West Papua villagers vow to fight to protect their forests from outsiders

Villagers in West Papua are up in arms to protect their forest from encroachment by logging and palm oil companies so their forest will not end up being destroyed like those in Sumatra and Kalimantan, The Jakarta Post Online reported on Tuesday.

“We can’t live peacefully if companies enter our area. This is where we live. If companies expand into our area, sago plantations will be closed and destroyed,” vowed Yoel Semere while he sat on a hill overlooking a large swathe of pristine forest.

The village which is home to 37 households and 186 people living on 2,000 hectares with 1,880 ha., making up the forest area is no stranger to industry expansion. The villagers successfully campaigned against the company with the help of several NGOs, forcing the company to stop its operation in the region.

Still, the villagers cannot rest easy as palm oil companies have started to expand operations in the region in recent years.

Papua is still home to vast forests, which provide a livelihood for many villagers. But the island is under threat from illegal logging and palm oil industry.

Data from Greenpeace Indonesia shows there are about 48 palm oil companies that have permits in Papua and West Papua, with the size of each permit ranging from 25,000 to 45,000 ha.

After fighting to keep companies out of their areas, the villagers of Sira along with the neighbouring Manggroholo village became the first villagers on Papua to have their rights to manage their forests acknowledged by the government.

The government hopes to grant more forest permits to villagers.