Food Security in West PapuaLand clearing for palm oil production has finally reached the pristine forests of West Papua. These forests provide a critical source of food and nutrition to local communities in the form of bush food and clearing them would threaten food security in West Papua. In response to the impending deforestation, local governments have pledged to conserve 70% of the region’s native forests.

Deforestation in Indonesia

Indonesia has historically had “the highest deforestation rates in the world.” The deforestation is largely due to land clearing to expand palm oil and other mono-crop plantations, an industry that national government policy encouraged. Despite the majority of Indonesia suffering major forest cover loss over the last two decades, the impacts of the oil palm industry have only recently reached the doorstep of Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and Papua Barat, known together as West Papua.

West Papua, which makes up the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, is covered in swathes of pristine and highly diverse tropical rainforests. The region has remained relatively untouched during Indonesia’s period of deforestation, with primary forests still covering 83% of West Papua’s land area. However, with available land in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan becoming increasingly scarce, cleaning of the sections of the West Papuan forests has begun.

Changing Diets in West Papua

This land clearing is set to have an especially severe impact on West Papuan communities given the high level of poverty in the area and their reliance on the forest as a source of food. West Papua is the poorest region in Indonesia, with 28% of people living in poverty in the province of Papua and 23% in Papua Barat, as of 2018.

Forests have traditionally been an important source of food for the indigenous communities of West Papua. Traditionally, indigenous communities would forage and hunt in the forest for foods such as sago, wild bush meats and fresh legumes. These bush foods help form a diverse and micronutrient-rich diet that is high in vitamins. Bush foods like this have been shown to be a huge factor in maintaining healthy diets in countries all over the world and are a critical factor in current food security in West Papua.

Unfortunately, recent land clearing and plantation expansion in West Papua has already resulted in a shift in the diets of some local indigenous populations. Without easily accessible forests, local communities living in cleared areas have turned to more easily accessible food sources, namely store-bought goods. As a result, diets in these communities have transitioned away from traditional forest foods and towards ultra-processed foods like rice, instant noodles, tofu and biscuits. This dietary transition is now fuelling an increase in the already high rates of poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity in the region.

The Manokwari Declaration

In the fight to prevent further deforestation of West Papua’s unique and important forests, local governments have committed to large-scale conservation targets. Unfortunately, new plans to carve up the two existing provinces into five may undermine the validity of the recent Manokwari Declaration, putting the people and forests of West Papua back into jeopardy. The rationale from the government for this redrawing of boundaries is to speed up development and increase economic equality. However, some claim that previous instances of remapping have in fact served the elite rather than the poor.

In the current context of changing provinces, the local governments may need support to maintain the validity of the Declaration. However, despite the threats to its existence, the Manokwari Declaration still represents the first step in preserving West Papua’s forests, and thus protecting health, nutrition and food security in West Papua.

– Amy McAlpine
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation in Indonesia

Indonesia is a large, island country in Southeastern Asia that is home to the second-largest rainforest next to the Amazon in South America. It is also home to some of the world’s largest palm oil plantations and logging operations. Deforestation in Indonesia for the past half of a century is largely to blame for mass species extinction. But animals are not the only ones who are affected. Indonesia’s poorest rural communities are hurt and displaced alongside the wildlife in the area.

How Deforestation Affects Indonesia’s Poor

Due to unethical agricultural practices, Indonesia has lost 80 percent of its total original forest coverage and continues to lose 6.2 million acres per year. Deforestation in Indonesia is a direct cause of loss of habitat in tropical areas since the animals have nowhere to go. However, cutting down trees is not the only step in clearing a swath of forest. The next steps that are typically taken are draining the swamps and burning the remaining brush to totally clear the land.

Peatlands are very common in Indonesia. This refers to a type of swampland made up of nutrient-rich soil from thousands of years of decaying plant matter. When these peatlands are drained and burned, they release a thick, noxious haze that carpets the surrounding area, and even travels to neighboring islands and countries on the air currents. The fumes poison the wildlife throughout the remaining forest and find their way into rural villages. More than 100,000 annual deaths in Indonesia can be attributed directly to the inhalation of particulate matter from these landscape fires.

Since deforestation in Indonesia leaves the land in the prime condition for mosquitos, there has also been a recent spike in mosquito-transmitted illnesses like malaria and dengue fever. Many communities affected by deforestation do not have ready, affordable access to vaccines for these diseases, and must deal with the outbreak largely on their own. The best option for these people is to sleep in mosquito nets and try as best they can to keep insects at bay during their most active hours.

Fighting Deforestation

Although the statistics seem gloomy, there is still hope and progress is being made. Indonesia is one of the few tropical countries to make official pledges to lessen or halt deforestation. Incentivized financially by Norway in 2017, Indonesia experienced a 60 percent drop in primary forest loss from 2016. Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency has also been tasked to restore 5.9 million acres of decimated peatland.

The results of these regulations have been disputed, however. Many critics of the programs, such as Greenpeace, state that the programs leave loopholes that companies may exploit to further expand their palm oil plantations. In the moratorium, primary forests that have never been touched by corporations are protected under Indonesian law. But secondary forests (forests that have been previously transformed according to palm oil agriculture) are not protected.

NGOs Fighting Deforestation Now

NGOs like Greenpeace have been raising awareness of deforestation in Indonesia and lobbying the Indonesian government for more transparency in terms of deforestation statistics. Transparency efforts have been largely ineffective as far as the Indonesian government goes, but corporations have begun to be more open with their promises to halt deforestation in their palm oil farming practices.

Public pressure from many consumers has pushed companies to take significant measures to lessen their products’ effects on the environment and the people who live in it. For example, Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil producer, promised in December of 2018 to keep up maps that monitor hundreds of its suppliers to ensure no rainforests are being cleared.


While the overall situation of deforestation in Indonesia does not seem promising, anti-deforestation efforts have had significant impacts. More people than ever are aware of the detrimental effects of clearing the rainforest. Indonesia is seeing fewer cases of deforestation per year than it has in the past three decades and palm oil production companies are doing more than they ever have before to ensure their products are sustainably sourced.

– Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr