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Saturday, 21 April 2012 01:13

Forbidden forest of the Dayak

The Dayak Kenyah people live in the lungs of the world. Deep inside the lush rainforests of East Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo, they have coexisted in harmony with their forbidden forests (Tana Olen) for thousands of years.

In Setulang village, near the Malay-Indonesian border, lives the “Oma’lung” tribe — a particular sub-group of Dayaks now internationally renowned for gutsy efforts to save their forests from deforestation. Driven by an ancient Dayak code restricting access to the forest and its resources, the Oma’lung use centuries-old indigenous knowledge to manage their natural landscapes sustainably (with practices like shifting cultivation and agro-forestry) so that both humans and nature benefit. Today, the Oma’lung rely on income from farming, particularly organic rice, and from forest products such as game, fibers and poles. Importantly, forestlands are never deliberately destroyed for farming. For many indigenous communities around the world, there are powerful economic incentives to sacrifice trees for timber and large-scale agricultural crops to feed the world’s insatiable appetite for economic development. However, as the 21st century intrudes on their territory, the Oma’lung are adopting an unlikely modern tool to protect their forest: the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programme. REDD employs “market incentives” to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Essentially, it is a scheme that pays forest owners like the Oma’lung not to chop down their trees. Trees that are saved, and the emissions prevented, are calculated and converted into “REDD credits” — that can be bought and sold on a central market exchange (like the Chicago Climate Exchange) by buyers like big polluting companies wishing to offset their total carbon emissions.

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