Kalimantan forest will become a desert, researchers warn

Posted: 13 January 2003

Author Info: Source: "West Kalimantan to become desert in 2037," by Bambang Bider, The Jakarta Post, December 2, 2002.Related links:

West Kalimantan, a part of Indonesia once known as part of the world's lungs for its tropical forests, will turn into a vast barren desert by 2037, university researchers report. Forest fires and rampant illegal logging, are to blame say the research team at the University of Tanjungpura in Pontianak, Indonesia

Over the last two years, the research team collected data that shows the province has lost an average of 165,631 hectares (ha) of forest annually and, under such a condition, the province's remaining 6.3 million hectares of forest are likely to vanish within the next 35 years.

"The main problems are the rampant illegal logging, by both locals and holders of forest concessions, and the forest fires during the annual dry season," researcher Gusti Hardiansyah said in a recent seminar.

According to data at the local forestry office, from 1977 to 1985, the province lost 22 per cent of its forest area, from 8.7 million ha to 6.7 million ha. Hardiansyah said that his team, comprised of environmental experts and activists, found that many forest concession holders were supplying illegal logs to middlemen for export to Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan and Taiwan. Eighty per cent of illegal logs are exported while the remaining 20 per cent are supplied to the local market. He said that according to field investigations, the province produces around 864,000 cubic metres of illegal logs and timber annually, of which the majority are exported to Malaysia.

"The illegal logs are smuggled through Entikong in Sanggau regency, Badau in Kapuas Hulu regency and Jagoi Babang in Bengkayang regency. "About half of the hotel occupants in Ketapang are usually timber businessmen from Malaysia, who come here to purchase illegal logs and timber," he said.

The kinds of wood available in the province were those with high economic value, for example, belian (eusideroxylon zwageri), meranti (dipterocarpa) and bedaru (cantleya corniculata). He said the illegal logs were supplied through middlemen to the sawmills operating illegally in forest areas in the province. So far, there are 433,250 sawmills in the province and most of them have operated without any official permission or documentation from relevant authorities.

Commander Wayan T. Budhijaja, chief of the special operations centre at the provincial police, said it was very difficult to stop the illegal logging because of the government's lack of political will to do so. The illegal logging could be stopped only if relevant authorities, including the police and the military, were not involved in the scam and those supplying illegal logs and timber were punished severely, he said.