Over 100,000 farmers squatting in Sumatran park to grow coffee

Over 100,000 farmers squatting in Sumatran park to grow coffee



Motorbikes carrying coffee bags out of Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Photo courtesy of Patrice Levang.

Sumatra’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park—home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and elephants—has become overrun with coffee farmers, loggers, and opportunists according to a new paper in Conservation and Society. An issue facing the park for decades, the study attempted for the first time to determine the number of squatters either living in or farming off Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the rough census—over 100,000 people—shocked scientists.

“In some parts of the Park the squatters are so numerous that the area looks more like a Javanese countryside,” lead author Patrice Levang with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) told mongabay.com. “Another surprise was the large number of farmers living outside the Park and farming inside.”

According to date from 2006, around 55,000 hectares (135,900 acres) inside the park are currently under active encroachment. Evictions of some squatters in the 1980s have left around 8,000 hectares (19,700 acres) of regenerating forest, but still the total encroachment areas account for about 15 percent of the t park, which spans 3,568 square kilometers.

    Boundary stone of the National Park hidden under Imperata grass in a deforested area. Photo courtesy of Patrice Levang.
Boundary stone of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park hidden under Imperata grass in a deforested area. Photo courtesy of Patrice Levang.
Unlike many other parks that face conflict between human occupants and protected area status, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park was not historically occupied by significant populations.

“Since the 1960s large numbers of immigrants from Java moved to Lampung and converted the forests into coffee plantations, progressively moving from the east to the west and inside the Park,” explains Levang. In fact, around 80 percent of the squatters’ families are originally from Java.

“Most squatters have a low education level and limited marketable skills. They are looking for cheap land in order to make a living. They would prefer more accessible locations closer to schools and dispensaries, but as such locations are not available they make do with encroaching in the Park, the best available opportunity for the time being,” Levang says.

He adds that squatters are fully aware that by farming, logging or living in the park, they are breaking the law. But in recent decades there has been little action by authorities.

“With the advent of democracy and regional autonomy, many local politicians tend to back the squatters in order to expand their constituency,” explains Levang. “Local authorities generally block any coercive action against squatters as such action is considered as ‘politically incorrect.'”

Turning a blind eye to the situation by authorities, has led to increasing boldness by some locals. For example, the study reports a recent rise in illegal logging run by local village elites, known as preman.

“Preman generally own capital and equipment (cars and trucks), lead a small team of henchmen, and are active at networking local authorities. Considering preman as gangsters would be an exaggeration, though the distinction is sometimes tenuous,” the scientists write. Many of these preman have successfully run for local positions, which has “blurred” the distinction between “preman, gangster, and politician.”

The slow whittling away of Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park has been closely linked to coffee prices. In 1977 a peak in coffee prices “triggered spontaneous mass migration to the mountainous areas of southern Sumatra and led to the development of a major deforestation front on the eastern fringe of the Park,” according to the paper.

    Housing of a recent squatter inside Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Photo courtesy of Patrice Levang.
Housing of a recent squatter inside Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Photo courtesy of Patrice Levang.
Since then deforestation inside the park has been closely correlated with the local price of coffee. For example, devaluation of the Indonesian rupiah during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis spurred a sudden rise in deforestation.

“Devaluation raised local coffee prices to a record high in 1998, while international coffee prices remained low. This sudden increase in local coffee prices attracted new migrants to the area, while many non-farmers who saw their purchasing power decrease turned to part-time farming to generate cash,” explains co-author David Gaveau, also with CIFOR. “Overall, these results indicate that high producer prices for agricultural outputs accelerate deforestation because farmers who grow export cash crops act to maximize profits, and highlight that rising costs of agricultural commodities are likely to be detrimental to tropical forests.”

Past research by Gaveau has also shown, however, that law enforcement can be effective in deterring deforestation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park—at least to a point. Economic opportunities, outside of farming, and better education could also help mitigate deforestation in the long run, according to the 2009 study.

But Levang says that there is no win-win solution to the conflict.

“Balancing human needs and preserving the Park is not an option. At least if human needs means converting the forest into coffee plantations, and preserving the Park means safeguarding tigers, elephants and rhinos. We are not taking sides, but one has to choose between squatters and tigers. The two cannot live together.”

Rainforests decline sharply in Sumatra, but rate of deforestation slows

Rainforests decline sharply in Sumatra, but rate of deforestation slows


Rainforests decline sharply in Sumatra, but rate of deforestation slows

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
August 28, 2012

Chart: Forest cover in Sumatra, 1990-2010.
Forest cover in Sumatra, 1990-2010.

The extent of old-growth forest in Sumatra shrank by 40 percent over the past 20 years, while overall forest on the Indonesian island declined by 36 percent, finds a comprehensive new satellite-based assessment published in Environmental Research Letters.

The research, conducted by an international team led by Belinda Arunarwati Margono of South Dakota State University and Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, reveals the dire condition of Sumatra’s once extensive rainforests. Overall Sumatra lost 7.5 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2010, of which about 2.6 million hectares was primary forest. The bulk of forest loss occurred in secondary forests that had been previously degraded by logging. Only 8 percent of Sumatra retains virgin forest.

Chart: Deforestation by province in Sumatra, 1990-2010.
Deforestation by province in Sumatra, 1990-2010. NOTE: The authors use “primary degraded forest” to refer to natural forest that has been disturbed, mostly by logging activities. It is quite similar with what is usually termed “degraded forest”. However, in Indonesia, the term of “degraded forests” is sometimes used in place of “secondary forests”, which are forests in a state of regrowth after clearing.

Chart: Forest cover by province in Sumatra, 1990-2010.

Chart: Forest cover by province in Sumatra, 1990-2010.
Primary forest and total forest cover by province in Sumatra: Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Bengkulu, and Lampung.

However not all the news was bad for Sumatra’s forests. The data showed a 61 percent decline in the annual rate of clearing between the 1990s and the 2000s, ....  read more

Sumatran elephant

Sumatran elephant population plunges; WWF calls for moratorium on deforestation


January 24, 2012

Sumatran elephants in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
Sumatran elephants in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The Sumatran elephant subspecies (Elephas maximus sumatranus) was downgraded to critically endangered on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species on Tuesday, prompting environmental group WWF to call for an immediate moratorium on destruction of its rainforest habitat, which is being rapidly lost to oil palm estates, timber plantations for pulp and paper production, and agricultural use.

“The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are critically endangered, including the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos and the Sumatran tiger,” said Dr. Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme, in a statement. “Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime.”

By IUCN estimates, the population of Sumatran elephants has declined by more than 50 percent since 1985. During the same period, Sumatra lost nearly 70 percent of its lowland forest — the preferred habitat for elephants. The loss has been particularly steep in Riau province, where remaining lowland forests are increasingly at risk of conversion for industrial plantations. WWF says that less than 20 percent of Riau’s 1985 population of elephants remains.

“Riau Province has already lost six of its nine herds to extinction. The last surviving elephants may soon disappear if the government doesn’t take steps to stop forest conversion and effectively protect the elephants,” said Anwar Purwoto of WWF-Indonesia. “Forest concession holders such as pulp and paper companies and the palm oil industry have a legal and ethical obligation to protect endangered species within their concessions.”

Pulp and paper suppliers operating in key elephant habitat include Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL) and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), according to environmentalists. The paper giants have been criticized recently for ongoing conversion of natural forests for plantations, although both maintain their activities are legal under Indonesian law.

Sumatran elephants in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
Sumatran elephants in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Photos by Rhett A. Butler

While Indonesia has taken steps to protect blocks of elephant habitat, forest loss and fragmentation exacerbates the risk of human-elephant conflict outside protected areas. WWF says “a large number” have been killed as a result of forest conversion and encroachment.

Accordingly, WWF is now calling for “an immediate moratorium on habitat conversion to secure a future for Sumatran elephants.” The group is urging the Indonesian government “to prohibit all forest conversion in elephant habitats until a conservation strategy is determined for protecting the animals.”

“Urgent measures are needed to protect Sumatra’s remaining natural forests so that future generations of Indonesians can inherit a natural heritage that includes wild elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinos,” said the group.