15 Jun 13

The Offshore Leaks Database of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICCJ) contains ownership information about companies created in 10 offshore jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore. It covers nearly 30 years until 2010.

As to be expected, billionaires are among thousands of Indonesians found in the secret documents now being made public.

Four … of Indonesia’s very richest are known for their role in clearing vast areas of tropical rainforest. Eka Tjipta Widjaja, the Salim family, Sukanto Tanoto and Prajogo Pangestu built their fortunes after they obtained licenses to log and clear rainforest during the Suharto years. More recently Widjaja, Tanoto and Pangestu have invested heavily in palm oil plantations. 

A series of reports earlier this year from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting described palm oil as one of the most controversial commodities on earth. Palm oil plantations have replaced “swathes of rainforest the size of small countries”. 

Between them they have over 140 offshore companies, mostly in the British Virgin Islands.

Link Category: Green Villains

31 May 13

The Sunda pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, is threatened by illegal poaching for its meat which is a culinary delicacy, as well as its scales which are thought to have high medicinal value.

Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species have few close relatives and are often extremely distinct in the way they look, live and behave. These unique species are also on the verge of extinction, and if they disappear there will be nothing like them left on the planet.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London have pinpointed areas of the world where EDGE species occur, in the hope that these regions can become global conservation priorities. Currently only 5% of mammal areas and 15% of amphibian areas are protected.

The Edge of Existence Map lists far too many species in Indonesia.
- Mammals
- Amphibians

Link Category: endangered species

26 May 13

This week, the International Institute for Species Exploration announced their annual top 10 new species. As the Guardian says, the list is a kind of scientific shock-and-awe campaign, shocking us at what we did not know about our own planet and leaving us in awe over the diversity, complexity, wonder and beauty of the living world.

Indeed, and this should serve as a reminder that we don’t know what species remain undiscovered in Indonesia, and will never know as long as rampant land grabbing for palm oil plantations, mining and urbanisation continues apace.

Discovered in the Lomami Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis) is an Old World monkey well known to locals but newly known to science. This is only the second species of monkey discovered in Africa in the past 28 years. Scientists first saw the monkey as a captive juvenile in 2007. Researchers describe the shy lesula as having human-like eyes. More easily heard than seen, the monkeys perform a booming dawn chorus. Adult males have a large, bare patch of skin on the buttocks, testicles and perineum that is colored a brilliant blue. Although the forests where the monkeys live are remote, the species is hunted for bush meat and its status is vulnerable
View gallery of all ten species.

Link Category: endangered species

13 May 13

Stan Lhota has written to say that he is “currently writing a book chapter on ecotourism in primate swamp habitats in Borneo (Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei), with a special focus on proboscis monkeys.

“There is very little evaluation research published on this topic, so I am therefore searching for personal experiences of people involved in ecotourism – as conservationists, entrepreneurs or tourists.

Do you think you can help commenting on the book chapter from your own experience in Borneo? If so, please email him.

Link Category: ecotourism, endangered species

6 May 13

This says it all.

Found here via here.

Link Category: hybrid seeds

4 May 13


…. are mountains of urban trash generated by the growth of Jakarta’s middle classes who live for the day with their credit cards. For some (most?) of them, garbage disposal is a game with little thought given to the process.

As Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, chief editor of the Jakarta Post, wrote recently in a truly excellent opinion article, “People in the middle class no longer see political activism and social reform as an ethical obligation, but as an intellectual hobby for the few. If those who can propel change refuse to – and if the bureaucracy proves unwilling to – then what hope is there for the underclass, other than wallowing in decay as others grow wealthy?”

Pemulung (scavengers) are a common sight in Jakarta …

… some with a sack on the back 

… and others with a cart  … 

… which provides a ‘home’

Some of the middle classes live in gated communities and overtly forbid entrance to pemulung, threatening mutilation – a hole in the head – or even death!

These blinkered parasites would surely benefit from watching and/or downloading the BBC programme Toughest Place to be a Bin Man.

Last Saturday, along with Dan Quinn, Our Kid and a mutual friend, we were given a tour of the Sumur Batu landfill site where one of Jakarta’s satellite cities, Bekasi, has its garbage dumped. It lies next to Bantar Gebang which landscapes Jakarta’s waste and can be seen in the background of the top picture..

Dan has written of our visit: “The witnessing of this kind of environment requires a considerable time for its effects to be fully felt. Or perhaps nothing can touch your heart when you’ve grown accustomed to daily scenes of poverty in Jakarta. Despite the stench, filth, danger and extreme poverty, I find myself lacking the levels of feelings of empathy or horror that I had been anticipating.

Maybe this is why I haven’t posted my thoughts earlier. Most of are aware, if only from snippets of news and the occasional documentaries on TV, what Asia’s garbage dumps look like, but experiencing the vastness of the quiet alien landscape from afar and within is surreal. It is strangely quiet; the vast army of pemulung, perhaps 10,000 strong over the two dumps, have little to say as they work rapidly, gathering loads of plastic bags which they can resell at between Rp.300 and Rp.500 per kilo.

And it comes by the ton, every day.

Dan has said much of what I’d like to say, and much better than I could, so please make the effort to read his account. And remember how lucky we are not to have been born or have to live among our garbage.

This is not an instruction!

Dan’s pictures are here and mine are here.  
Taylor Samuelsen visited Bantar Gabang in 2012 and his account is here
An audio report about the scavengers of Bantar Gabang.

Link Category: plastic bags, recycling

15 Apr 13

“White rice is lacklustre, lifeless, tasteless and irritating to prepare; brown rice is flavoursome, wholesome and easy to prepare.
Maud Grieve F.R.H.S. (1858-1941) – A Modern Herbal (pub. 1931) (See notes)

Every society has a staple food: my London upbringing revolved around potatoes, varieties such as King Edwards in winter for baking and Whites for salads. We grew them in our back garden.

My mother also made a delicious rice pudding with sultanas and raisins; it was boiled in milk, then baked for a while with a sprinkling of nutmeg on the top.

Later, as an adult, I’d enjoyed the occasional Chinese takeaway with white rice, Indian meals with basmati rice and vegan meals with brown rice bought from the community wholefoods store. Yet, not yet being a traveller, I knew little about the other 40,000 plus varieties of rice – yes, there are really that many, nor that Indonesian alone has about 7,000 varieties, suitable for uplands, lowlands or tidal swamps.

Shortly after I arrived in Jakarta in pre-internet days and began the process of acculturation, I was somewhat taken aback by Indonesian’s obsession with food – meaning rice.

Sudah makan, belum?

I began to write a story ….

We took pity on Michael

He’s been with us a long time now, since he appeared out of the crags one moonlit night. He carried a canvas shoulderbag. In it, he said, were his flavours. His needs were small. Mother had told him when he was little that rice would suffice. That’s all. Rice. But what rice?

We knew from other rare travellers that there was rice to be found in Vesta, Bismati, Pilau, Saffron and in Jasmine. These we could not, did not want to know. Why should we? We made bread.

From the earliest moment of conception at pre-dawn, we were surrounded by the early morning comforting, wafting, familiar smell of rising yeast, of browning crusts, of carbonising toast, of croissants, cobs and cottages, of baguettes, bagels and buns. And best of all was bread pudding, made from the stale remnants of loaves and laced with the fruits of the seasons.

Our folk heroes were gingerbread men living in gingerbread houses eating bread and honey. The wicked witch let them eat cake.

And Michael came looking for rice. Our rice.

It grew, he said, in dew ponds, could only be gathered by the light of the new moon and he would show us how to gather it, make sheaves, stack it, winnow it, dry it, clean it, store it, boil it, fry it, can it, sell it, worship it, make babies’ rattles, flour, drinks ……….


It is thought that around 1000BC rice cultivation spread to the Malay-Indo archipelago from the Bronze Age Đông Sơn (Dongsan) culture centred in the Red River Valley of northern Vietnam. This brought irrigated rice-growing techniques, as well as husbandry skills, buffalo sacrifice rituals, bronze casting, the custom of erecting megaliths, and ikat weaving methods. Some of these practices survive today in the Batak areas of Sumatra, Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, parts of Kalimantan, and Nusa Tenggara.

By the 1st century AD, small kingdoms, collections of villages subservient to petty chieftains, evolved in Java*. The island’s constant hot temperature, plentiful rainfall and volcanic soil was ideal for wet-field rice cultivation. This largely self-sufficient organisation, with surplus rice being stored for communal use in times of drought or festivities, could explain why the Javanese developed a seemingly more feudal society than the other islands. Dry rice cultivation is not such a collective enterprise.

However, the population explosion last century – from c.50 million in 1900 to c.110 million in 66/67 – led to rice shortages. President Sukarno advocated the eating of corn, or rats from the rice fields – accounts vary but the populace were unimpressed either way – and the famine was temporarily and partially alleviated by USAID rice aid shipments.

In 1968, Suharto launched his ‘Green Revolution‘ aiming for food self-sufficiency. The government provided subsidies for fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation, which helped to increase yields and production.

By 1978, programs to build up the rural infrastructure, such as irrigation canals, water supply, bridges and roads, amounted to 12% of the national development budget, demonstrating the importance of rice to political stability. This worked for a while; in spite of a drastic drop in production due to the 1975–76 wereng (brown planthopper) plague, by 1984 rice production exceeded domestic consumption for the first time. Suharto was honoured for this by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in November 1985.

The Bureau of Logistics (Badan Urusan Logistik/BULOG), a government-owned company  which deals with food distribution and price control, was originally established in 1967 to purchase rice for the provisioning of the armed forces, the civil service, and state corporation employees. It now monitors and sets prices for a much wider variety of foods. (Since its foundation, Bulog has raised the living standards of farmers, but it’s also proved a much larger source of illicit funding for its managers.)

However, Indonesia became a net rice importer once again in 1988 and the rural rakyat were advised to eat ubi (cassava) as their staple food. It wasn’t until last year (2012) that Bulog had “the highest ever rice stocks” with 2.3 million tons, having imported just 700,000 tons. However, there was once again a drive to wean the population off rice.

The ‘Green Revolution’ and the recent move towards genetically modified seeds has had several unfortunate consequences. Farming on an industrial scale with centralised distribution of insecticides, pesticides, fertilisers and ‘standard’ seeds has reduced the fertility of the soil, with chemicals leaching into the water table via run-offs from the fields. Farmers, who had localised and inherited knowledge of the terrain they were working, have been displaced, many becoming workers in the fields their families once owned.

In 2007, the government, through national seed company, PT Sang Hyang Seri, launched a major hybrid rice programme in association with such Indonesian oligarchs as Tomy Winarta and Jusuf Kalla. Since then, many farmers have experienced crop failures because, as Prof. Dr. Kasumbogo Untung, an entomologist at the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta said in 2010, hybrid seeds are especially susceptible to pests such as brown planthoppers.

Many farmers have reverted to more traditional methods such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). This was developed in India and seen yields per hectare increase by as much as 40%. It is based on eight principles which are different to conventional rice cultivation. They include developing nutrient-rich and un-flooded nurseries instead of flooded ones, ensuring wider spacing between rice seedlings, preferring compost or manure to synthetic fertilizers, and managing water carefully to avoid that the plants’ roots are not saturated.
Another major advantage of SRI is that it relies on local knowledge, which increases the likelihood that the seeds used would be more resistant to prevalent infestations.

SBY, who has a PhD from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, supports SRI because “it increases production, yet does not damage the environment. We should think about the future of our children [and] the lives of the next generation.(video with subtitles)

I’m with SBY on this: support local farmers, not the genetically modified conglomerates.
The bran in brown rice contains significant dietary fiber and the germ contains many vitamins and minerals. Because white rice involves the removal of the bran and germ, it has to be specially coated with vitamins B1, B3, and iron.

*Stamford Raffles, in his History of Java suggests that the name is derived from the Sanskit word ‘yava’, which means barley.

Did you know?
Rice farming is responsible for 14% of total global methane emissions.

More reading
Green Indonesia – blog
University of Michigan – paper
International Rice Research Institute
A shorter version of the above was published in issue 91 of the Jakarta Expat magazine

Link Category: farming, food

15 Mar 13

For regular snippets on what’s happening on the green front in Indonesia, bookmark this Facebook page.

Link Category: Uncategorized

13 Mar 13

Kencana Agri Ltd, which is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, say that they have “Environment-friendly Policies.”

But do they?

This is their Jakarta HQ; any company or individual who can inflict such an eyesore on passers-by in an urban environment cannot be expected to have much concern for Mother Nature.

And this is from their corporate profile: In order to fully leverage and maximise the value chain of its plantation assets and logistics services, the Group, together with Louis Dreyfus Commodities, has built an integrated palm oil complex in Balikpapan comprising a deep water port, and a bulking terminal with storage capacity of up to 50,000 tonnes. 
The Group will continue to expand this complex in the years ahead.

The Friends of Borneo – who started the petition “Wilmar Group and Kencana Agri of Indonesia: Back off Balikpapan Bay!” – have this to say:  

Hi everyone! 

Many thanks for having signed and shared this petition to protect Balikpapan Bay in Borneo. 

We have won a partial victory! Wilmar Group has ceased all building activities and is in contact with local NGOs to work out plans to mitigate their impact on the environment.  

However, Kencana Agri is still ignoring our calls to stop their activities and do a proper assessment of their impact. 

Please support conservationist Stan Lhota who has issued a personal challenge to Kencana. Sign and share widely and let’s save the orangutans, the proboscis monkeys and the Irrawady dolphins of Balikpapan Bay!

Yes, please do. You know it makes sense.

Link Category: endangered species, plantations

7 Mar 13

In its regular Pics Of The Day series, today’s issue of the Guardian has the following two.

Veera was the 40th orangutan birth to date at the Singapore Zoo, which has the largest social colony of endangered Sumatran and Bornean sub-species orangutans.

Does this mean that Indonesia’s social groups of orangutans are smaller? And could this be because of the rampant deforestation in favour of palm oil plantations developed by Singapore-based conglomerates?

A worker arranges snakes to be dried at a snake slaughterhouse in the village of Kapetakan, Indonesia. The dried meat is exported to China and Taiwan for medicine and food.

Why don’t China and Taiwan have their own snake farms? Or were the pictured snakes captured in the wild where they are a vital part of the eco-system – if it hasn’t (yet) been decimated?

Link Category: endangered species

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