Climate Change

Old Technology is New Again for People & Trees in Borneo

Old Technology is New Again for People and Trees in Borneo

Working with local people on the ground, the Conservancy has helped implement sustainable forest management techniques in Indonesia.


By Lisa Hayden

People who live in the lowlands of Indonesian Borneo among lush forests of dipterocarp trees have few options for steady income. Cutting trees to be sold on the black market for wood products is one way to support a family.

Yet recently, several former illegal loggers have found a new way to make a living – testing how a simple logging machine called the mono-cable can be adapted for sustainable forestry.

“Now we are working full-time without feeling guilty,” said Ami Daud, who was quoted in the Jakarta Post about his new job on a mono-cable crew.

He and Hanyeq Jaang are among 40 locals from the Long Hubung area of West Kutai District who work at PT Belayan River Timber. This logging concession is using the mono-cable in a demonstration project supported by The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.

Sometimes Hanyeq earned more working for illegal loggers, but other times he was not paid at all. “We worked under pressure and worried about being arrested,” Hanyeq told the Jakarta Post. Now he has less worry and still earns a reasonable wage (Rp 2 million or $220/month).

More Workers, Less Forest Damage

Industrial logging operations use powerful bulldozers with 12-foot-wide blades to drag timber through the forest by blazing a trail, or “skid track” in logging lingo.

Pioneered by illegal loggers, the mono-cable is a motor-driven winch system that pulls one log at a time from the harvested tree stump to a stacking area on the log-hauling road. “The mono-cable can reduce the width of a skid-trail (or logging access road) from 5 meters with a tractor to less than 1 meter, the width of the log,” said Bambang Wahyudi, The Nature Conservancy’s Reduced Impact Logging manager in Berau.

The ‘low-tech’ machine is making a comeback because of its lighter footprint on the forest. And so far, the mono-cable promises more local jobs, less logging damage to forests and benefits in the fight against climate change.

Spreading the Strategy

Through the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program, the Conservancy and partners work with companies that own rights to log Borneo’s forests to create a sustainable supply chain. The mono-cable is one tool to do this, but was not officially recognized because of its association with illegal logging. After visiting one concession in 2010, Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry approved limited testing of the mono-cable equipment and was eager to see its use expanded.

In East Kalimantan, PT Belayan River Timber recently added another 10 mono-cable units, bringing their total to 25, while PT Narkata Rimba is operating 10 units. With RAFT’s help, both concessions also got Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified in 2011 and 2012.

Another two concessions, PT Rizki Kacida Reana and PT Kemakmuran Berkah Timber, have plans to begin using the mono-cable next year. The mono-cable also has employment benefits for local, non-skilled workers. While one bulldozer requires two higher paid operators, the same work requires three mono-cable crews of 5-6 people, totaling up to 18 employees. Some mono-cable equipment is owned by local people, who become sub-contractors.

Global Benefits

Another important benefit of the mono-cable and Reduced Impact Logging is the savings in carbon pollution caused by poor timber practices.

“With respect to addressing the issue of global warming,” says Untung Iskander, President Director of the two concessions now using the mono-cable, “we believe that sustainable forest management is one part to solve it.”

“Skidding,” timber with a mono-cable can save 10 percent of carbon pollution compared to dozer-skidding, according to initial estimates. Overall, Conservancy forest-carbon scientists believe that carbon pollution can be reduced by at least 35 percent with no corresponding decrease in timber yields if mono-cable skidding is combined with other “reduced impact logging” methods such as narrower haul road construction and no cutting of hollow trees.

“Considering that about a quarter of tropical forests are within logging concessions, it’s shocking how little field research is available to answer the question: how many tons of carbon can be saved through improving forest management?” says Conservancy forest carbon scientist Bronson Griscom. “So that’s why we are doing the research ourselves in East Kalimantan.”

In fact, Griscom co-authored a recent study that found sustainable logging practices, like use of the mono-cable, can protect the lion’s share of tropical forest biodiversity, reduce carbon pollution, maintain livelihoods for local people and support timber supply needs.

The mono-cable is an important strategy as part of a district-wide program for conserving forests and promoting forest-friendly development that has been launched in Berau, Indonesia with local and national governments and support from the Conservancy.

One goal of the program is to combine improved logging techniques like the mono-cable with sophisticated digital mapping to shift logging and oil palm development to already degraded forests, while protecting more bio-diverse areas. Some funding for these initiatives will come from a $28.5 million debt-for-nature swap agreement announced in 2011 between the governments of Indonesia and the U.S., the Conservancy and WWF, in which some of Indonesia’s foreign debt will be redirected toward its tropical forest conservation.

Lisa Hayden is a writer for The Nature Conservancy



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