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.
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