Rebuilding A Rainforest

A current hot topic, in the right circles, is the mass deforestation occurring in Borneo. Borneo is an island about 287,000 miles so why is it a hot topic when the Amazon is over 2 million miles and has lost a size of its forest greater than the size of Borneo? Borneo has 2 things that corporations and people are concerned with, palm oil plantations and Orangutans, respectively. Palm oil plantations have quickly encroached on the last bits of natural Rainforest and thus the small territory of the Orangutans on the island. This has lead to an increase in hunting Orangutans and killing those that find themselves on the palm oil plantations. The Orangutan is endemic to Borneo and is on the endangered species list (IUCN Redlist, 2008), they are the largest arboreal mammals found on earth and are a charismatic flagship species that is the original keystone species for the island and may help restore the Borneo Rainforest.

“No. No. No. Wrong. It’s horrible. It’s a proof of our failing to save them in the wild. It’s not good. This is merely proof of everyone failing to do the right thing. Having more than all the orangutans in all the zoos in the world together, just now like victims for every baby, six have disappeared from the forest.”

Willie Smits recieved his PhD in Forestry and Microbiology from Wageningen University (The Netherlands), he has focused much of his life on conservation, primarily focusing on the restoration and conservation of Orangutans and their habitats. He was awarded in 1998 with the first non-Indonesian Satya Lencana Pembangunan Award, which is the equivalent of being Knighted in the Netherlands. He is one of the foremost people in the field for conservative measures in Borneo, his recipe for rebuilding a rainforest is highly complex but its yield was astounding.

His recipe for rebuilding the rainforest was not some plug and chug effort, Smits ensured that the process went by at a rate that kept the locals employed and invested in the project. His focus on not only helping the Orangutans but helping their environment and the locals too made his system a high functioning one. This slow moving system is a multi-layered one where every step has a pay out for the people and the environment. By planting fast fruiting plants (like pineapples) it gives the locals a product to sell, it reduces competition between trees by spacing them out, it provides food for the Orangutans, helps fertilize the soil, and speeds up regeneration of the forest. Every step of his recipe works this way, all functioning together helping the people and forest at the present and in the future.

“… there are all these animals, and all these people happy, and there’s this economic value.”

Smits’ recipe for restoring the rainforest brings some many ideals together, not only is it helping bring Borneo back to its natural state, providing refuge for an endangered species, and income for the locals, but it has improved the climate. They increased rainfall, cloud coverage, and increased the air humidity, proof that with hard work we can make a difference in the fight against climate change. Now, if we could implement this same process around the world in areas that have suffered due to deforestation we could establish a healthier global climate. Rainforests are key for global health, their ability to work as rain factories, and provide income for locals is worth far more than the timber and land are worth. Rainforests are an investment that will payout throughout their lives, they are an investment we need to back before it is too late.

For a better idea on how Smits’ program benefits the locals watch this video on his Village Hub.

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