Batin Sembilan Indigenous Peoples: We Die if the Forest Disappears
The Batin Sembilan have been particularly affected by the forest fires this year. Their nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles which rely heavily on the collection of non-timber forest products, such as honey, rattan, and jernang (resin) have been disrupted by the fires. According to Rusman (60), a representative of Batin Sembilan in the Kandang Rebo area of Hutan Harapan, the forest is their home. When the forest is burned, it is the same as killing them. “We die if the forest is disappearing. We suffered a lot because the forest was burned. The bees have moved because of the smoke and the rattan has been burned out. If the forest is gone, where are we going to go?” asked Rusman.
The majority of the fires have been set by illegal cultivators with the aim of planting oil palm. The Batin Sembilan gave warning letters to them but they were ignored. So too were warnings by Hutan Harapan’s patrol team and the district police. As the fires worsened, an integrated local government team led by the district police arrested 22 people for illegally setting fires in Hutan Harapan.
Rusman along with a team from Batin Sembilan are working with Hutan Harapan staff to secure the burned areas and develop a strategy to restore the forest. With the rainy season due to start in November, the timing is right to start planting. (HOS)