Papua forests are known for their width and diversity. They are the planet’s lungs because they are the biggest forests in Southeast Asia and home to the most biodiverse plants and animals. There are around 20,000 plant species, 602 birds, 125 mammals, 223 reptiles that inhabit the forest. The locals rely their lives on the forest for its sources. One of the most popular plantations in West Papua forest is Sago (Metroxylon sp).
Sago (Metroxylon sp) is an original plant from the east region of Indonesia. Sago is a pinnate-leaved palm that lives in humid tropics and freshwater swamps. It grows in the forest, and it has been a staple food for the locals. The locals would extract sago palm to make sago starch. The starch is used to make many kinds of food such as papeda, traditional cakes, etc. It can be processed to make syrups such as glucose syrup, fructose syrup, and sorbitol. It can also be made into bread, crackers, noodles, and vermicelli. It is a source of carbohydrates, and it can substitute rice.
Papua is home to big sago plantations because of its wide forest. West Papua‘s sago land reached 4.7 million hectares, making it the largest sago plantation in the world. However, the land of the forest is declining because it is used for other purposes such as oil palm plantations. Oil palm plantations often require burning sago forests; the plantation can also damage soil fertility and damages the humus.
Preserving Sago Plantations
There are two ways the government has tried to preserve sago forests: evaluating oil palm plantation policy and making sago one of the food security item lists.
Evaluating oil palm plantation
First, evaluating oil palm plantations means saving more forest land in Papua. The program started in July 2018 based on the president’s instruction, which includes the slow down of oil palm plantations and saving Papua forest land. This policy aims to have better forest management and give the locals more rights in managing their forests.
Through this policy, the government has identified some fraud related to the permission of oil palm plantations. Many oil palm companies have not registered themselves legally, and they do not have legal permission to plant oil palm trees. Some of them do not have a proper procedure, and they plant oil palm trees in forbidden areas such as peatlands.
Adding sago as food security
Second, preserving sago forests means including sago into food security. Sago can be developed into food estate and food security so West Papua will no longer import their food. Sago is very important to the locals because it’s their main source of food. If the supply of sago is decreasing, then West Papua needs to import it from Papua New Guinea.
Making sago as food security means promoting sago as a staple food and preserving sago forests. Promoting sago as a staple food is done by maintaining the festival of sago and promoting it, so the locals prefer sago as their food instead of rice.
There are several festivals of sago such as Kwadeware Sago Festival, the Yoboi Sago Caterpillar Festival, and the Papeda Eating Festival in Abar Pottery. Preserving sago forests should be done to keep the existence of sago palm trees. Preserving the forest means protecting the land from deforestation and replanting the trees.
Many West Papua forests are developed into agricultural interests such as oil palm plantations. It gives a disadvantage to sago plantations as it gives less space for the plantation.
It is an urgent call to action since the locals rely on their livelihood in the forest. Therefore, preserving sago forests is very important so the locals do not lose their main food source.