“Dieter Hoffmann of Harapan Rainforest knows what a reporter likes to see,” writes Klaus Esterluss of the German TV broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Esterluss visited the Harapan Rainforest Project last year for a report for DW. And what he wanted to see were tiger footprints.
Unfortunately, Hoffmann does not appear to have put DW’s journalist team in touch with the farmers, illegal loggers, land speculators, land rights activists, and indigenous peoples that the project has been in conflict with for the past four years. Instead, DW’s short film is entirely from the perspective of the project proponents. The film makes no mention of the negotiation process that project proponents started in June 2012. Instead the focus is on illegal loggers and Harapan rangers’ and the police’s attempts to arrest them.
Before watching the short video, you should know that Deutsche Welle’s film was sponsored by Germany’s International Climate Initiative (a transcript is below):
In December 2012, around 150 members of SPORC (Satuan Polisi Kehutanan Reaksi Cepat, Forest Police Rapid Response Force), Brimob (Mobile Brigade – an Indonesian National Police special operations unit) and TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, Indonesia’s armed forces) moved in to evict villagers living inside the Harapan project area. A stand-off took place between farmers and officials. Some of the houses were burned.
In January 2013, Dianto Bachriadi of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said,
“There are indications of human rights violations. Some homes were burned, there was loss of property, and bulldozers were used in evictions. As a result, people are experiencing psychological trauma. In any situation, citizens should be guaranteed a quiet life without fear.”
Protecting Sumatra’s biodiversity
Deutsche Welle, posted to YouTube on 28 June 2012
Elva Gemita (protects Sumatran tigers in the Harapan Rainforest): I like being in the forest, in the jungle because it makes me feel free. I like the sounds of the forest, and its peaceful for me. We don’t have much forest left in Sumatra. The wildlife, this is their home, especially for tiger, tiger has become decreased their populations. And this Harapan Rainforest is the hope for them.
Carmen Meyer (Deutsche Welle reporter): What’s home to Elva Gemita is an unusual project for German Dieter Hoffmann, funded by the International Climate Initiative, with his support, they bought this previously logged forest not to continue logging but to restore it to its original condition. 100,000 hectares of rainforest.
Dieter Hoffmann (Harapan Rainforest Project): It’s hard to monitor the area. There are very few roads and in the rainy season, difficult or impossible to drive on. Then, of course, time and again, there’s illegal logging or illegal settlements by people who think the rainforest should be clearcut for palm oil plantations.
Carmen Meyer: Harapan Rainforest does its best to get political support, if necessary from the police, because at present patrolling the area is too dangerous.
The project employs 260 people, 120 of them to drive out on patrols. Barriers on the project’s own roads, put up by illegal settlers. The employers clear the way, despite the threats.
Translator: So what they are saying is, they are here for money, yeah, so don’t disturb them, but don’t follow what the foreign nationals are saying.
Carmen Meyer: Only the local forest police can take serious action, let alone arrest illegal loggers if they are on patrol.
Dieter Hoffmann and the patrol leader of the Harapan Rainforest had their suspicions. Here, everyone’s arrived too late.
Dieter Hoffmann: I mean that’s what the illegal loggers do.
We’ve lost about 25 hundred hectares to illegal logging. That’s an enormous area. And there’s clearly a mafia behind it.
Carmen Meyer: The structures are professional. Valuable tropical trees are being systematically cut down deep in the jungle.
Dieter Hoffmann: They drag them through the forest for kilometres. It’s back-breaking work. They are wrecks by the time they are thirty. Then the masterminds who are waiting at the end of the river with their trucks take the wood and then distribute it all through Indonesia. And the gang-leaders are the ones who make the money.
Carmen Meyer: Right now the mood is especially aggressive. They meet one of their rangers, abducted a few days ago. Two hundred illegal settlers stormed the guard post.
Febrian (Harapan Rainforest Ranger): At first I was very shocked and frightened. They all had knives. They were all very angry. They locked me up in the village.
Elva Gemita: You see that footprint, isn’t that gorgeous? You can just imagine the tiger. What a wonderful the way they walk. Wow.
Carmen Meyer: Elva Gemita has been working hard to protect the rare animals for the past two years. She documents every single sighting.
Elva Gemita: We just saw the tiger footprints walking in front of this cam-trap, so there is a potential that we’ve got the tiger photographed.
Carmen Meyer: It looks like good news. A young female she hasn’t seen for a long time is still alive. She tells us there are only about 250 Sumatran tigers still living in the wild. And that 15 to 20 of them have found refuge in Harapan Rainforest. The tigers and more than 300 bird species are another reason Dieter Hoffmann and everyone here is fighting for every tree.
The project receives €2 million in subsidies a year, but still can’t stop all the destruction.
Dieter Hoffmann: This was one of the best areas in Harapan Rainforest and if this can’t be stopped, where will it end?
Carmen Meyer: Nature and animal protection simply don’t work without support from the local population. The villagers of Sako Suban have lived here peacefully for decades with and from the forest, harvesting rubber, for instance. They ask Hoffmann about jobs and that’s one of the Harapan Rainforest Project’s aims, to integrate local communities. Their own small nursery gives them additional income and supports reforestation.
And this too should help. In the future Dieter Hoffmann and the rangers will be able to see illegal logging from the air and be able to take action sooner.
Dieter Hoffmann: Fantastic! Even an area like this one will at least look like a forest again in ten years.
Carmen Meyer: They’ve reforested 14 hundred hectares so far and they want to make sure Harapan Rainforest continues to provide a habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna.