By Chris Lang
“Cari Hutan” is a new documentary by a young German film-maker called Florian Augustin. Earlier this year, he travelled to Kalimantan, to find out what is happening to the forests there. The film turned into a road movie in search of the forest.
The film starts on the boat to Kalimantan. Augustin travelled around Kalimantan by hitch-hiking and recorded interviews with the people who picked him up. He found that everyone had an opinion. For example, a truck driver told him that
“I wish there was no more illegal logging, no more coal mining! If we go on cutting down all the trees, in the long run this world will end. And where are we supposed to live then?
He also interviewed farmers who described how the chainsaws arrived and the destruction started. He spoke to villagers with a 21 year-old chainsaw who joked about how many hectares it has already destroyed. “This machine is our life. If it was taken from us by law we wouldn’t have any source of income,” one of them told him.
Here is part 1 of the film:
Augustin also interviewed “experts” including Bungaran Saragih, Indonesia’s Minister of Agriculture from 2001 to 2004 (during which time the area of oil palm plantations in Indonesia doubled), Simon Husson, of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project in Sebangau National Park, Sumali Agrawal of the NGO Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta, Arie Rompas of WALHI Central Kalimantan and Chris Lang of REDD-Monitor.
Early in the film, Augustin finds a series of plywood and saw mills and is surprised to hear that the wood comes not from Kalimantan, but from Sulawesi – there is no wood left on Kalimantan he is told. He gets a lift from a palm oil truck driver and they drive through an area that has been deforested for 20-30 years already.
He visits a coal mine and a gold mine. Coal mining is a major cause of deforestation in East Kalimantan. When the coal is exhausted, the mines are simply abandoned. Gold mining is responsible for mercury pollution, present in many of the rivers in Kalimantan.
An interview with a farmer who has now started to grow oil palm is particularly interesting:
“A company called ‘Itzi’ destroyed our forest. After that the forest fires started. The biggest were in 1982 and 1997. The fires completely destroyed all my fruit plantations… So now I started a co-operation with a palm oil company, because I can’t manage my own plantations any more, I started growing oil palm as well. But actually I haven’t made any profit from that yet. ‘Itzi’ destroyed our forests! Not us, the locals. They destroyed everything, even our little fruit trees. We, the people of the forest, used to live the same way as our ancestors did. We never destroyed the forest. We knew the forest. We preserved the forest! We knew how to prevent the fires! We used to open up field in one spot. Harvested them. Then moved to another field and so on. After three years we would return back to the first one. But now a lot of people say we are to blame for the deforestation. But I tell you, we are the wrong address!
The only improvement are the roads and infrastructure. But economically it’s much harder today. Simply because we don’t profit from the forest anymore. So really the only hope today are the plantations. there is no other economic choice. At the plantations we get a 20/80 share of land and profit.”
In between the interviews, there’s the hitch-hiking round Kalimantan road movie, which is pretty entertaining. He tries fishing (unsuccessfully) and climbing a coconut tree (successfully).
After two weeks of travelling he at last finds pristine forest – and films logging trucks loaded down with timber on logging roads through the forest. He documents how a logging company that is operating legally buys timber from local people who are operating illegally outside the company’s concession area.
The video is an excellent antidote to romantic views of indigenous peoples living in harmony with the untouched forests of Kalimantan. Apart from anything else, vast areas of the forest have long since gone. In one village near Sebangau Natuional Park, villagers talk about “the era of illegal logging”, which has now passed. “The whole problem is poverty,” one of the villagers says. “Compared to the times when we were still allowed to log our economic opportunities are extremely narrow today.” Another adds, “Our hope for the future is to preserve nature. But what hope is there for us if our nature is destroyed by palm oil companies?” Then Augustin films villagers logging in the north of the park, in orangutan habitat.
Towards the end of the film, Augustin returns to Jakarta, and discusses REDD, as a “possible solution”. Here’s what Augustin has to say about the moratorium that was passed in May 2011:
“In my opinion, the logging moratorium passed by the Indonesian government is definitely a joke and in fact, I did not expect much more. On the other side however, it should also be said that US$1 billion is far too little if we want Indonesia to completely stop all its logging activities and palm oil production. So really the commitment by industrialised nations is still by far too little.”
The film ends in Germany, with some suggestions for consumers in Europe. Don’t buy products that use palm oil. Avoid biofuels. Ride a bicycle. Reduce meat consumption. Reduce paper and wood consumption. Don’t trust the Forest Stewardship Council. “The most sustainable product is the one that’s not used at all,” as Augustin puts it.
Florian Augustin has already started his next project. He is currently in Istanbul on his way from Berlin to Papua. By bicycle.