Study found tribe could earn Rp 156 billion by keeping their forests intact
Villagers live off deer, wild boars, sago trees
Moi Kelim tribe member Adolfina Sapisa has lived all her life in Malaumkarta village, Sorong regency, West Papua, and has spent most of it fishing, farming, as well as gathering sago and other plants from the surrounding forest.
While demonstrating how to make noken (traditional Papuan bags) out of dried tree bark, she talks about the plentiful fish available near the village and asks visitors from Jakarta about fishing on the coast of Java.
“You can’t catch fish this easily in Java can you?” she said. “We couldn’t live like that. Here, you only need to dive a little to catch something.”
Adolfina is one of around 200 of the Moi Kelim tribe who lives in Malaumkarta and one of around 420,000 members spread across the northern part of West Papua.
In an attempt to demonstrate the value that indigenous people can bring through their traditional way of life the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) commissioned an economic study of the Moi Kelim tribe in Malaumkarta village.
According to the study, conducted by Padjadjaran University economist Zuzy Anna, the villagers’ conservation of their traditional forest and coastal regions is valued Rp 156 billion (US$11.2 million) per year with a monthly per capita income of Rp 3.4 million, which is higher than the regency’s minimum wage and its non-oil and gas gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
Most of the villagers make a living by fishing, hunting, and growing fruit and vegetables such as mangos, bananas and cassava.
The villagers of Malaumkarta practice a traditional form of conservation called sasi or egek, in which the fishing of lobsters, sea cucumbers, and lola (a species of sea snails) is prohibited for a year.
At the end of the prohibition period, the sasi is “opened” for a month, and the villagers use the proceeds to fund local church and other public works.
The last time the sasi was opened last year and the village earned around Rp 200 million.
Zuzy hoped that the study could be used as a basis of extended cost-benefit analysis for the government in determining whether an area should be developed for forestry or palm oil plantations.
“If the government wants to start development here, it should compare it to this baseline,” she said. “Any development should provide a greater income to the residents than the baseline.”
“Too often, indigenous people are seen as obstacles to development,” she continued. “This study helps to show that their own traditional way of life provides significant economic benefits.”
Muhammad Arman, the head of AMAN’s legal and advocacy division, said the study proved that indigenous people do not need massive investment to be economically viable.
“If they become factory or plantation laborers instead, their living costs might go up and they would be vulnerable to being fired,” he said.
While President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto touted the economic benefits of palm oil in the second presidential debate, the villagers of Malaumkarta said they would rather keep their forests intact, living off the deer, wild boar, sago trees and medicinal plants found there.
“We can live without palm, we cannot live without sago,” said Wilzson Mobalen, the head of the Sorong branch of AMAN and a Moi Kelim tribe member.
Sorong Regent Johny Kamuru, who signed a regional bylaw to officially recognize the Moi indigenous people and their lands in 2017, said he supported the village’s conservation efforts and was reluctant to allow plantations or forestry companies there.
“I tend to think that the forest should be left alone for the people to make use of,” he added. “Even though their income is not that high, their way of life is safeguarded.”
Sorong Regency Council member and Moi Kelim community figure Torianus Kalami said he hoped that the tribe’s conservation methods and their recognition of the bylaw could serve as a model for other indigenous peoples across the country.
“We want to show that indigenous people can manage and conserve their own lands and territories without outside interference,” he said, adding that the village had also adapted its traditions when necessary.
Previously, Malaumkarta’s villagers had been known as one of the highest consumers of sea turtle meat in the region.
But since 2017, the villagers have committed themselves to stop catching the endangered green, hawksbill, and olive Ridley sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beach.
Malaumkarta village conservation head Robert Kalami said the younger generation had been particularly active in ensuring that the village kept up its conservation measures.
“We don’t have any special village funds for conservation so we’re self-funded at the moment,” he said. “But little by little we’re making progress.”