orangutans

New Hope for Land Destroyed by Failed Rice Project

Fire, encroachment, and the clearing of land for agricultural use are the biggest threats to Borneo’s forests and the wildlife that inhabits them. The irreversible damage to the land from the failed Mega Rice Project of the mid ’90s in Central Kalimantan is evidence of the long-term effects of forest clearing on the environment, the local community and wildlife.

Presidential Decree number 82 of 1995 stated that the 1-million hectare Mega Rice Project was to convert peat-swamp forest areas into rice fields to support the government’s food self-sufficiency program. However, a lack of detailed planning and sudden economic downfall saw the project halted. The rice fields never eventuated and vast areas of cleared peat-swamp forest became dried up from the construction of a large canal system.

Mangkatip village, in Dusun Hilir Sub-Regency of South Barito Regency in Central Kalimantan, is one of the areas impacted by the abandoned project. The remaining forest and the dry, open fields left behind are susceptible to fires almost annually, especially the areas along the banks of the Main Primary Canals (MPC).

Critical land cleared for the abandoned Mega Rice Project is located along the MPC

According to locals, this area was once a dense forest and served as an ideal habitat for wild orangutans. The land is now dry and exposed, and experiences frequent fire outbreaks due to the canal system having dried out water deposits that had previously kept the peat swamp constantly damp.

Members of the local community have found orangutans trapped in the middle of canal blocks and in the village. The orangutans were evacuated by local authorities and relocated to a forest area in Blok E; a safer chunk of land near the Mantangai River.

We need to protect and preserve Borneo’s forests both for ourselves and for orangutans. In collaboration with local communities, the team from the BOS Foundation’s Mawas Conservation Program has successfully started replanting 50 hectares of barren land left abandoned by the Mega Rice Project.

Dissemination of information on the replantation program to the public began in May 2015

Replanting activities undertaken by the Mawas Conservation Program and the surrounding local communities have been underway since November 2015, resulting in the rejuvenation of 10 hectares of land with 11,110 plants of various species: balangiranpantung and pulai trees.

Joint replanting effort with members of local communities

From our observations, 80% of the plants are successfully growing

An extension of the replantation program in another 40-hectare area is now underway with the cooperation of five local community groups. Dissemination of information has already taken place, as well as the seedling-production stage, with replantation to commence soon.

In order to be prepared for – and prevent – potential fire outbreaks, a fire-fighting team has been formed and has already dug artesian wells in the planting area.

Replantation in the areas previously damaged by the Mega Rice Project has only been achievable thanks to cooperation with local governments, our partner organization Save The Orangutan, and the active participation of members of the surrounding communities.

We hope that the replantation program in this 1-million hectare destroyed peat swamp area will provide new hope for orangutans and the local communities who are still suffering the effects of the failed government project.

 Text and photos by: Reforestation Team from the Mawas Conservation Program

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