The Long Road to Preserve West Papua’s Sago

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The Deforestation Of Sago Plantations In West Papua Has Been A Serious Issue. And The Effort Of Preserving Sago Forests Is Never An Easy Task.

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For those who were born and raised in West Papua, the province they dearly call home is like “a piece of paradise on Earth.” The dense jungles of the land are known for the diversity that provides a home to various animals and plants. Even the natives rely heavily on the resources the forests have to offer, particularly sago, which have been the staples for years.

Sago: A Story of Papuan Staple Food

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Sago is a starch extracted from the core of the palm-like trees Metroxylon sagu, which is native to the Land of Papua and other regions in Indonesia, including Kalimantan and Sumatera. The trees, which are commonly found in humid areas, are able to grow up to over 15 meters tall.

The sago from West Papua is mainly cultivated by native farmers. However, it takes a great deal of effort to get sago ready on the kitchen table, from opening the sago bark to grinding to obtain the white starch. This arduous work even takes 3-5 days of work, depending on the size of the tree.

The natives generally use sago starch to make a wide variety of traditional West Papuan delicacies rich in carbohydrates, including papeda, sago porridge, single, and many more. But sago is not merely a staple for the Papuans themselves. The whole part of the sago tree can be turned into a good advantage. Even the stems are incredibly sturdy that they can prevent disasters like floods.

However, the number of sago plantations in West Papua is declining due to the massive conversion of sago land into non-sago land, including oil palm plantations and highway construction. This deforestation frequently necessitates the burning of sago trees, which certainly can lead to the damage of soil fertility.

The Journey of Preserving Sago Plantations

The 21st of June is a National Sago Day used by many Papuan environmentalists to remind the government and local communities that preserving the sustainability of sago plantations is everyone’s responsibility.

On the government’s side, two ways can be done to carry out the preservation of sago forests: evaluating the regulations regarding sago deforestation and adding sago to the lists of food security items.

Evaluating the Regulations of Sago Deforestation

Every region in West Papua has issued a regional law concerning the preservation of sago forests which remains in effect till today. The regulation discusses the ban on cutting, destroying, and burning sago trees. The sale and release of land in the sago forest are likewise prohibited.

The regulation applies not only to civilians but also to those in the local authority. Government officials are strongly prohibited from signing letters of land release and permits to build on sago-growing areas.

The central government is also evaluating oil palm plantations to save more forest land in this eastern province of Indonesia. The program itself has been around since July 2018, which involves slowing down on the plantations of oil palm to give the Papuans more control over their land.

The authorities have discovered that many oil palm companies are not legally registered through this policy. They don’t even own legal permission to start their oil palm plantations in forbidden regions like peatlands.

Making Sago as Food Security

The following method to preserve sago plantations is by including sago into the lists of food security. It means bringing back sago as a staple rather than an alternative to rice. It’s not that the latter cannot provide sufficient nutrition for the Papuans. Instead, it’s more about preventing rice dependency that may lead to famine, like what already happened in the past.

The sago festival usually held on the 21st of June is a way to promote sago as a staple in West Papua. Papuan activists who are deeply concerned about the sustainability of sago forests also make the most of this annual event to provide education to the locals regarding the importance of consuming sago as a staple rather than rice. 

Nutrition-wise, sago is rich in carbohydrates but doesn’t contain sugar levels that are harmful to the body. Even the carbohydrate content is similar to corn, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and wheat. In addition, sago provides many health benefits, such as improving blood circulation and maintaining blood glucose levels in the body.

The efforts of keeping sago palm forests in existence are not limited to the two ways above only. Authorities and local communities should go hand in hand in promoting the significance of replanting sago trees. Of course, the said campaign will just be in vain if the implementation is not carried out in the proper manner.

Therefore, it’s vital to get the experts involved in the endeavor of preserving sago forests in West Papua. That way, the objective of restoring sago as a staple food and reducing the number of sago deforestation can be achieved.

 

References:

https://kopernik.info/en/news-events/blog/field-notes-from-papua-a-quest-to-understand-sago

https://en.antaranews.com/news/167480/preserving-the-sustainability-of-papuan-staple-sago

https://www.gatra.com/news-415136-ekonomi-perlu-pergub-untuk-lindungi-hutan-sagu-papua-dan-kearifan-lokal.html

https://www.mongabay.co.id/2018/06/30/menjaga-sagu-harapan-menuju-kedaulatan-pangan-papua/

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