Report highlights the threat agriculture poses to rainforests.

This story on Mongabay has stemmed from a study done at Stanford University using satellite imagery from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

It focuses on where land for agricultural expansion comes from: forests, shrubland, plantations and water.

It reveals that up to 80% of new agriculture is tropical regions comes at the expense of rainforests. This was for the period 1980-2000. The bulk of this expansion is for the growing of food, pasture and fuel.

Rising commodity prices are fuelling a boom in large scale agro-industrial expansion.

More specifically for S.E. Asia 80% of plantation expansion was palm oil. In Sawarak itself I would put that figure even higher. Agriculture is just as a severe threat to rainforests as the timber industry itself. These dual threats are often closely intertwined, as we have seen in Borneo where the logging companies first strip the land, then pass it over to the palm oil plantations.


Air view of Borneo

Land being prepared for agriculture in Borneo



Land being made ready for palm oil plantations in the Borneo rainforest


A Soy moratorium in Brazil, led by Greenpeace, has helped reduce the amount of forest being used to grow this crop that is often used as chicken food.

A palm oil moratorium would be nice in Borneo, but the Malaysian state seems to be in no mood to stop the rampant logging corporations that pave the way for the growth of this fuel.  People will be still filling the tanks of their “green” cars at the expense of this ancient and unique rainforest.

But recent victories against deforestation in both Borneo and Brazil have shown that continued pressure can yield promising results.

The more people know, the more they’ll care.

Rapid growth of palm oil industry tramples indigenous peoples’ rights, says report August 30, 2010

Rapid expansion of oil palm plantations across Southeast Asia have run roughshod over customary tenure systems, resulting in exploitation of local communities, conflict, and outright human rights abuses, reports a new assessment of the palm oil sector by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), an international indigenous rights group.

The report, Palm oil and indigenous peoples in South East Asia, concludes that the rapid growth of the palm oil industry has outpaced safeguards, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

“The global market for palm oil is thus driving a process of rapid land acquisition in the form of consolidated blocks of land, a demand which is testing the capacity of local land agencies, administrators and legislatures to the limits and beyond,” states the report, which is authored by Marcus Colchester, director of FPP. “Regulations and procedures, which evolved to deal with small-scale, often informal, domestic land markets, are proving unequal to the challenge posed by this global demand for huge areas of land.”

The report runs through a litany of cases in Malaysian Borneo, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Papua where native peoples’ rights have been compromised or ignored in the interest of establishing new plantations. The report notes that while all members of affected communities are impacted, women, in particular, are losing out under current practices.

Click to enlarge “Whereas under customary law lands may be held by women (as among the Minangkabau in West Sumatra) or equally by men and women (as among most Dayak peoples in Borneo), when they get formal titles as smallholders these are vested in male heads of households,” the report states. “The marginalization of women has been cited as a cause of the increased instances of prostitution in oil palm areas. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, the impact of oil palm plantations on rural women can include: an increase in time and effort to carry out domestic chores through the loss of access to clean and adequate water and fuel wood and an increase in medical costs due to loss of access to medicinal plants obtained from gardens and forests; loss of food and income from home gardens and cropping areas; loss of indigenous knowledge and socio-cultural systems and; an increase in domestic violence against women and children due to increased social and economic stresses.”

The report says that efforts to address injustices have been held up by corrupt courts, weak land laws, and unresponsive local governments, including that of Sarawak, which has continued to block restitution in a case where a judge found that developers had “violated the indigenous peoples’ rights to both life and property which are guaranteed under Articles 5 and 13 of the Federal Constitution.”

The report concludes by evaluating the prospects for real reform in Indonesia’s forestry and plantations sectors under the recently signed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) agreement with Norway.

“If… there is to be a real moratorium on land clearance then this may provide an important opportunity for the Government to effect reforms in the forestry and plantations sectors, take firm steps to amend the laws so they recognize indigenous peoples’ rights and adopt a more measured approach to rural development that gives priority to local communities’ initiatives and not the interests of foreign backed companies,” Colchester writes.

“If REDD is neither going to respect indigenous peoples’ rights nor curb palm oil expansion, it would seem to be a hollow promise.”

Palm oil and indigenous peoples in South East Asia

Norway divests from Malaysian logging company after rainforest destruction

Original Article appeared here

August 24, 2010

The Norwegian Government’s pension fund sold all its 16 million shares of Samling Global, a Malaysian timber company, after concluding the firm had committed “serious transgessions” in logging outside of concession areas and destroying protected rainforests, reports the Bruno Manser Fund. The sale, worth a total of $1.2 million, represents about 0.3 percent of the company’s outstanding shares based on today’s closing market price in Hong Kong.

The decision to sell the shares follows an investigation of Samling’s operations in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo by the Government Pension Fund’s Council on Ethics. The council documented “extensive and repeated breaches of the licence requirements, regulations and other directives in all of the six concession areas that have been examined.” It noted “very serious transgessions, such as logging outside the concession area, logging in a protected area that was excluded from the concession by the authorities in order to be integrated into an existing national park, and re-entry logging without Environmental Impact Assessments.”

Logging road in Samling Consession Sigbjorn Johnsen, Norway’s Minister of Finance, said Samling’s forest operations “contribute to illegal logging and severe environmental damage.”

Samling has been widely criticized by environmentalists for its logging practices, which have destroyed tracts of biologically-rich rainforest and put it in conflict with forest people, including the Penan, in Sarawak. According to the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak’s forest people, the company is suspected of paying kickbacks to Sarawak’s Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, in exchange for turning a blind eye toward logging. A recent investigation has found that Taib controls properties worth hundreds of million of dollars in Canada, Australia, the UK and the US despite a salary of less than $200,000 a year.

Samling is currently listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Its listing was backed by Credit Suisse, HSBC and Macquarie Securities Ltd.

Norwegian Government’s probe of was Samling came at the urging of the Rainforest Foundation Norway.

Norway is presently the largest funder of tropical forest conservation in the world, committing more than $500 million a year toward efforts to reduce deforestation.

More links added and explained.

I’ve posted up some more links to other Penan related websites so that you can learn more about these people and their situation. Here is a summary of these sites:

Hornbill Unleashed – An excellent Penan related blog delivering recent news.

Irati’s Sacred Quest Call – Irati’s blog entry on our time in Borneo.

Jungle Wanderlust – Another Penan related travel blog.

Work in Progress – The Writings of Iskander Pastrulo – Not Penan related, but some first class short stories to read nonetheless.

Bruno Manser Fonds – The most active NGO helping the Penan. Started by the man of the same name and based in Switzerland. If you ever feel like donating money, then these are the guys you should send it to.

Friends of the Penan – More information with a good page on how to help.

Mongabay – One the best conservation sites out there, with a particular focus on protecting rainforests.

Rengah Sawarak – Rengah Sarawak is the result of a combined efforts by several Sarawak non-government organisations (NGOs) and communities to bring views and information on and about the people’s struggles directly to the internet community and beyond.

Rengah Sarawak is the Penan language for Sarawak News.

Survival International – Survival is the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide. This is a link to their Penan page.

The Borneo Project – Was established in 1991 to assist diverse ethnic communities on the island of Borneo in their struggles for human rights, rainforest protection and sustainable community development.

BBC Tribe – Penan – Another informative site from the BBC show Tribe with Bruce Parry, which I have still not watched.

Ian Mackenzie – A linguist, ethnographer, author, filmmaker, and photographer who does a lot of work with the Penan. Compiled the beautiful Nomads of the Dawn book.

Penan and the Pulong Tau National Park – In-depth research into how the Penan live.

wikipedia – Penan – This one doesn’t need much explanation.

Will the Penan Survive? A well written article.

Adventures in the rainforest jungles of Malaysia – All about Malaysian jungle trips, outdoor gear and bushcraft.

Picnic with the Penan – And finally the site that made our trip possible.

Over time I’ll slowly add more links and will also start posting up news stories relating to the Penan.

Last Chapter Online!

Finally the complete story is now available.

Last Thoughts brings the tale to its conclusion and brings in my opinions as to what I think about the situation, as well as some ideas as to what can be done to help. These are just ideas, and I hope readers will comment with their own.

Since I wrote this, there has been many developments with the Penan and the fight against deforestation in general. These will be posted and discussed in the near future.

Thanks to you all for taking the time out to read this lengthy story. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and now have an insight into the dangers these special people face.  My mission was to tell story of these people, and I hope I have succeeded in the Penan’s request to inform people about their plight. Passing this sites link onwards will only create further awareness. The Internet is a great tool in publicising information and building causes.

Approaching the end!

It’s been a mission, but after putting these last two chapters online, there’s only the final one to go. A long read I know, even a little slow at times, but it all starts to come together in these final installments.

The Last Supper is exactly that: one last night of warm hospitality – with an emotional message being delivered.

A Sad Departure develops further than that as we head across country back to the coast. Here we finally witness the cause of all the suffering up close. And it’s not pretty!

Skimming through those last two chapters before posting them reminded me as to why I’ve spent all this time writing the story and putting it online. What is occurring on that special island is a crime against the planet and it’s people.

I’ll stop there – the last chapter is reserved for my thoughts and that’ll be online soon…

Two more chapters added!

A Change of Plan has us deciding to extend our stay in Long Kerong, while in Fruit Picking we head back into the jungle to collect the evenings feast. We witness some more of the Penan’s skills as they show us how easy it is to collect a bounty of fruit. Lots of parang use in this one.

Settling In

Settling In documents life in the kampung. Here we learn about some of the projects happening in Long Kerong and how they are helping the people there. Since having to settle in fixed abodes, the Penan have had to adapt to a new way of life, with all it’s ups and downs. They are learning new concepts all the time, which will hopefully make life easier for them. But with this new way of life comes new words, such as money and poverty.

Rough in the Jungle

Chapter 6 sees us embark on an overnight trek into the jungle, where things don’t turn out as planned.

This is one of my favourite chapters of the lot, so if your only going to read one, make it this one. Re-reading it brings back fond memories and makes me long to be back with the Penan.

Chapter 5: Jungle Life

This chapter sees us arrive in Long Kerong, while also looking into the history of the Penan’s fight against the logging activites of Samling. Reading this will give you yet another example of a big corporation destroying indigenous land in order to profit from its natural resources.

Other similar stories can be found in the suffering of the Ogoni people at the hands of Shell in the Niger Delta, or the fight of the West Papuans against the mining giants Freeport/Rio Tinto and the Indonesian military.