Protected Forests

Illegal Farming Inside Protected Area

Following on from my last post “Busy, busy, busy”, here’s some more detail about the illegal farming. The farm was obviously productive and well-maintained. It had a fence around it to keep out wild pigs and deer. Inside, bananas, rice, cassava and a number of vegetables were all growing well. Indeed, if our agricultural demonstration plots looked that good we could be justifiably proud. LWR -illegal farming Illegal farm inside Lamandau Wildlife Reserve

But there was one big problem with this farm – it is inside the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. It is obvious from the surrounding forest the farmers were not making use of fallow land, as we try to do with the demonstration farms. No, here, they had cleared the forest and then burnt it to boost soil fertility.

Illegal farming

Note the surrounding tree-line.

This situation gives us a problem, as there is no real alternative to evicting them. We do not wish to have a confrontation with the surrounding villages; one of our aims is to establish harmonious relations between the neighbouring communities and conservation areas. However, if there is a flagrant violation of the law, as in this case, there is little that can be done. The farmers can not be allowed to continue. They are clearly damaging the forest, increasing the risk of forest fires and would almost certainly persecute any wildlife that took to crop raiding.

Farming inside Lamandau

Once forest, now farm land.

Technically, the farmers could be arrested, but pragmatically this would only inflame local sensibilities and even the police would be reluctant to arrest someone for (as they will see it) “just growing food”. The balancing act facing us, therefore, is to get the people out of the Reserve without turning their whole village against us but, at the same time, creating a strong enough front to deter anyone else from attempting to farm there. The Forestry Department officials, under whose auspices we work, have suggested giving the farmers six months to complete the current harvest after which they must leave.

This seems reasonable. We can easily monitor them to make sure there is no further expansion or burning. We can also make use of this time to erect a signboard/ block on the river the farmers are using for access to prevent anyone else from saying “I did not know it was a Conservation Area”.

It is worrying that people still do not respect Lamandau’s borders but it is encouraging that our patrols clearly have good enough ground coverage that they were able to detect the farm and, secondly, that the Forestry Department has the resolve to deal with it. A strong display now will go along way to reducing such incidents in the future.

- P.S. Brigitta, thank you for the comment. It is a pity about the video question and answer session, but it will still be good to meet up. As I said, I will be at Pondok Ambung or Camp Leakey on the 10th, so we’ll meet up then. Safe travels!