News / Asia

Aceh Conservationists Achieve Small Victory

Indonesian veterinarian Yenni Saraswati, top center, of Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) examines the condition of an injured Sumatran orangutan found by environmental activists at a palm oil plantation in Rimba Sawang village, March 1, 2012.
Indonesian veterinarian Yenni Saraswati, top center, of Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) examines the condition of an injured Sumatran orangutan found by environmental activists at a palm oil plantation in Rimba Sawang village, March 1, 2012.
Sara Schonhardt
Last week, the provincial government in Aceh revoked a highly controversial permit for palm oil firm PT Kallista Alam, accused by environmental groups of illegally clearing protected forest. Conservationists hail the move as a major win for forest protection.

North Sumatra is home to one of the world’s most important ecosystems for critically endangered Sumantran orangutans. In recent years, those creatures have come under threat from companies that clear the land for palm oil plantations.

The Tripa peat swamp first gained attention in March when conservation groups warned that companies operating on illegal permits were setting fire to the forests there and killing orangutans in the process.

They say the governor in Aceh at the time had violated a two-year ban on new forest conversion by granting a permit to palm oil firm PT Kallista Alam. The permit, which was issued months after the moratorium took effect, allowed the firm to develop around 1,600 hectares of land, much of it on peat that, when disturbed, releases harmful carbon into the atmosphere.

Since 2010 around 15,000 hectares of primary forest have been cleared. Now, less than a quarter of the original forest remains.

Ian Singleton, the director of conservation for an orangutan protection program in the Leuser ecosystem that surrounds Tripa, says environmental groups often struggle to prove that suspect companies are operating illegally. But the Tripa case was an exception. “This Kallista Alam was such a sitting duck, it was so clearly illegal and so easy prove that we decided to go after it,” he stated.

Earlier this year, a local environmental group, Friends of the Earth, filed a lawsuit against the company and the government in Aceh. That move sparked similar investigations from several government bodies and the police, who are looking into accusations of illegal burning.

Singleton says those investigations have shown that other companies operating in the area are also breaking laws. “Although we’re extremely thrilled that we’ve got this Kallista Alam concession revoked what we see on the ground is business as usual,” he said.

The moratorium on forest clearing is at the heart of a climate deal in which Norway pledged $1 billion to aid Indonesian efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation. The Tripa case is considered a test of Indonesia’s commitment to stop forest clearing and cut its carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

During a recent trip to the United States, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received an environmental stewardship award from a group of conservation organizations for his pledges. But activists here say enforcement of laws that prevent land clearing has proven difficult.

They say local governments accept money in return for issuing permits that violate national laws. Meanwhile, companies continue to burn the forests because it’s the cheapest, most effective form of land clearing.

Singleton says Kallista Alam serves as a precedent, but its tiny concession is just part of a much bigger picture. “Now our expectations are much, much higher and I think we’ve got the support of the central government to at least investigate and try to challenge, maybe even evict and prosecute some of the other companies there as well,” he added.

Less than 200 orangutans remain in the Leuser ecosystem, and Singleton predicts that if the rate of clearing doesn’t slow soon, they could all be gone by next year.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs