Ecological imperialism in Indonesia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Sep 13 08:25:43 MDT 2002

NY Times, Sept. 13, 2002

Indonesia's Forests Go Under the Ax for Flooring

PEKANBARU, Indonesia -- On a verdant two-acre plot, where space has
hastily been cleared for a few simple buildings, three heavy-duty band
saws whine 24 hours a day, slicing huge logs into boards of varying
lengths and widths.

Down the road another sawmill, with eight band saws and more than 200
workers, also cuts up logs 24 hours a day. The owners said they cannot
keep up with the demand, a claim that's easily believed -- along a
four-mile stretch of road, there are an estimated 50 sawmills.

After being cut into long planks, most of this wood is bought by traders
in Malaysia and Singapore, and then, after being further cut, sanded,
molded and grooved, sold around the world -- as flooring in China and
Japan, office stationery in Europe and furniture in the United States.

Indonesia's timber industry is booming, good news for a country
suffering widespread unemployment and mired in economic stagnation.
There is a dark side, however: nearly all of these sawmills operate
without a license, and overall, according to government figures, 80
percent of Indonesia's timber trade is illegal, which means that the
trees are felled without a license or under a concession that had been
secured with a bribe.

The corruption is rampant. Senior government officials insist on
payoffs, from companies and big-time traders, in exchange for
concessions. Military commanders take a cut or even have their own
operations. The local policeman demands a payment to allow the trucks,
laden with illegally cut logs, on the way to illegal sawmills, to
proceed along the road.

The upshot is that Indonesia's tropical forests, among the largest in
the world, are rapidly disappearing. Vast tracts of once pristine
forests have been reduced to barren and scarred wasteland. It is
estimated that at least four million acres of forests -- an area roughly
the size of Connecticut -- are being stripped of their trees every year,
according to government statistics. It is estimated that the lowland
natural forests here on the island of Sumatra, home to the endangered
orangutan and the rare Sumatran tiger, will be gone within five years;
those in Kalimantan, within 10.

"There are lots of reports telling the world about this," said Togu
Manurung, professor of forestry at Bogor Agricultural University and
director of Forest Watch Indonesia, a nongovernmental organization. "But
it is still going on."

"Why?" he asked rhetorically. "Money, power and politics."

The world's consumers must also share some of the responsibility for the
devastation, said Hapsoro, director of research at Telapak, an
Indonesian environmental organization.

"It is a matter of fairness," Hapsoro said. "It's not fair for us in
Indonesia if people in the United States are consuming a lot of wood
products, paper and plywood from Indonesia."



Louis Proyect

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