Category Archives: forest health

how positive thinking can bring change to the forest

forest

You will be forgiven if you have the impression that our blue log is narrowly focused on what swims in the ocean, what sails on the seven seas or just how two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom reflect light from the sun….

Please do forgive us for having pointed to these basic facts first since water is indeed what sustains life and makes up more than half of our body weight. Blue is how man observes his environment: the sky is blue, the ocean is blue and the earth seen from the universe is as blue as can be. So the previous entries into our log were mainly concerned with the waters that cover three quarters of the surface of the planet and that form the world’s single largest ecosystem. As the oceans play a central role in supporting life on earth we shall regularly return to the subject but once again: in our worldview the term ‘blue economy’ as recently adopted by many governments and organizations has nothing to do with what can be extracted from the sea. While blue thinking did certainly develop from a green foundation it goes several steps further. The central plank in the platform of traditional green environmentalism has always been that mankind should simply cut back on energy use and do what is necessary to reduce air and water pollution. However the environmental challenge of today is not merely a matter of mitigating levels of carbon dioxide to reduce global warming. That will neither repair our habitat nor remediate the damage done in the past. Open source blue environmentalism searches for solutions. It is imperative that we bring about fundamental change in our lifestyles and apply solutions-oriented thinking to limit the damage and build sustainable systems for the future. That is really what the term blue economy is all about.

Today we make our ‘landfall’ on Kalimantan, the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Its rain-forest has been there for 130 million years, making it the oldest in the world, 70 million years senior to the Amazon. Kalimantan, or Borneo, as it is called by the rest of the world, is home to some 15,000 species of flowering plants, 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds. It is the only remaining natural habitat for the endangered Bornean Orangutan.

Unfortunately over the past quarter century huge areas of Borneo have been subject to massive deforestation. Rain-forests have been cut and degraded by a voracious global demand for timber, palm oil and coal. The palm oil industry has been one of the biggest drivers of this deforestation and close to half of the original natural forests have been converted to palm-oil and timber plantations, mainly financed by wealthy outsiders. In addition illegal logging has become a way of life for some of the local communities, with timber being taken from wherever it is accessible, sold to collectors and processed in huge sawmills. In the absence of sufficient alternative economic development, this remains an irresistible lure for these local communities. As part of a billion dollar carbon swap agreement with Norway the Indonesian Government has imposed a moratorium on further exploitation but there are loopholes in the law and the moratorium only covers primary forests and excludes existing concessions. Because of corruption and weak law enforcement the burning of key peat-land areas continues unabatedly, mainly to clear land for agriculture and plantations.

The news from this environmental battlefield is always rather gloomy but in the last couple of days we did receive some reports of a more positive nature.

About a year ago Google alerted us to the birth of the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve adjacent to the Tanjung Puting National Park near Pangkalanbun on the Kalimantan South coast. http://rimba-raya.com is a project of Hong Kong based NGO InfiniteEARTH . By leveraging REDD+ carbon credits they embarked on a project to save over 640 square kilometers of peat swamp forest from the encroaching palm oil industry. We just found out that they are doing well: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0626-rimba-raya-redd-project-update.html

Another story that really warmed our heart was a report from Clare McAlaney http://balisouljournals.com/2014/06/26/west-kalimantan-rays-of-hope/
This describes the work of Dr. Kinari Webb. As an undergraduate biology major, Webb had first come to West Kalimantan fifteen years ago in order to study the orangutan in his native habitat. She had seen with her own eyes how the forest was slowly deteriorating because of the incessant illegal logging. At the same time she found out that to the loggers themselves the rape of the forest was merely a matter of survival and of supporting their families. Webb also noticed that the general health of people living in a decaying forest was extremely poor and it became clear to her that the human and environmental health problems were linked. The forest people were trapped in a vicious circle, trading expensive timber to the outside world against equally expensive western medicines.  Seven years ago Webb returned to West Kalimantan with a vision that has proven to be both stunningly simple and spectacularly successful. Her brainchild was a comprehensive program that tackled the problems of environmental and human health with integrated solutions. It goes by the name of Health in Harmony and is based on the principle that healthcare can be a powerful tool enabling communities to be free from disease while using their natural resources in sustainable ways. High-quality healthcare is offered through conservation-oriented barter deals or at a very low cost. Key ingredients in the program are education, community involvement and capacity building. Loggers were promoted to Forest Guardians. Organic farming and sustainable agroforestry programs that provide an alternative livelihood make up for the loss in income and have led to a 68% decline in illegal logging. Villagers can exchange woven mats, manure, baskets or seedlings for healthcare and the collective income is sufficient to cover the cost . Read all about it here: http://www.healthinharmony.org/

Health in Harmony is a brilliant example of blue thinking at its very best.