Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Rainforest a vital and sustainable ‘supermarket’ for local communities by Chuck Baclagon

After what she describes as two very emotional and intense weeks at the Climate Defenders Camp in Sumatra, Corinna Hölzel, Forest Campaigner from Germany has now left Indonesia. Corinna had intended to stay in the camp much longer but after our successful actions against climate criminals APRIL, circumstances have changed and tight restrictions have been placed on foreigners travel within Riau Province.

Before leaving, Corinna took some time to describe her experiences working with the local community to preserve this vital rainforest ecosystem:

I belong to the group of people who at least had a chance to stay in the Climate Defenders Camp for some days, but some of my colleagues who arrived later than me haven’t had the opportunity to make this important experience at all.

Now that foreigners are not allowed to go to the village of Teluk Meranti or the camp, and while our Indonesian colleagues are interrogated by the police, I am concerned what will happen to the people from the local communities that supported our work and prevented the eviction of the camp.

In Indonesia, the police and companies like APRIL and Sinar Mas are very much linked and they are working together on a common goal – to kick Greenpeace out of this region. After I was detained and questioned by the police they told me that I am not allowed to return to the camp. I asked him why, and got a strange answer: He said that before Greenpeace established the camp on Kampar peninsula all people were happy and calm. Since Greenpeace is has been here the region has divided into pro and anti Greenpeace, and they fight against each other. For him the only solution is to remove Greenpeace.

I told him that I experienced the people as very aware and self confident. They know exactly what the forest means to them and what will happen once the big companies take their land and convert it into plantations.

Rather than removing Greenpeace they should instead respect the will of local communities.

Even though it was short, I will always remember my time in the camp where I worked together with local people and activists from all over the world to achieve one aim: Save the forest and the climate.

The work was hard – I never understood why the indonesian sandbags have to weight about 40 kilos – and the temperature was high. But it was worth every single minute. The atmosphere in the camp was great, and my abrupt goodbye – caused by my removal by the police – was very touching. Now I am glad to hear that the locals are continuing to build the dam.

The large majority of the locals don’t want to give their land to the big companies like APRIL. They know this is short sighted because even if they get some money for selling the land it won’t be enough. I talked to some people who live from fishing, small scale agriculture and usage of the forest. In the biodiverse peat forest they find medicine, fruit, nuts, mushrooms and building material. They can cultivate rice inside the forest. On the fields near the village they plant corn and oil palms for their own use and to sell at the local market. Whilst walking through the village you see some cattle, chicken and goats. They say the forest is their ‘supermarket’, the only difference is that it’s for free.

Azwir, a local farmer, told me he has enough income to cover all his expenses. This would change dramatically if the forest is taken by APRIL or Sinar Mas who would clear it and dry the soil. The free supermarket would go bankrupt, and the fish stocks would decrease heavily. Hence he would need more money to feed his family. Where should the money come from? I asked him if he could work on the plantations. But he refused because it would make him dependent on the big companies and he would earn less. And also because he wants his children and grandchildren to grow up with the forest. That’s why he fights for the protection of forest and against ‘the company’ (what the people are calling APRIL) and against the government which has already given a 24,000 ha concession on community land to APRIL.

He also signed up a letter which sent the community to the Government in May 2009. They have never received an answer.

I was very impressed by the resoluteness of Azwir. He is aware that his forest is not only important for him and his community, but he knows about the its’ global importance as well. He has big hopes in the climate summit in Copenhagen and that the international community will agree to measures which will protect his forest. He would like to go to Copenhagen and tell his story to the world. He says he would do lots of things in order to protect his forest, but he would never leave it. He will never leave his village Teluk Meranti and move to another place but “fight until the end”.

>> Read more about the Climate Defenders Camp

>> Join the call for an ambitious deal at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen this December including a forest fund

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