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Impact of palm-oil plantations on coastal peat swamps forest - case of Tripa, Aceh, Indonesia [#81]
Coastal peat Tripa swamp rainforests on the West coast of Aceh is an area of 50.000 hectares. During the early nineties, the land has been allocated to a number of big (between 8000 and 15,000) palm-oil estates that belong to wealthy Indonesian, but not to any people from the district (Kabupaten) where the swamp is located. Logging and development of the palm-oil estates where stopped during the Aceh conflict(1999-2005). However peace accords have fuelled unplanned economic development, and palm-oil estates are at the moment (Feburary 2007) reopening their operations, clearing the forest and rehabilitating palm-oil plantations. These palm-oil plantations are major threat on the ecosystems, and the sustained development of the region for the following reasons:
1. Drying the peat and clearing forest removes substantial ability of coastal Tripa peat swamp forest to work affectively as a barrier, as stressed in the post-tsunami Master Plan for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the Region and People of the Provinces of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Nias Island, agreed by the Indonesian people and authorities in 2005. This plan emphasizes the importance of the coastal forests. It proposes “to recover the ability of the environmental supporting power for the requirement of development so that it would be better than the condition prior the occurrence of disaster”. This includes the development of a green belt buffer zone.
2. Drying the peat contributes to climate change, as it will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, as scientifically demonstrated by Wetlands International in Indonesia. Restoring peat lands appears to be the cheapest and most effective means to reduce this problem to slow climate change.
3. The destruction of the Tripa coastal forest is a biological disastear, as this ecosystem is one of the most valuable habitats in the world, with countless endemic animal and plant species. Endemic animals include endangered birds (white-winged wood duck, stern’s stork, and masked fin foot), otter civet, Sumatran orang-utans, Sumatran tiger, Malayan sun bear and clouded leopard.   Of special interest is the Sumatran orang-utan listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN that can live in he highest know density in the coastal peat swamps forest. 30% of the total 7000 Sumatran orang-utan are living in the remaining coastal forest (Tripa, Singkil and Kluet).
Palm-oil production is also a real threat on the socio-economic status of the local communities.
1. The big palm-oil estates mean concentration of land and economic benefit to few owners that don’t belong to the district and exploitation of poor people. An assessment carried out 19-20 February 2007 on three plantations found that in the first plantation some workers where paid in some plantations about 2US$ a day in cash only; in a second plantation, workers were paid according the productivity only (about 2US$ a day for a good day, that was about 0.5 dollars by grape of fruit); on the last plantations workers had not been paid for the last three months. In all these plantations, there where not other benefits (such as health, pension, and schooling for children or adults).
2. The only production on each plantation is of palm-oil only.  There wasn’t any development of mixed agriculture that could provide some local economical benefit even tough it could be done at least the three first years of the plantations.
3. Drying the peat leads to importing salty water from the see shore. In the long-term, there is salty water in the peat, threatening the water holes from the nearby villages.
4. Between the big concessions, villagers are dividing the remaining patches of forest, starting small-scale palm-oil plantation in a very primitive manner, by slashing, burning and planting palm-oil. It is made in a total illegal manner as these forest where not released by the government.

Reality is that large-scale forest peat swamp palm-oil plantations maintain workers in permanents state of economic poverty, without any possibility to be better off on the long term. It also maintain social disparities, and provides ground or justification for ruthless short-term behaviours for the ones who have-not, the local people that start to adopt very short-term behavioural strategies to be better off.
(edited on 2007-02-23 13:07 UTC by denis ruysschaert)
posted on 2007-02-23 13:05 UTC by denis ruysschaert, PanEco

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  • United Nations Environment Programme