"Forest and clouds formation in East Kalimantan"
Christoforus Terry 2008
This is a story about me, my sister, brother and my forest. I live in a Terai village of Nepal. Nepal is a country situated in South Asia. Asia-pacific comprises some of the richest and the poorest economies, most populated and the least populated countries and countries with the most extensive and least extensive national forest area. My country is an example of one of the poorest economies though rich in natural resources especially forest resources. My family consists of my father, mother, a younger brother and an elder sister. My sister got married in the hills while my brother went abroad (one of the leading economies of the world) for employment. So my blind father, sick mother and I work in others’ farms to survive.
Nepal is a country where more than 40 percent of the land area is covered with forests but we do not have land of our own. We have a thick protected forest close to where we live in a hut which is very vulnerable to wind and heavy rain. It is surrounded by army camps. My father was once attacked by a tiger and blinded. We need firewood for cooking and fodder for two goats. Feeding the goats is a major problem as we can neither graze them inside the forest nor collect fodder and grasses from there. So, sometimes we steal into the forest to collect some but most of the times get chased by the army. The forest has huge trees and many wild animals. Had we been allowed to cut some of the old trees, we could have made a small but proper house for ourselves. Researchers from so many places come to see the forest. They say our forest is very rich as it has so many valuable trees, herbs and shrubs which can serve as a source of livelihood for us. However, the forest is ‘for our eyes’ only. A signatory of the Convention on Biodiversity told us that the government is trying to protect the forest for bio-diversity conservation. However, I feel our sufferings are overlooked. We are always vulnerable to lifethreatening attacks by the wild animals. Some wild animals killed our goats and destroyed the crops in our farms, minimizing our share of subsistence. There are some rich households in the village who own plenty of land and employ us as laborers in their farms. They have contacts with some high ranking officials. With their help, they can enter the forests and acquire their necessities. They even smuggle timber and earn large sum of money. One of the gentlemen has operated a big hotel to provide lodging and food services to the tourists visiting the area but we locals are not employed there as we do not have enough qualifications. There are people from city hired for the jobs. So I feel the forest is getting rich and helping the rich get richer but the poor who depend on forest for livelihoods are getting poorer.
My sister Rugu lives in the middle hills of Nepal. She is a widow. Her husband died in a factory accident in a Gulf country. Her family comprises of two sons, 4 and 3 years respectively and a daughter 2 years old. They have a community forest in their village which is very healthy. The forest was not always green and beautiful. About 20 years ago there was no greenery. Deforestation was rapid. People in the village highly suffered from landslides and floods. Now that the forest is protected they have no such problems. The CFUG (Community Forestry User Group) momentum brought about a lot of changes in the village. Poor were identified and inclusive approaches were used in the forestry (CFUG) committee representation of the group. Thus the so called “low castes”, women and poor households got a chance to explore their leadership qualities. It has been a year now that she has been elected the vice-secretary of her CFUG. Due to this, she has developed leadership qualities and has become more confident. However, lack of enough human resources at home is always a problem for her. She has to look after her small children and earn a living for the family too. Thus she has not been able to give as much of her time to the committee. The family has a small piece of land (as a huge part of land was taken away by landslide many years ago) which provides food sufficiency to her and her three children for three months per year. She has to work for others for the rest of the year to make a living. The CFUG provides fuel-wood and fodder to her family but due to lack of enough laborers at home, she could only bring half of her share. Due to this her livestock are not healthy. This has degraded the fertility of her land as the livestock would not give enough manure to use. Every year she is indebted because her land would not yield much and she can not pay back the loan taken for buying seeds. Hence, not being able to utilize the facilities from the well-managed, rich community forest, my sister is getting deeper into poverty.
Poverty dragged our brother to the United States. He works for a refrigerator manufacturer and drives about 200 kilometers every day. His job has to deal with heavy carbon emissions but he is satisfied that whatever he earns there is far better than what he could have earned in Nepal. He is enjoying his life there. Use of refrigerator, television, radio, telephone, mobile, car, oven, microwave, electric cookers, etc. are very common there. Millions of people have access to these stuffs. So has my brother. His daily routine depends on these. He is not aware that through these utilities he has been emitting huge amount of green house gases such as carbon dioxide and methane which have been contributing in ozone layer depletion, greenhouse gas effect and glacier melting. Global warming has changed the climate pattern. Sometimes there is too much rain and sometimes drought. I am proud that though we have not been able to collect our daily necessities from our own neighborhood, we have contributed millions of dollars through these forests in absorbing the carbon emitted by our brother and the “civilized” people from developed countries. His wealth means nothing if he still gets subsidized by his poor sisters. If he has some ethics, doesn’t he need to pay us for what we deserve in return to the services we provided in the cost of our livelihood for the global betterment?
Yes, this is a reality based story that depicts inequitable and unjust access to forest resources and services, north-south cooperation in minimizing global warming, way forward for equity and harmony in the world and joining hands for global cause. Issues related to me and my family is the issue of all poverty ridden people of the developing countries of the globe. We need secure livelihood from our forest products.The challenge here lies in “Balancing Environment and Protecting Livelihood” which is also found to be the most challenging issue facing forests and forestry sector in the Asia and the Pacific today. Situation of forests is better now. We know how to conserve forests and protect wild animals. We have also realized that it is the source of our livelihood. However, the only thing we have been reaping from it is fresh air. We need food security, better health and better life to survive.
The way forward
A convincing solution can be a deal with my brother and millions of his friends that the certain percentage of the tax they pay has to come to us for our forests’ carbon sequestration services. We know our Asia-Pacific green forests have been sequestrating 18-20% of the global carbon emission. Now, we are ready to share the greenery with them but not at the cost of our own livelihood any more. In return, we need to be paid for these services.
Nurturing local culture
As a development worker in the NGO and lately, in he government, I find myself barraged with earfuls of questions regarding my activities and projects. A village elder in a far-flung barangay would, in my attempts of ferreting out facts regarding indigenous organic farming methods, ask why I’m interested on such “mundane matters”. Why, says he, am I interested in learning about the old ways which “do not command a price?” In an elementary school, I have been quizzed by starry-eyed kids about my interest in dragonflies which, in my early childhood in the late 1980s flew about in our village of Maggok, Ifugao like miniature planes in the world’s busiest airports.
When I worked full-time for the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, a local-based NGO, I found myself getting really close and aligned with my people in the villages of Ifugao, one of the remaining few watershed areas in Northern Philippines. I worked first as researcher and site manager then later, team leader of the Nurturing Indigenous Knowledge Experts Among the Young Generation (NIKE) Project, a Japanese NGO-funded endeavor which aims to correct discontinuities in the transmission of indigenous knowledge and skills (IK) from the few remaining IK Experts to the young generation. Here, I learned lots of things about the ways of our forefathers which before, I had deemed unnecessary for peoples’ existence. I learned that our ancestors practiced land zoning, delineating areas for production, replenishment, and settlement. I became aware of the sustainable agro-forestry practices of my elders which put premium on future croppings and fauna replenishment, contradicting “green revolution” ventures of monocropping, intensive application of toxic pesticides and herbicides and heavy use of inorganic fertilizers, and massive deforestation. My eyes were opened to the fact that our forefathers valued the muyong- private woodlots- and forested mountains hence special care was allotted and customs tailored to safeguard them for future generations.
The forests of Asia-Pacific
The lot of future generations in the Asia-Pacific and the whole world depends upon our actions and/or inactions at present. This specifically applies to forests, its value of which is beyond any question. As source of clean water, it is indispensible to the lives of people whether ethnic highlander or lowland city folks. It feeds rivers and streams which irrigate rice fields and crop areas; maintains underground aquifers for land stability; and provides water to an ever-increasing human population. As source of oxygen and converter of gases otherwise poisonous to animal, including human life, forests are irreplaceable. Moreover, forests supply human and non-human needs of timber, food, income and dwelling.
Indeed, the value of forests is beyond question. Yet, current developments have raised the stakes at the highest levels. That climate change is real and a clear and present danger makes us more aware of the importance of our forests. Increased wealth in the Asia-Pacific area has led to the speeding up of development and modernization which meant increased deforestation.
The Ifugao Muyong - a microcosm of the degenerating forests of Asia-Pacific
The Ifugao muyong or private woodlot has seen various transformations since the early pre-Columbian period when forests were in a pristine state. As a rule, the muyong is owned by a clan with responsibility transferring to every firstborn, the so-called primogeniture rule, regardless of sex. The other muyong principle on ownership is ‘land-locked’ meaning it may not be divided by the siblings nor parts of it sold. The one who inherits the muyong may have primacy over its use yet it means also shouldering the responsibility of taking care of less endowed siblings, giving them free access to it. Nowadays, the entry of Western concepts of titling and the money economy has eroded this practice to nil existence. Only a few families still adhere to the primogeniture and land-locked tenure principles of land ownership which means skills and knowledge on proper muyong maintenance are not being transmitted to the younger generation. Nowadays, the muyong is mainly seen as source of fuel and money, sustainability put aside.
Another indigenous knowledge practiced by the ancient Ifugaos is land zoning and delineation. From the top of Ifugao’s peaks to the rivers and communities below, people have identified areas for production of primary needs, replenishment and recharge zones, and buffer zones. From the middle part of the mountains up to its peak are the recharge or watershed zones. Human activity is restricted here except for hunting and selective harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). They call it tudong di payo (lit. rice field umbrella). Below it are the private woodlots or muyongs, production area for timber to be used in house construction and fuel. Below the muyong are the rice terraces, production area for rice, the main staple of the Ifugaos. Gathered in one area near the terraces are the settlements or villages where the people live.
Buffer zones exist to check on human encroachment to vital natural systems. The woodlots act as buffer to minimize human activity into the mountain watershed areas. Between the rice fields and the settlements is the agidayan or greenbelt encircling the village, a deterrent to stop the encroachment of housing into the former. The greenbelt has also its purpose as orchard area for the growing of citrus fruits, guava, avocado, and others.
The muyong is taken cared by the owner and his family and clan through several methods. First is selective harvesting. Trees are only felled when they are most needed- the construction of houses. For fuel, people gather up dead trees, fast-growing indigenous trees, and misshaped trees. Fruit trees are rarely cut owing to their importance as secondary food source. Secondly, after trees are felled for construction and/or firewood, the owner replants it with the like variety to ensure that the forest cover is constant. Thirdly, the owners practice the removal of unwanted vines, weeds, and shrubs which restrict the growth of trees. Fourthly, muyong thanksgiving rituals and superstitions controlling human activity underscore the importance of the forest as giver of water and healthy air.
Nowadays, the indigenous practice of land zoning and delineation is increasingly being forgotten by the Ifugao people due to problems in transmission of knowledge. Land erosions are frequent because of deforestation and the resultant drying up of underground reservoirs. Rivers are shrinking evidenced by the exposure of formerly submerged caves and tone boulders. Rice fields are being abandoned, partly to the drying up of brooks and streams which once flowed abundantly.
In the Asia-Pacific area, most of the remaining forest covers are in montane areas, populated by indigenous peoples who live differently from their lowland brethrens and who are closer to Mother Earth. Hence, as in Ifugao, problems of deforestation are partly caused by ignorance among the young generation of indigenous peoples who have not learned about the values and skills of their forefathers on the maintenance of the forest. On the side of the lowlanders, the preeminence of modern living emphasized by rapidity in everything people do is fast draining what remains of their forests, and fast encroaching into the last remaining watersheds in the mountains of the indigenous peoples. This has dire consequences not only for the indigenous peoples but more so for the lowlanders who depend upon the former for their irrigation and electricity needs.
Solutions- bringing back culture in and zoning
If the current trend on forest and environmental (mis)management continues then the future is, indeed, bleak for everyone, whether living in the highlands, coastal areas or in the flatlands. Deforestation will lead to increased competition of natural resources increasing conflict and poverty. To address the problem, we must go back to the age-old wisdom of our forefathers.
To protect the montane forests from total deforestation, the ways of the old must be understood and re-learned by our environmental planners and decision-makers. Culture, as the highest expression of peoples’ union with nature, should be promoted learned and the skills, values, and practices on the maintenance of the mountains, the forests, rivers, rice fields should be transferred to the young generation. The remaining IK Holders should be nurtured for the perfection of transfer modes and educational systems should be refined to be friendlier to IK.
Accompanying this should be a serious implementation of land zoning to halt the demise of remaining forests. Buffer zones should be established to serve as barometers of modernization. Reforestation should be a priority for the Asia-Pacific countries. However, care should be observed so that errors of the past like the use of fast-growing paper trees in watershed areas should be avoided. As much as possible, indigenous species should be used.
Bringing back culture and indigenous knowledge and zoning are big steps which need the involvement of everyone from the local communities, government, NGO, academe, and the international community. To be successful, it should be a multi-concerted effort. It should be doable as the few remaining forests of the Asia-Pacific are worth uniting for.
Forests are a treasure of tranquility, a symbol of integrity, source of diversity and a place of unity. We can find plenty of flora, fauna, trees, animals, birds and species living together with abounding love in the forest. Mixed fragrance, pure air, healthy herbals, roaring streams, descending falls and moving beings make a forest a lively playground of peace. Above all, its serene presence always leads into a celestial experience of all who enter in and experience it. This essay is an exploration of the contribution of forests to the welfare of humankind, and human response to forests in order to understand the present scenario and reflect on the future of human-forest relationship.
Forest as thriller
From my childhood onwards I was indoctrinated about forests through various ways. Most of my childhood bedtime stories started with “there was a deep forest in which…” In addition, heroic adventures and especially thrillers are shown in movies from forest contexts. Christian missionary organisations often portrayed forests and tribal people more like people who were in danger with evil beasts, living in a threatened environment. In addition, Indian literatures mostly portrayed forests as appropriate places for hermits and as a place for divine mediation to escape from the chaos of this world. Being fed with this kind of imagery, I was led into believing that people who lived in forests, particularly tribes, lacked any culture. So on the whole, I was partially educated that forest is a dangerous place and the people who were living in forests were also dangerous. These kinds of notions and inputs led me into a kind of anti-forest sentiments until I took my intensive fieldwork in Similipal forest range in Orissa in August 2007. The 25 days stay at Similipal forest range and a life in the forest with the people of the forest changed my perception about forests and helped me to live and experience the real situation, rather than living in a strange imagination.
Forest as Martyr
Forest always stands for human welfare and benefit. Everything found in the forest is used by human beings for sustaining their lives. For example, major deforestation took place in India beginning from 1853 to start railways; numerous trees have been cut down to make “sleepers” and simultaneously used for fuel too. Flowers, fruits, roots, leaves, stems, and seeds, everything have been given to human, but the question persists, as to why human are concentrating on cutting trees, and destroying their lives? Trees have life by themselves; they live, bloom, and grow; how unethical is human attitude towards trees in the forests! We, who cal ourselves educated people, need to learn something from the people living at the grassroots.
The Dheevar caste of Bhandara district of Maharashtra never catch fish going upstream on spawning migration, although they are exhausted and easy to catch. There are entire sacred groves and ponds in which no plant or animal is damaged.1 During my fieldwork with tribal people in Similipal forest range and throughout our stay, we could not get milk for consumption, though there were numerous cows found around. Once, we asked a lady who owned two cows, “Did you get milk from cow?” Immediately she replied, “How can I get milk from the cow? Cow’s milk is the life of its calves and it is unethical to suck one’s life to nourish ourselves.” I then understood why they didn’t drink cow’s milk; they were only using cow dung as manure in their fields. It is very important for us as literate human generation to ethically look into the issue of deforestation; we have been taking each and every product of the trees, we have been cutting the generous friend, God given gift, that is, the tree itself, out of our utter selfishness. Certainly, we should regard all the trees as martyrs as we get rains through them, we get good air through them, good food through them, and so on. On the whole, when we acknowledge the sacrifice of trees simultaneously, it is our commitment to save and sustain their life in order to create a greener and healthier world.
Forest as healer
Human atrocities over nature have increased, consequently, human and the earth, both have become ill. Climate change is one of the worst effects in this regard. It is the time to heal our earth as well as the human generation. When South Asian Tsunami devastated South Asia in 2004, the major reason found for the damage was, the eradication of mangroves forests and coral reefs in the sea shore area by the shrimp industries. Now the Government and NGOs are planting mangroves and making coral reefs in the sea shore. From this example it is very clear that tress are not only martyrs, but also the healers. If we grow trees we will get good rain, we will be saved from tsunami and thus save the world from climate change. Trees and forests are the hope of the world; they heal human, enrich their life experience and give them peace. Poet and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh from Vietnam, who was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Touching Peace, Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, describes a human-nurturing tree-ritual:
Ten years ago, I planted three beautiful Himalayan cedars outside my hermitage [in France], and now, whenever I walk by one of them, I bow, tough its bark with my cheek, and hug it. As I breathe in and out mindfully, I look at its branches and beautiful leaves. I receive a lot of peace and sustenance from hugging trees. Touching a tree gives both, you and the tree great pleasure. Trees are beautiful, refreshing, and old. When you want to hug a tree, it will never refuse. You can rely on trees. I have even taught my students the practice of tree hugging …In the same way we touch trees, we can touch ourselves and others, with compassion.2
Yes, trees are our friends. They listen to us, care for us, speak to us through their soft leaves, kiss us with beautiful flowers and feed us with kindness through their fruits. How sweet it is!
The main challenge is to connect human and forest. The social understanding and the so called development theories have clearly divided people from forest. It is very important for people to understand that forests are part of our world and that they should be taken care of by us. For example, my stay at Similipal forest range in August 2007 was quite strange and scintillating. Deep forest, no mobile phone tower or television, low voltage power; just a transistor, which received programmes from All India Radio,3 and a few people. Every night when I went to sleep, I often checked my bed and nearby places fearing the presence snakes. That much did I feel uncomfortable, and filled with hatred towards the forest. However, after 25 days, I realised that it was the most peaceful place in the world; a pure world of nature, and people with nature, and this learning experience led me to care for trees, because of which I am now concerned about nature. This is the real scenario of 75%-90% population of India towards the forest. This is my sincere suggestion that the Government and institutions should concentrate on their youngsters and teach them the reality of forest and its life and work for humanity. If they witness this truth no one would harm trees and they would promote forestation and also begin to nurture nature. Practically speaking, school and college children should be taken into the forests and given a chance to explore its beauty and appreciate its nobility from their childhood, through excursions, study trips and picnics. Misinterpretations and wrong indoctrinations about forests ought to be stopped. Only the tourism department of India is advertising Indian forests to foreign tourists to generate wealth but local people are poorly aware or informed of forest tourism. This has to be rectified. Media, such as newspapers, radio, television, and so on, promote the importance of forests throughout their programmes. Tribal people and their good social values nd practices need to be imparted to the mainstream. Philosophical and religious understanding of forests should be reconstructed with optimism and hope. Above all, as committed human we should spend much time in promoting forestation and eradicating deforestation collectively. I believe these that things would create a greener environment and help us to enhance the existing forests and to create more. To conclude, I would like to say that, when we enjoy forests and its resources we should always remember our responsibility of caring for forests and pass it to the coming generations, inviting them to express their solidarity with us in this noble mission. In a nutshell, the idea of forest as a thriller should be enjoyed, forest as martyr should be remembered, and forest as healer should be practiced.
1 M.Gadgil and K.C.Malhotra, “The Ecological Significance of Caste” found in Ramachandra Guha(ed.), Social Ecology (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994). 36
2 As quoted in Howard Clinebell, ecotheraphy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1960). 220
3 All India Radio is the only Government-owned radio service provider in India.