I cannot say how glad I am that I decided to be a volunteer blogger for the RTR09 campaign. If I didn’t, I don’t know if and when I would have come across this great example of nature-care and dedication that is the Samboja Lestari rainforest project started and taken to success by Dr. Willie Smitts. Dr. Smitts is conservationist who works at the complicated intersection of humankind, the animal world and our green planet. His early work in Indonesia as a forester educated him in the interdependence of these three biospheres. The irresponsible encroachment of humans onto the rainforests and orang-utans’ habitat inspired him to take up the tough task of leading a sustained reforestation project. The Orang-utans, whom he calls “thinkers of the forest”, are intelligent species with ability to think, reason and emote like us. He chose an area, Samboja Lestari, in east Borneo which was ecologically much deteriorated and would need a lot of thought, work and dedication to bring the reforestation to fruition, literally. This was done with the purpose of demonstration that if this area can be reforested, any area can be.
Willie Smitt recently gave a talk at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference. I was able to watch the video of this talk through the RTR09 campaign website and it was one of the most impressive talks I’ve ever heard. What made Dr. Smitts stand out as different from others for me was his reaction to the audience’s claps when he mentioned that there were a 1000 Orang-utans in the conservation centre he ran. The audience found this an impressive achievement and began clapping. Dr. Smitt immediately interrupted, “No, no, no! Wrong!!! This is an indication of our failure to sustain their natural habitat.” This told me that here was someone who really cared about the ecosystem and not about his achievements in saving it. There are many such and more impressive things about his talk. I can’t list them all here so I’d strongly suggest you watch and listen to him for yourself.
In an unjustifiably short summary, the forest in Samboja Lestari, reduced to wasteland by slash-and-burn agriculture of the locals was resurrected by their own efforts under the able guidance of Willie Smitts. He gives the details of how ‘a recipe’ for sustained reforestation was developed, giving reasons for choosing certain plants and trees to be planted at certain time. It is a very educational presentation. The focus was on imitating the nature and creating ‘multi-layer’ ecology, with different species of trees instead of ‘monoculture’. Locals were educated and involved in this process which led to sustainability of the forest. Samboja Lestari is not only a vibrant ecosystem, with numerous birds and animal species thriving, but is also a climate-changer and rain-machine for the nearby area. Temperatures have dropped, forest fires declined significantly and a permanent rainfall zone created around the area. The locals have adopted a “democratic” control system to ensure no further logging takes place in the forests. It is a truly inspiring story of what us humans can do for the planet (and therefore, for ourselves) if we are determined and dedicated.