we make tree maps and topographic maps to chart the least disruptive path to remove logs from the forest,” says Ir. Soedjatmiko, Product Director for PT Ratah Timber. “Now we make one road for the whole felling operation instead of making multiple paths through the forest. This minimizes damage.”
The company must also follow the Indonesian government’s rules: no logging of endangered species or any tree under 50cm in diameter. The idea is to leave the forest healthy enough to regenerate so it will be productive and profitable well into the future.
Global markets for goodWWF created GFTN in 1991 to help eliminate illegal logging and foster this type of improvement in forest management. “We believe the private sector can be a significant positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests,” says George White, head of GFTN.
The need for industry leadership is especially acute in Indonesia. The country’s rainforests, the largest and richest in Asia, are being lost at a rate of over 1.3 million hectares per year. Roughly two-thirds of this logging is illegal. The consequences are serious and far reaching, affecting critically endangered wildlife like tigers and orang-utans, our climate and the well-being of forest-dependent communities.
As a member of GFTN, Ratah Timber is working toward certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). “We have always complied with Indonesian regulations,” says Soedjatmiko. “But to compete in the global market, we must meet international standards.”
Community cooperationOne component of both Indonesian and FSC standards is social responsibility – or being good neighbours. Ratah Timber’s concession is surrounded by 11 villages, and 85% of the workforce is from these communities. So there’s strong incentive to build a spirit of cooperation. To that end, the company has since 1992 offered free primary education – eliminating the need for young children to walk long distances to go to the government school. This has actually increased the school’s enrolment.
Local residents also have access to health care at the timber camp’s clinic. Soedjatmiko says the company is happy to provide these services, but there are tougher issues to contend with when it comes to good community relations.
In keeping with tradition, most people here slash and burn a section of forest to grow rice – a staple of the diet. They farm that plot for about three or four years – at which point the soil no longer produces abundant harvests – and move on to another section, allowing the first eventually to return to forest. This practice is called ‘shifting cultivation’ and it’s common among subsistence farmers in parts of Africa and South America, as well as Asia.
Ratah Timber works its concession in much the same way – logging in one plot for a year, then moving on to another and allowing the first to recover on a 35-year cycle. Across its 97,690 hectares, it will only be logging a small section at any given time. The problem, says Soedjatmiko, is when community members come in to a recently logged area and further clear for farming – effectively undermining the benefits of reduced impact logging.
But Soedjatmiko has a plan that may be a win for Ratah Timber, communities and the environment.
From natural disaster to economic opportunityIn 1997, Ratah Timber lost more than 8,000 hectares to forest fire. Shortly after, farmers took over small plots to grow rice. With a patchwork of plots occupied by local residents, the company didn’t invest in rehabilitating the area for timber production.
Now, the company is proposing to plant the entire degraded area with rubber trees and turn the plantation over for community management – on the condition that with this source of income, residents cease the practice of shifting cultivation within the timber concession. Soedjatmiko says that in the intervening years before the rubber trees are productive, farmers will be able to plant rice amid the samplings.
In meetings with community members, the timber company has learned that their most pressing concerns are having adequate land for subsistence rice farming or, alternatively, a reliable source of income to purchase food. So, Soedjatmiko is hopeful they have hit upon a win-win solution. “Our purpose is to protect our forests, so we’ll grant free access to the rubber plantation,” he says.
With the support of WWF and GFTN, Soedjatmiko says he is optimistic about the future of the timber industry. “Things are much better than they were five years ago. More and more countries are insisting on legal, certified timber products for import,” he says. “People will always need timber and other wood products. As long as the global market requires certification, I’m sure the timber industry in the future will be committed to sustainable forest management.”