Development, Deforestation, and Palm Oil in Papua
I sat among “rebels” from West Papua in a smokey grass hut, waiting for a powerful tribal elder to grant me an interview. I had been squatting in an abandoned building with the chief and his wife for two days, waiting. Thinking he might tell me tales of mismanagement, land grabs, and violent uprising, this Papuan chief looked me in the eyes and uttered eight simple, but profound words, “In our hearts, we want to be free.”
As our world globalizes, ancient land and communities are being put under immense pressure. Indigenous populations are divided between choosing a "better future" by developing land or facing economic instability as the world develops around them. These tribes are often are caught between unscrupulous land grabs, developers, governments, and mismanagement. Often, they have no venue to actively participate in resolving these issues. In the “Wild West” economics of these developing regions, governments are unsure how, or unable to, manage the rampant growth. Many tribes think they are alone and that the world doesn’t care. International conglomerates, operating “as usual,” are often profiting at the expense of tribes and the environment. The truth is after deforestation and palm oil, the land and water will it ever be the same.
The forests of the Congo Basin, the Amazon Basin, and the Island of New Guinea are some of the last remaining “lungs” of the planet. They contain the largest swaths of intact rainforest left on earth and they store higher amounts of carbon than other forests anywhere. The parallels in these regions thousands of miles from each other are striking - land grabs, logging, mining, natural resource extraction, violence, government and military involvement, multinational corporations, and the oppression of minority communities. These forests’ health are critical to mitigating climate change. The people who live there are the only ones holding vast knowledge of the land, plants, medicine: traditional wisdom. This intersection of globalization is where the needs of people, the environment, and the interest of business are colliding. Never has the global community had so much at stake. Here is a deeper look into the island of Papua.