Asia, environment, geography

Otters on the Singapore River

My posts are usually more serious than this one, but I’m enchanted by the otters that live along the Singapore River. Of course, they are wild animals despite their successful adaptation to urban life.

These days they’re experts at navigating the maze of drains and conduits developed here to help manage the equatorial downpours. They’re also quite territorial and will drive off other groups if they find their hunting areas infringed

I hope you enjoy this short video. The first part was shot on an iPhone 8 and the second part with a Sony Handycam (HDR-XR260).

 

It’s important to note that the otters haven’t shown this resilience all by themselves. There has been a concerted effort in Singapore to clean up the river.

When I first visited Singapore in 1972, the river was in a dreadful state, it had deteriorated since this image was taken in 1900.

A childhood remembered

In his post, The cleaning up of Singapore River and Kallang Basin (1977-1987), Singapore blogger Jerome Lim, describes the river of his childhood in these terms:

The Singapore River was a typically and sadly abused river, a dumping ground from the time people settled along its banks. The growth of modern Singapore amplified that pollution to such an extent that the river was pitch black in many parts. My ecology class always hears about this during the aquatic biomes lecture when I talk about nutrition states of water bodies because the memory of the filthy state of the river still haunts me!

Safe to drink

Now through commitment and a concerted clean-up, the water, with a little filtering and treatment, is fit to drink.  I’ve been drinking it for five years now.

Footnote

For more on Singapore’s otters, check out the Facebook site Otter Watch

Asia, economics, environment, geography, Health, indigenous, Indonesia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands

Jambi Province Sumatra where 90% of fires are deliberately lite

jambi_29_07.jpg
Peatland fire near Rimau Baku Tuo village, Sadu local government area, Tanjung Jabung Timur Regency, Jambi Province, Indonesia. From: Prayoto via WhatsApp

Yesterday, I woke up and stepped out of my 19th-floor apartment, on the way to church. Passing the light well, its orientation one that scoops in sea breezes, the first thing I smelled was that familiar odour of distant fires. I realise now that it was probably blowing in from Sumatra’s Jambi Province, Desa Rimau Baku Tuo, Kecamatan Sadu, Kabupaten Tanjung Jabung Timur, to be precise. Checking the wind direction this seemed most likely.

Desa Rimau Baku Tuo. This area borders the Berbak National Park. Haphazard, clearing and the use of fire endanger national park forest margins.

Why burning now

It’s the dry season in Jambi so it’s the ideal time to burn off areas of peatland forest. Fire is used to clear land in preparation for development of palm oil or wood pulp plantations.  Many corporations in the palm oil and wood pulp industries regard the forest land as unproductive and ripe for ‘development’.

Peatland clearing moratorium

In December 2016, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo introduced a blanket ban prohibiting the draining and clearing peatland. The ban also applied to concessions already licensed to plantation companies.

The initiative was widely hailed as a step forward and a practical strategy for dealing with the disastrous fires plaguing Jambi and neighbouring provinces and the massive forest loss.

The fallacy of development

This so-called development imposes high costs. Present practices lead to:

  • destruction of forest ecosystems;
  • deaths of endangered animals;
  • dispossession of Indigenous peoples like the Orang Rimba;
  • the release vast amounts of carbon from carbon-rich peatland soils;
  • pollution of drainage systems with pesticides; and,
  • peatland shrinkage on cleared land facilitating potential ingress of seawater in coastal and estuarine settings.

In 2015 such was the scale of the problem that the fires caused massive air pollution, transboundary smoke haze, disruptions to air traffic, numerous respiratory and pulmonary health issues and made a major contribution to global warming.

Any attempt to calculate the externalities involved with this so-called development is difficult, but the scale of the ecological, human and planetary costs is significant.

While a country like Indonesia benefits from the export of palm oil, voices within are also expressing concern about the way the externalities might be approached.

There is a surprising lack of freely available research findings on the questions of externalities in the palm oil industry.  ‘Palm oil the hidden costs‘ by Rachel Goehring University of Nebraska – Lincoln, (rachelksutton@gmail.com) makes an effort to explore some of the externalities.  Clearly, more work is required.

Tragically, around 90% of the fires in Jambi are still deliberately lite and the burning of forest land is often done at night to avoid surveillance. Once started they spread quickly.

A footnote from Prayoto Tonoto

The function of peat land as the global climate regulator has been threatened by human activities through deforestation and plantation, including the peatlands in Jambi. Berbak National Park is covered by 110,000 hectares of peatlands. Most of the land changes is detected in August-October represent the temporal complexity affected by fires. Under the regulation, the farmer is allowed to use fire for land preparation under 2 hectares. However, fire utilization is prohibited for land preparation in concessionaries. The Result showed fire tend to occur in peatland every year. Land covers before fire occurrence mostly were bush and disturbed secondary forest. On average, 21% was converted into forest plantation and 27% was converted into palm oil plantation, the rest areas were community land.

Prayoto’s complete work is available at
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322750553_JAMBI_PERIZINAN_HOTSOT_2015

 

Asia, environment, geography, indigenous, Indonesia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands, Riau

Unregistered Plantation in Riau Encroaching on Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve

Figure 1: Clearing on the margins of an unregistered plantation in the Siak Kecil area of Riau Province

When I first saw this image it saddened me. I had already travelled through the region, not precisely this spot at 0° 59′ 54.9996′ N, 101° 53′ 3.0012′ E, but further to the north and west.  Travelling by helicopter afforded an excellent view of the numerous forms of natural habitat destruction that is such a feature of Riau Province.

Years earlier, Indonesian friends had insisted that Riau Province was the most corrupt province in the country. Now, this was a big claim and I took it on board as somewhat of an exaggeration but after visiting the place, I’m not so sure. Now back to the main point of this post.

Locating the image on Google Maps.

As a first step in delving deeper into this image I decided to locate it on Google Maps which meant converting the coordinates to the decimal scale 0.998611 N, 101.884167 E. This allowed me to plot the image’s location. There were several images taken from a location further south.

I’ve shaded the camera icons red so that they stand out on the map.

While attempting to locate the site on a map of Riau landholdings, I was fortunate to come across this map.

RIAU TGHK LANDHOLDER
Figure 2: Land holdings and land use in Riau

I’ve loaded it as full size so readers can examine this map in detail. It has latitude and longitude clearly marked. The area in question is a little hard to discern so I’ve also clipped the relevant section of the map.

map_segment
Figure 3: Segment of Land holdings and land use map

The cleared area, pictured in Figure 1, is on the border of the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve, which is also the customary land of the Indigenous Sakai people. It appears to extend into the reserve. Such clearing opens up opportunities for illegal logging inside the reserve and leaves it prone to the danger of wildfire, particularly given the extent of forest debris visible in the image.

Also, note that the cleared area in Figure 1 is on the border of an Unregistered Plantation. Research conducted in 2014, found that occurrences of fire by land cover type, land management systems, landholders, and proximity to roads and canals showed that:

The registered companies implemented a zero-burning policy to obtain a sustainable management certification. This certificate is mandatory for all palm oil companies in Indonesia. In contrast, unregistered companies do not follow the policy” it is also evident that they are more likely to use fire to develop plantations. “Oil palm plantations by unregistered companies were more prone to fire (8.5%) than those by registered companies (3.3%) or smallholders (2.1%)

Figure 4 shows an isolated Sakai house deeper inside.

Figure 4: Sakai dwelling in the Giam Kecil Biosphere Reserve
Asia, environment, geography, indigenous, Indonesia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands

#Change in Riau from closed canopy forest to plantations

Slash and burn activity on the margin of a conservation area, Riau.

This morning my colleague Prayoto Tonoto sent me a diagram. It illustrated the stages in the transformation of forests from closed canopy systems to the monocultural plantations that are such a major feature of Riau’s landscape.

In an earlier blog post, I made mention of these stages

Stage 1: Selection Logging

Selective logging over a 20-year period. Logs are can be removed using push carts on portable light rail systems or slid along tree trunks.  This opens up the canopy lowering humidity and making forest prone to fires in dry periods. If selection cutting is carefully controlled such impacts can be contained but regulation is difficult.

This process is not always legal and can involve incursion into Parks, Conservation areas and Reserves.  It is also often at the expense of the land rights of Indigenous people.

Stage 2: More extensive illegal logging

This can also involve the use of small streams for log transport. Being non-selective this type of extraction can cause irreversible degrading of the forest ecosystem and loss of forest cover.

Stage 3: Slash & Burn Encroachment

Drainage of peat is essential for any agricultural crop (except for sago on the coast). In some cases, small ditches left from previous illegal logging are used to assist peatland drainage. Once an area is dry, fire is the cheapest means available for land clearing. On peatland, without rain, fires can smoulder and farmers are neither motivated nor do they have the capability to extinguish fires.  When rains don’t come, as in the El Nino year of 2015 fires can spread, raging out of control.

Stage 4: Productive Agriculture

Next, the opportunistic patchwork is gradually transformed into organized plantations of palm oil and rubber. Pioneers are bought or pushed out by larger organisations that have acquired concessional access or land titles. In these situations, the focus is on legal compliance but auditing is difficult and breaches of codes continue.

Developing the diagram

The basic diagram, in the centre, is clear enough. Since we’ve both collected many images documenting this process I decided to combine some of them. Here is the result. I think it conveys a more accurate sense of what is going on in Riau.

Deforestation & plantation development. Source: Prayoto Tonoto & Russell Darnley

This post is in collaboration with Prayoto Tonoto who has many years experience in forestry in Riau Province, Indonesia. He is now at Hiroshima University completing a Master of Engineering in Development Technology.  His principal skills and expertise lie in Conservation Biology, Agriculture, Landscape Ecology, Carbon Sequestration, Land Use Change and Wetland Ecology.

Asia, indigenous, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands, Riau, Singapore

Destruction of Riau’s peatlands continue

Though Indonesia’s President has called for a moratorium on peatland clearing in Indonesia, the process of deforestation and clearing continues.  Despite the grave conditions that developed in 2015, fire is still the cheapest means of clearing remnant forest areas once valuable species have been removed.

Following a PM Haze volunteer visit to Riau on 23 February 2017 I began to map the relentless destruction of Riau’s forests.

The red line shows the course of a helicopter flight. The path traverses a variety of landscapes and land use. Additional photos have been added along with shaded areas showing the location of recent fires.

 

Blogging about deforestation and smoke haze

I first began writing about this problem in September 2015 with the story Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

12 more posts followed as my focus narrowed to Sumatra and Riau Province, in particular.

The failure of governance

There is much more to say on this issue but to sum it up in one sentence is easy. There has been a failure of the different levels of government in Indonesia to apply the law in the face of pressed from vested interests with a capacity to pay for special consideration.

At present, I’m working on a post that addresses this squarely.  In the meantime, anyone wanting an excellent overview of this issue should consult Turning down the heat in Indonesia’s oil palm industry: Good governance and sustainability incentives can provide alternatives for land conversion fires by Nabiha Shahab.  She has drawn many of the threads together

She writes, in part:

In theory, the central government has power to influence the oil palm supply chain through law and policies; district-level governments have the most jurisdiction for law enforcement and information-spreading; and village governments are closest to plantation developers, thus having the responsibility of dealing directly with them.

However, good governance for the industry is not as simple as a top-down approach. From consumers to mills, refineries and developers, players in palm oil influence governance processes in different, sometimes unexpected ways.

Read more in my next post.

Asia, environment, geography, Indonesia, peatlands

#Indonesia’s #peatland is burning: the peatland burning #moratorium is failing in Riau Province, Sumatra

Indonesia’s moratorium on peatland burning is failing. Focusing on Riau province, the region with the most extensive of peatlands, in the period 1 to 8 March, 2018, there have been 99 fire alerts in the following areas:

  • Siak 35
  • Pelalawan 30
  • Kepulauan Riau Kepulauan 29
Hotspots in Riau 1 January to 6 March, 2018. Source: Global Forest Watch Fires

Between 2 – 3 March seven hotspots were detected in Riau Province, two of them in Meranti Islands, with Kampar, Rokan Hulu, Dumai, Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan, each one hot spot. Of course, hotspots don’t immediately mean a fire is burning but images from the ground tell the story.

At the time of writing Riau still had forest and peatland fires in several districts. At Lukun Village in the Meranti Islands, 1,224 hectares of peat forest was burned in 16 days.

Estimates are based on drone observations at altitudes of 100 metres and supplements by satellite image analysis.

Drone footage of fire damage at Desa Lukun in Meranti Regency, Riau. Peat is still smouldering. (See Google map for more locational detail)

Mapping Riau’s Fires

The embedded map shows the approximate location of some of the larger fires burning in Riau in during February and the first week of March 2018.  I must acknowledge the assistance of Prayoto in sharing much of the data for this map. Working between maps he generated using GloVis, and Google maps that are easier for me to disseminate to educational networks has been challenging if only because GloVis uses complete statements of latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds and Google uses a decimal system.  In the end, I abandoned precision for speed. Consequently, some of the fire areas I’ve shown are approximate. The map will be updated as more data comes to hand.

Mongabay highlights problems of fire and finance

Mongabay Indonesia has provided excellent coverage of the present problem, that would seem to indicate a failure of the peatland burning moratorium. It is important to acknowledge that only one fore, in the period covered, was on a RSPO classified oil palm concession. moratorium As of 26 February the Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) in Riau, identified 731.5 hectares of fires while the Riau University Research Facility assisting the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) identified 1,224 hectares of forest fires.

According to Haris Gunawan, Deputy 4, at BRG suggests illegal logging activities, canalisation and fuel availability  as possible causes of the fire near Lukun village

Illegal logging

Presumably, he is suggesting that the logging activities might employ fire for clearing or that illegal loggers were using fire for other purposes. Their presence was clear because of the wood-lined paths, for forest timber extraction, were found along with a forest hut and no doubt other evidence;

Canalisation

The construction of five kilometres of peatland drainage canal, up six metres wide and four meters deep, that cause drying and increased flammability of peatlands during the dry periods

Fuel availability

Fire on peatlands could be due to abundant fuel availability. He mentions dried peat, sago bark and shrubs and litter. Observing that, “Dried litter and this stem makes fire jump when burning biomass. Even jumping over canals and roads. “

No fire around the BRG project

He also observed that BRG has a peat restoration project in Lukun and there was no fire around the project.

Serious fires occur within a few kilometres of the restoration site and have not intervened BRG programs. Haris Gunawan stresses that restoration activities cannot be stand-alone initiatives, that concession holders must also make an effort. This is a sound principle as restoration activities can be undermined if drainage canals continue to be cut in other parts of the same peat dome.  In essence, if restoration strategies are to be effective they must be must holistic and involve whole peat dome management

Penyengat Village, Siak, also has an active fire but the remote forest location is making it difficult to extinguish. He estimates, it has burned about 80 hectares in the last 10 days

Firefighting budget trimmed

Adding to the problem the provincial budget for forest firefighting has been cut from Rp29.3 billion to Rp6.6 billion, a 77% reduction. Tarmizi, Head of Research and Advocacy of Budget Transparency Forum (Fitra) Riau, said

“I do not know why this year the budget is so drastically reduced. Even though the authority of forestry management is Provincial Government and no longer in the district. A big responsibility, minimal budget allocations, this is also a problem” he told Mongabay , last weekend.

He explained that the funds are spread across agencies, the Office of Environment and Forestry, the Regional Disaster Management Agency and the Plantation Crops Department. All of which have programs for forest and land fire prevention.

He considered, the budget of fire handling every year at least Rp30 billion, the same as the previous year. The funds, he said, should contain a peat recovery program.

BRG itself allocated Rp49 billion. The amount is outside of the donor agency. Such a budget is for rewetting programs, revegetation and revitalization of living resources in six areas of hydrological unity.

BRG targets 140,000 hectares of peat recovered this year. For five years to 2020, about 900,000 hectares of damaged peatland in Riau will be recovered.

“Peat in Riau 5 million hectares. It hurts 20 years. (Target restoration) 900,000 hectares work five years, let’s see five years later. The areas that are now burning are not in the intervention areas (BRG), “said Haris, in front of a number of agencies in Riau firefighting unit, last week.

Dealing with peatlands holistically

Haris Gunawan explained that BRG, is “not tackling forest fires, but restoring healthy peat to reduce burning vulnerability”. Others have criticised BRG for being less a than effective in applying a holistic approach to peatland restoration. In the Desa Lukun area, for example, the damage to peatland caused by two big companies PT.LUM and PT NSP has resulted in drying and increased flammability. So, fire has been a persistent problem in this area notably in 2014 and now again in 2018. Lukun highlights the problem that dealing with peatland restoration must be comprehensive. Peat domes are part of a system and their restoration requires cooperation between all stakeholders throughout the drainage system, from headwaters to the coastline.

Asia, economics, environment, geography, history, indigenous, Indonesia

Encountering the #Indigenous people of #Riau proved cause for wider reflection

My interest in the rights of Indigenous people dates back many years. As an Australian, of European descent, I acknowledge the prior ownership and customary land rights of Australia’s Indigenous nations. This is an interest that I’ve revealed elsewhere on this blog and one that was well expressed by our former Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

I’ve included this as a reflection on the Australian context, part of the wider reflection that writing this post has prompted.  If your interest is principally Riau, read on and watch this later.

European Parliament Resolution

On 9 March 2017, the European Union passed a motion on palm oil and deforestation of rainforests.

The motion, “Calls on the Commission to adopt binding regulations on agricultural commodity importers’ supply chains, in order to ensure a fully sustainable palm oil supply chain by 2020”, citing many areas of concern rendering palm oil without RSPO certification unsustainable. It notes that:

  • the deforestation of rainforests is destroying the natural habitats of more than half of the world’s animal species and more than two-thirds of its plant species and endangering their survival;
  • multiple investigations reveal widespread abuses of basic human rights during the establishment and operation of palm oil plantations in many countries, including forced evictions, armed violence, child labour, debt bondage or discrimination against indigenous communities;
  • a substantial part of global palm oil production is in breach of fundamental human rights and adequate social standards,
  • child labour is frequently being exploited, and
  • there are many land conflicts between local and indigenous communities and palm oil concession holders;

What stood out for me was “forced evictions, armed violence, child labour, debt bondage or discrimination against indigenous communities” and “conflicts between local and indigenous communities and palm oil concession holders”. It stood out because I knew so little about the specifics. Apart from the Dayak peoples and the forest dwellers of the Mentawai Islands, I hadn’t realised that there were many indigenous people in Sumatra. It’s ironic because from where I live, Sumatra is clearly visible.

Investigation the status of Indigenous people

When I began investigating this subject I soon discovered that, like Australia where many Indigenous people were labelled with the one label Aboriginal, in Riau the generic term was Siak. Writing in the Jurnal Antropologi: Isu-Isu Sosial Budaya in Desember 2017, Takamasa Osawa observes that “The eastern coasts of Sumatra, Indonesia, are low and marshy lands, which are divided by numerous brackish rivers, and covered by vast mangrove forests. This region was a largely unpopulated area where some orang asli (‘indigenous’) groups and a few Malay people lived before the colonial era.”[1]

Figure 1: Sumatran peatlands

While there is some nipa palm swamp and mangrove on the margins, most of these low and marshy lands are swampy peatlands that originally supported closed canopy rainforests. They also stabilised the Pleistocene coastline of East Sumatra.

Osawa continues observing that “The Suku Asli are Austronesian speakers living on the coasts of eastern Sumatra in Riau province, who were recorded as the Utan (Orang Utan; forest people) in past records.

As this name implies, they were semi-nomadic (coastal) forest dwellers who engaged in hunting, gathering and fishing in the forest, distant from the political centre of the state. Before the nineteenth century, this region was characterised by low population density, such that the Suku Asli moved freely from place to place in this low and marshy region using canoes, and lived on the banks along channels and brackish rivers that run complexly between and within the islands. Therefore, their settlements have been scattered over the islands and coasts of a vast area around the estuary of the Siak and Kampar Rivers until the present.”[2]

Encountering Riau’s Orang Asli

On my first visit to Sungai Tohor, on Tebing Tinggi island in the Meranti group. I remember my friend Yi Han explaining the dangers of fire on peatlands. We stood along a rough track cut through land that had been burned two years before. The fire started in the concession of NSP, a sago plantation and spread through the drained timber concession.

Suddenly the sound of a motorbike reminded us we were on what passed as a local road. Moments later our small group was forced to part, opening the way as a solitary man on a step-through Honda moved between us. I wrote about this earlier. It was a common event in many parts of Indonesia, but the man rode with a small sway-back pig trussed and draped in front of him.

“Strange that he’s carrying a pig. Isn’t everyone here Muslim,” I asked the young man standing beside me.

“He’s from the forest.  His people don’t have a religion,” he replied.

“None, at all?”

“No, they believe in forest spirits.”

“Where is he going?”

“Into the forest. His people live there.”

This simple encounter prompted my interest.

When I began discussing this with my friend Prayoto he was quick to supply me with leads.  Soon I had some key documents on the history and culture of Riau’s Indigenous people.  Since he is cartographically skilled he produced the map in Figure 1. showing the distribution of Riau’s Indigenous groups.

Our encounter with the man on the step-through Honda was in the yellow shaded area.

These classifications are based on generalised Ethnonyms applied to the respective Indigenous groups, first by the Dutch and then assumed by the Republic of Indonesia (RI). They are not the terms used by the people themselves. The process and the misnomers that arise are similar to what has taken place in Australia.  Generally speaking, the names assumed by the people themselves related to the specific biogeographic niches they occupied.  In the riparian systems so dominant in Riau, these names often reflected the particular part of the system they inhabited.

Figure 3: Peatland during the wet season along the Siak Kecil river. The Indigenous people of this system were called Siak by outsiders. (1°.08749, 101°.66885)

The Dutch and then the RI used the simple names as a way of distinguishing between the Indigenous peoples and Malay settlers.

The myth of emptiness

Understanding Indonesia as a country with a densely settled core, Java, Madura and perhaps Bali, and empty spaces beyond that were ripe for resettlement, was an idea that took hold during the period of Dutch colonialism.  While some socialists in Holland advocated a future for Indonesia based on an industrialising centre, a view also adopted by the first Vice President Hatta, what prevailed was an approach to development based on resettlement of these ’empty spaces’. This doctrine of empty spaces was akin to the principle of Terra Nulius adopted by Australia’s European colonisers. Both concepts are based on myths and a failure to recognise prior customary rights to land. A map of Indigenous groups in Australia provides a clear sense of the pre-colonial diversity.

Transmigrasi (Transmigration)

From the end of the 19th century, the Dutch began to implement what was called the ‘Ethical Policy’. It rested on the ideas of ‘irrigation, emigration and education’. Rather than attempting to promote population controls in Java, they saw value in promoting emigration to the ’empty’ periphery.  This also sat conveniently with the chance to exploit the resources of the outer islands.

After Indonesian independence, the doctrine developed as the policy of  Transmigrasi (Transmigration).  Now families were relocated from the ‘overpopulated’ core and sent to the ’empty’ margins on a much larger scale. The approach received an added stimulus with the increased military power following the 1965 coup, which caused great disruption, Irian Jaya now West Papua being a particularly prominent example.

Transmigration is discussed in detail in by Riwanto Tirtosudarmo in his PhD thesis Transmigration and its centre-regional context; the case of Riau and South Kalimantan Provinces, Indonesia (See Google search). He quotes from, Tjondronegoro, S. M. P. 1972 ‘Land Reform or Land Settlement: Shifts in Indonesia’s Land Policy, 1960-1970‘, Land Tenure Centre Paper, No. 81, Madison, University of Wisconsin.

Figure 4: Population distribution by province: Indonesia 2014. Ministry of Internal Affairs

Relocating transmigrants

Commenting on the period 1965 to 1985  Mariel Otten wrote: “Initially, in order to avoid the more populated regions, transmigrant families were predominantly relocated in cleared forest areas. Indonesia has about 140 million has. of tropical forests, constituting 60 % of the total land area. In 1979, however, the clearance of these forests for transmigration purposes was banned by General Suharto who immediately cancelled six proposed projects. At the time, clearing of rainforests was considered to be ecologically unwise and attention shifted to swamp reclamation in the coastal regions of southern Kalimantan and eastern Sumatra and to non-irrigated rainfed land in other provinces of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.” [3]

Subsequently, there was an idea that Indonesia’s swamplands could be developed with resettlement.

I’ve covered much of this in my blog post Competition for land in Riau Province: Pressure from Oil Pal and Wood Pulp Corporations. In that post, I traced the focus brought to bear on swampland, principally peatlands.

The World Bank’s Role

Otten observes that in 1987 the World Bank claimed “A recent survey indicates that Indonesia has some 40 million hectares of coastal lowland or tidal swamps of which some 3.3 million hectares are already occupied. More significantly it is estimated that a further 5.6 million hectares are suitable for agricultural development. This is larger than the total irrigated rice area in Indonesia today. Furthermore, this area has a greater agricultural potential per hectare than most of the remaining upland rain fed areas. If managed properly, lowland swamps can support a wide variety of food and non-food crops and yield a higher income per hectare than can normally be expected under upland food crop conditions. There are substantial technical, managerial and institutional problems to be overcome in tapping this potential, such as defining suitable land and water management practices for peat areas and areas with adverse soil conditions caused by oxidation of acid sulphate soils, applying of appropriate drainage criteria in the light of more diversified agriculture, and ensuring integrated single.”  Such land stretches from West Papua to Aceh.[4]

While the World Bank made this claim it does not seem to have valued or understood the complexity, diversity and interdependence supported by peatland ecosystems, much less their role as carbon sinks and stabilisers of coastlines. This was despite the already published claims by experts such as Tjondronegoro, already claiming that “swamp reclamation will, in the end, be more expensive than settlement on other sites, because of declining soil fertility.”[6]

the World Bank inspired settlements went ahead on the basis that there was a future for swamp reclamation and settlement on tidal areas.

The role of the Five Year Plans (Repelita)

In Repelita IV, Indonesia’s fourth five-year plan (1984/85 – 1988/89), despite projected shortages of trained ‘manpower’ within plantation agriculture priority was given to rubber, oil palm and coconut planting. The Government aimed to plant about 1.4 million ha of these crops on public estates and smallholder schemes, a 150% increase. Tree crop programs were seen to offer substantial benefits offer substantial benefits as export earners, sources of employment and regional development, and therefore deserve priority in the allocation of investible resources. The government envisaged that in the case of oil palms development should be concentrated on new block-planting in areas where new Settlement is warranted. In the plan, new irrigation development on the Outer Islands, including swamp reclamation for transmigration sites were emphasised.

Transmigration continued in subsequent five-year plans. It brought new settlers that were culturally different to the existing Indigenous communities.  When it was associated with new plantation industries this encroached onto the land of Indigenous communities.  Other issues arose over access to resources when Transmigrants had access to health and education while the traditional landholders didn’t.

Riau’s settlement

Most transmigration in Sumatera was focused on Lampung and although Transmigration settlements were established in Ria, there was also significant spontaneous migration, particularly Christian Batak, with the completion of the Trans Sumatra Highway.

In a previous post on Riau, I offered some background on the Indigenous people (Orang Asli) of Riau. Orang Asli were closely connected with the Rokan, Siak, Kampar, and Indragiri rivers and their tributaries. The pressure of settlement and competition for land, driven both by formal and informal population movements, has had adverse consequences on the health of the biophysical environment and for the survival of Riau’s remaining Indigenous people.

While people of the Siak river system were referred to as Orang Sakai, they preferred the term Orang Batin, meaning the followers of batin or the Pebatin system (see below).

Sakai, Batin or Orang Asli settlement

Prayoto offered this insight: The Orang Sakai are a Malay-dialect-speaking forest-dwelling people. They traditionally practise shifting cultivation of cassava as well as trapping, hunting, and gathering food from the forest and nearby rivers. Many Sakai families today cultivate dry rice. They also collected, and still collect, forest products. Although today most Sakai are Muslim, they are recent converts to the faith. Their Sakai forebears were non-Muslim people living on the margins of the Siak kingdom (Kerajaan Siak). Then as now, they lived in the upstream Mandau (Sungai Mandau Hulu), and its branching minor rivers (Sungai Samsam, Sungai Beringin). The Mandau River is a tributary of the Siak River, which flows by the town of Siak Sri Indrapura, the old kingdom’s political centre, connecting the hinterland with the Melaka Straits

Prior to the establishment of the Dutch East Indes, the Malay Siak Sultanate administered the region.

Pebatin was an ancient pre-Islamic Malay system of administration, imposed by the Siak Sultanate that ruled modern-day Riau from 1723 to 1946 CE before becoming part of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945.Pebatin applied to the non-Islamic forest peoples living on the margins of its territory. There were other Indigenous forest dwellers as well, see Figure 2. “The pebatin system of administration was based on a group of people living in a certain area following a headman whose position was ratified by the Malay sultan of the kingdom of Siak (East-Coast Sumatra). Each batin headman served as the representative of the forest-dwelling people to the kingdom. Election to the batin post followed matrilineal principles, and a successor was usually the previous batin’s sister’s son.” [7]

Traditionally the Batin lived in swidden-clearings (ladang) and in wooded secondary forest areas (bu’luka’). Their houses were set on poles usually consisting of one main room. Walls were usually made of bark and the roof from kopau palm-leaf thatch.

Clusters of related family dwellings were constructed within walking distance to each other. Beyond the houses were swidden fields and areas of regrowth. Beyond these settlements, closed canopy forest remained. Houses were sometimes built on river banks because of the ease of travel using dugout canoes.

Figure 5: Likely a contemporary Sakai/Batin house set by the Siak Kecil river, during the wet season.

The pebatinan (plural for pebatin) named themselves using the nearest rivers so there were: Pebatin Paoh of river Paoh, Pebatin Penaso of the river Penaso and so forth.

Several observers, including Porath, note that in recent years the Batin have reluctantly accepted the term Sakai though also use the term Orang Asli, to describe themselves.

The other groups

  • The other Indigenous groups. At this stage, I can only rely on Prayoto’s map. He has identified seven Indigenous groups in Riau:
    Akit;
    Bonai;
    Hutan;
    Kuala Petalangan Sakai; and,
    Talang Mamak.
Figure 6: The people of Penyengat Island, Riau are Orang Akit

 

[1] Osawa, T. JURNAL ANTROPOLOGI: Isu-Isu Sosial Budaya. Desember 2017 Vol. 19 (2): 109-123. ISSN 1410-8356

[2] Op cit.

[3] Otten, M. Transmigrasi: Indonesian Resettlement Policy, 1965 – 1985. IWGXA DOCUMENT ISSN 0105-4503. pp.80

[4] Op cit pp81

[5] ibid

[6] Porath, N. The Healer’s Madness and the Forces of Social Change, in Behera, M.C. ‘Interventions, Familiarity and Continuity: Dynamics in tribal Communities. COMMONWEALTH PUBLISHERS PTY. LTD. 2016. ISBN 978-81-311-0573-3

[7] Porath, N. The Healer’s Madness and the Forces of Social Change, in Behera, M.C. ‘Interventions, Familiarity and Continuity: Dynamics in tribal Communities. COMMONWEALTH PUBLISHERS PTY. LTD. 2016. ISBN 978-81-311-0573-3

I’ve had much highly professional assistance with this blog post from Prayoto, I’ve included his CV in recognition. He is a man of principle. Working with him is a privilege.