A day in the forest

I like my wooden house in the forest camp called Kenangan. Kenangan means memory and for sure I have many memories of this place since this is where I started my work in tropical rainforests as a student, now more than 37 years ago. Now I am a director of the forest company that manages the almost half million acres of mostly severely degraded forest here, putting into practice the lessons of many years of research. But it takes a lot more than knowing how to plant trees to make a successful reforestation project!

Today I went to have a look at my agroforestry trials in reforestation. The combination of planting trees with food crops means that predators like wild boar, porcupines and monkeys can become a big problem. To discuss those problems, I went to speak to Dolo, a man from the remote island of Flores, who is now working for me. He used to work in the forest here for the company many years ago. But his schedule of two weeks in the jungle and then a few days with his family did not work well. His wife’s family came to take her and the children back to Flores while he was completely unaware working his shift in a forest camp. The traumatic event changed him much. He now does not want to live near other people. So he prefers to stay in the jungle in the hut next to our experimental plots where he has been living for many years now as a pig hunter.

Dolo does not speak much, but today I was lucky, bringing two people that were able to bridge his fears and shame and we managed to get him talking for two hours. Dolo lives in the hut with his six dogs that are there to help keep the pigs away from our cassava and sugar palms that are mixed in with the forest trees. With his dogs Dolo goes hunting for pigs to sell, although he himself does not eat meat. Now he uses his dogs to patrol our new agroforestry areas and reports on intruders and wildlife issues. And it turns out Dolo knows a lot about my forest, especially where what animals roam. He also sometimes spends time with poachers who seem to know him, but they no longer come now we take stringent actions to protect the wildlife in this former wild west area of Kalimantan. It was good to learn that we still have many bears, gibbons, Borneo peacock pheasants, Binturongs, Otters, clouded leopards and many other animal species in our degraded forest.

Mr Omel
Mr Omel, seriously wounded by poaching devises

It was shocking to learn about the techniques people used to poach though. Birds caught with sound played on small devices, ping pong balls filled with explosives and hidden in bait to blow off the heads of pigs, huge amounts of snares that caught all kinds of wildlife, the use of self-made rifles, poison that kills so many more animals, it is just hard to believe the many ways people poach wildlife here. And many accidents happen with exploding guns, people getting caught in snares and traps and especially lots of people getting wounded by the ping pong balls filled with many of the toy explosives like Mr. Omel here, who picked up one of the balls and got seriously wounded when it exploded in his hand instead of in the mouth of a pig for which it was intended. Also cows frequently get killed when they step on these balls.

Experimental agroforestry plots
Experimental agroforestry plots

Here is a picture of one of our experimental agroforestry plots where we use a blue screen to frighten the pigs and protect our newly planted trees and cassava. So far in combination with Dolo’s patrols the system seems to work well against pigs.

But on the way out only 4 kilometers from the plots, we came across three poachers on unmarked motorbikes. They came all the way from Tenggarong, more than 100 kilometers away to set snares to hunt for pigs and dear. Turns out they already had heard stories about the “white angry giant” and after some convincing we jointly went to remove all their snares, took all their data and made it clear that if they ever returned to our reforestation area they would be processed in court.


Later I checked on all the cameras that we placed together with Wildlife Protection Solutions and then cross checked the secretly taken pictures with what was mentioned in the official written reports of our forest guards. Several of the staff will not have jobs soon…

Non sustainable businesses
This afternoon we had the head of the army over to discuss with our team of 12, a group of experienced and mostly recently retired army people, that are now patrolling our area at unexpected times. They start to make an impact! From all kinds of people that I interviewed I heard the same message that the illegal loggers and poachers are packing up! But I also heard that some of the displaced poachers and wood thieves were planning to demonstrate against me and bring their wives and children to demand food and jobs to replace their wildlife hunting and wood theft. Fortunately our project starts to create many new jobs and many local people that once worked in the logging and timber industry and lost their jobs when they ran out of valuable timber are now supporting our efforts to create permanent jobs in agroforestry and permaculture based projects.

Driving back to the camp and my house we passed the vast clearcut areas of a pulp and paper plantation company. Horrible! Compacted soil, no buffer zones along water streams, just a single species of tree harvested and planted, slopes too steep to use violated, tracks of heavy equipment everywhere reducing the productivity of the soil, stems with bark being removed reducing the nutrient capital, people spraying roundup everywhere. Yes, there are jobs in this area but for how long? When the soils are depleted, trees will get weak and predisposed to diseases and fire and eventually there will be no commercial future and the jobs will prove temporary.

A much more profitable way of reforestation
Our mixed species approach without fertilizers or pesticides will be more profitable and sustainable and that is how I try to protect the forests. Protecting? Yes, by focussing jobs towards reforestation and many different income streams from agroforestry we can then maintain the remaining areas of good forest intact. This is an ethical decision taken by the Arsari Enviro Industri company. Our system, named Rebuild, is a much more profitable way of reforestation and Arsari can therefore do this ethical approach. Many parties that would like to imitate our methods however, most likely would prefer “cherry picking” the most profitable parts only. Therefore, Arsari is now working towards rolling out our methodology, which involves many different recipes and technologies as a package deal in which parties making use of our intellectual property must commit to also taking on the environmental conditions such as preserving biodiversity and the higher income standards and working conditions for employing local people. This link connects to a video that explains the workings of the system in more detail.

Arriving back late at night at the camp in my wooden house I think about the long journey it took to get here. I truly feel that what I started with the Masarang Foundation is now coming to fruition on a massive scale and with a system that truly can create people/planet/profit solutions for many more places in the tropical belt of the world. Protecting nature through the empowerment of local people, the vision of the Masarang Foundation that started in North Sulawesi is taking shape too here in East Kalimantan.