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The Tripa peat swamp, one of the largest capacities

storing carbon in Aceh, is near total ruin. A joint team
investigates possible violations that destroyed the
once rich peatland forest.

N the middle of a vast, burned-down

forest littered with charred, blackened tree trunks, Basuki Wasis instructs one of his staff to stick a pipe
into the ground. One enters right
through and stops at a meter deep. A second and then a third pipe sinks easily into
the swampland. The fourth sinks, and then
stops at just 40 centimeters deep.
After taking ground samples, Basuki re-

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cords his findings in a pocket notebook

this was land with peat layers of 3.6 meters deep. This is evidence of a violation by
planting on peatland, Basuki told Tempo,
who accompanied the researcher from the
Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) to the
burned swamplands, two weeks ago. A researcher from the IPBs laboratory for forest ecological systems, Basuki instructed
his men to drill holes in six different loca-

tions across the peat swamp located within Aloe Bateung Bruek village in Darul Makmur, Nagan Raya regency of Aceh.
On this burned land controlled by palm
oil plantation company Kallista Alam, they
also gathered samples of charred trees
and mounds of ash. This is further proof
to take Kallista Alam to court, said Bayu
Hardjanto, an investigator from the Ministry of Environment.
This land used to be the lush Tripa peatland forest, located within the protected
Leuser Ecosystem, and referred to as the
countrys lungs in the heart of the tsunamiplagued Aceh province. Tripa used to teem
with one of the worlds populations of critically-endangered Sumatran orangutans.



Environment Ministry officer lifts

a charred tree trunk to collect
soil samples in Tripa Peat Swamp,
Tripa had the largest and the most critical capacity to store carbon in Aceh. A permit to convert the peat swamp was issued
to Kallista Alam by the then Aceh Governor, Irwandy Yusuf, on August 25, 2011
three months following the issuance of a
map for protected forests, identifying Tripa as a protected zone. The license granted to Kallista involved 1,605 hectares of the
peat swamp.
The indicative map of protected forests was drawn
up in May 2011 and used
in line with a ban on
new clearing permits
for an area of about 60
million hectares of forests and peatlands,
launched under President Yudhoyonos Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and Forest
Degradation Plus (REDD+) program. The presidential instruction
on the ban was issued on May 20 last year.
There is also a law in place prohibiting new
concessions on land with peat layers more
than 3 meters deep.
Nevertheless, Kallista Alam and Surya
Panen Subur (SPS) 2, another plantation
company, were given land concessions in
Tripa. A lawsuit filed by Indonesias largest
environmental group, Walhi, on November
23 of last year to have that license revoked
was thrown out on April 2 this year by the
Banda Aceh Administrative Court. Walhi
has since appealed.
Field checks and investigations carried
out this year by a joint team comprising the
Forestry Ministry, REDD+ Task Force and
the Environment Ministry found evidence
that the Tripa forests had not just been
cleared and replanted with palm oil plantations, it had been burned, slashed and thoroughly drained, thus gradually releasing
carbon dioxide.
This joint investigation team first flew
into Aceh on May 4, accompanied by members of the National Police and the Attorney
Generals Office. The team works under the
guidance of REDD+ task force chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who heads the Presidential Unit for Development, Supervision

and Oversight (UKP4),

The Tripa peatland forest is now on the
brink of ruin. In the 1980s, this forest covered no less than 62,000 hectares. Today,
it extends to no more than 17,000 hectares
and is continuing to decline. There are indications of arson from incidents of recent
fires at the protected peat forest, according
to the Environment Ministry, with strong indications that the perpetrators are companies waiting to convert the forested regions
into palm oil plantations.
Yet Tripa has been slotted back into the indicative map, better known as the moratorium map, this year. On May 21, UKP4
announced that an additional 379,000 hectares had been
added to the map. The protected area covered in the
revisionwhich is the second since the ban came
into effectamounts to
65.75 million hectares of
peatlands, primary forests
and conservation areas.
The first revision of the
map was done on November
20, 2011, and had come under intense media scrutinyit had scrapped
the Tripa forest from the map. This was a
reason used by Kallista Alam to point out
that since Tripa had been taken off the
map, converting the forest into a plantation on the basis of a permit issued by the
Aceh Governor was consistent with existing regulations. However, the joint team investigating the Tripa case learned eventually that forest clearing activities by Kallista
Alam dated back to years before 2011.
Tripa is a protected zoneit can no longer be converted again, stated Kuntoro.
Tripa is spotlighted nationally because former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusufs action
to go beyond the ban on issuing new clearing permits had shocked many people. Irwandi, once known as the Green Governor, was at one time an environmental activist. In 2010, he received an award from
the Environment Ministry for his dedicated work on environmental conservation.
Walhi refers to the Tripa forest scandal
as the face of other similar scandals happening across forested regions in Indonesia, one where even environmental activists like Irwandi allow forest burnings to accommodate palm oil and timber interests.
This is the case to refer to when one wants
to portray the powers of collusion between

government officials and businessmen,

said Aceh Walhi Director T.M. Zulfikar.
Some environmental activists allege that
the police and the military were behind
Kallista Alam. According to Halim Gurning in Nagan Raya, the office and lands of
Kallista Alam had always been secured by
armed police and military personnel, who
blocked residents and activists from entering Kallistas lands. Their commander
threatened us and his personnel placed our
offices under surveillance, said Halim.
A Tempo source said evidence of the security apparatus were still found when the
joint investigating team arrived at Tripa in
May. At the time, there were three security
guard posts. Mobile Brigade members occupied the left cabin, soldiers were in the
middle and Nagan Raya policemen on the
right. In front of the three cabins there was
a signboard that read Pos TNI-Polisi (military/police post). Besides the guard posts,
the investigating team found a military official car. But when Tempo visited Tripa two
weeks ago, all signs had been removed.
The investigating team explained the five
violations that occurred in Tripa. They discovered that Kallista Alam had systematically cleared the land before obtaining the
license from former governor Irwandi. A
legal affairs staff member of Kallista Alam
admitted his company had started clearing
land at Tripa in 2009. A year later they began to plant. The same admission was conveyed by Kallista field officers to Forestry
Minister Zulkifli Hasan and Deputy Speaker of the Peoples Consultative Assembly
(MPR) from Aceh, Farhan Hamid, who inspected the location in May.
Kallista had also cleared land through
slash-and-burn. According to an investigator, burning land to clear it is cheaper. The
company spent Rp2 million per hectare
at most. Had they followed rules, the cost
would have been Rp60 million per hectare.
Burning land is in violation of the Plantations Law and the Environment Law. The investigating team noted that the 1,605-hectare land then owned and burned by Kallista also falls within the Leuser Ecosystem,
which is already designated as a National
Strategic protected zone. Forest clearing
using fires is punishable by 10 years in prison and a fine of up to Rp10 billion.
Although the violations are apparent, no
one has been indicted. According to the Environment Ministrys deputy for legal compliance, Soedarjono, investigators have

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Since he lost in the recent Aceh gubernatorial election, he spends his time in Malaysia. He has insisted he had previously rejected Kallistas permit application, on the
basis that Tripa was within the Leuser Ecosystem. Irwandi signed off on the permit
after getting recommendations from various parties, including the Regent of Nagan


Orangutans were not the only ones driven away from the fires at
the Tripa peat swamp. Local residents have found the heat rising
from the peatland forest unbearable.

PRIMATES charred skull,

no larger than a tennis ball,

lay under a scorched tree. No
one said anything up to that
point. But as soon as Tempo
attempted to lift the object, two men who
had been silent were alerted. One of them,
Indriyanto from the Sustainable Ecosystem non-governmental organization, immediately said: Dont move it. Thats evidence. Indriyanto accompanied Tempo
during a trip over a week ago to the burned
peat swamp forests of Tripa in Aceh.
Both Indriyanto and Suratman, the local
guides, were convinced that this was the
skull of a baby orangutan which had perished in recent fires within the forest, which

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Relocating an orangutan from Tripa

Peat Swamp to a new home after their
natural habitat was burned.

has gradually been cleared to make way for

palm oil plantations. Both guides were convinced that they had seen two orangutans a
few months ago in this peat swamp.
Tripa was a lush peatland forest but a
permit to convert the peat swamp into plantantations changed all that. The permit had
been issued to plantation company Kallista Alam by then-Aceh Governor Irwandy Yusuf. Ground checks carried out by a
joint government investigation team found
evidence that Tripa, home to the critically

Raya, the Forestry Office and the Aceh Regional Police. Personally, Id prefer the license to be revoked, said Irwandi, as quoted by the June 20 issue of Modus Aceh weekly. At that time, I acted against my own

endangered orangutan, had not just been

cleared out and replanted with palm oil
plantations by Kallista and another palm
oil company, Surya Panen Subur (SPS), it
had been slashed, burned, and drained of
its natural water. Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, and orangutans in Tripa have been reduced to just
200 this year.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Sustainable Ecosystem foundation and Acehs Natual Resources Conservation Agency relocated six orangutans from the Tripa peatland swamp, to a virgin forested area in
Central Aceh.
It is now extremely difficult to come
across a live orangutan in Tripa. As far as
the eye can see, only charred trees and
ash falling from those trees can be seen,
with smoke still billowing out from several zones. Trekkers walking on the terrain
have to use the broken trees and branches
as a guide to tread on safely, or end up having ones feet sinking into the thinning peat
layers of the land. The GPS communications system proved to be quite helpful for
navigation. In the past, I used to put traps
under the branches and roots, to catch catfish, Suratman reminisced.
After crossing a 5-meter-wide canal separating the fields of Kallista and Surya, Suratman stood atop a pile of felled trees. He
took out his pair of binoculars, and took a
long look at the watchtower at a distance.
Empty, Suratman said. They entered the
restricted area of hundreds of hectares of
plotted fields, boundaries of which were
marked by the canal. In some plots, palm
plantations reaching an average height of
50 centimeters could be seen.

LAST May, a dozen investigators from the

National Police and Environment Ministry
examined allegations against the managements of Kallista Alam and SPS. The focus
was on two major criminal violations: use
of fire to clear land, and planting on land


only examined witnesses. A Kallista project

manager, Alvis, said his company had followed all procedures to obtain land clearance permits at Tripa. He said his company should not be the only one accused for
the reduced peatland swamp. Many other
companies operate here, claimed Alvis.
Irwandi has not yet been questioned.

A charred skull, believed to be of a

baby orangutan, under a burned tree in
Tripa Peat Swamp, Aceh.

lands. Even if it were not burned, the vegetation providing food for the orangutans
will die due to the lack of water. Referring
to a study last year, Singleton estimated
that the peatlands and orangutans in Rawa
Tripa could be wiped out by 2015.


with peat layers more than 3 meters deep.

Palm oil plantation companies are the
main culprit behind the destruction of the
Tripa peat swamp as well as other regions
in Aceh. Before they were plundered and
turned into palm plantations in the 80s,
the peatlands in the south western shoreline of Aceh served as sponge basins to
store water. The peat swamp would absorb
water during the rainy season, preventing
floods, and, during the dry season, it slowly
released the water, averting droughts.
The burning, building of canals on the
peatland and draining today threatens to
drown Tripa, as it continues to experience
land subsidence every year. Such conditions cause it to flood easily.
No less important is the fact that Tripa
was home to so many endangered Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii). A massive
portion of Sumatras orangutan population
live in peat swamps along the Aceh coastline where palm and rattan trees grow abundantly. The remainder are spread out in the
forests within Acehs protected Leuser Eco-

system and the North Sumatra forests.

Until the early 1990s, a total of 1,000
orangutans existed across the 62,000 hectares of the Tripa peat swamp. But misfortune came in the form of land-use permits,
or HGU, issued during the New Order regime to many private companies in 1991.
These companies promptly converted the
forests into palm plantations.
There are currently seven companies
holding the HGU permit to operate within Tripa, each entitled to exploit between
3,000 to 13,000 hectares, leaving only
around 17,000 hectares of undisturbed peatland. Experts on orangutans argue that the
area is too small to accommodate around
280 orangutans surviving in Tripa.
According to Director of the Sumatran
Orangutan Conservation Programme, Ian
Singleton, a large part of the Tripa forests
that burned down were the primary habitat for the orangutans. In the past, we saw
many orangutans in the area, he said. The
construction of canals and the draining
have also dried up the water from the peat-

ALI Basyiah has had to spend his afternoons without a shirt in recent years. This
resident of Kuala Semayam village finds the
heat hard to bear. The weather became increasingly hot since the palm plantation
companies started operating here, said
Ali, whose village is located near the field
managed by Kallista Alam.
According to records dated November 14,
2007, the temperature around Tripa rose
drastically. It measured 370C at 9:30am,
and three hours later, it had gone up to
430C. Five years later, Ali feels the temperature continues to rise in his village. Ali is
feeling the heat not only from the rising
temperature but also from the declining income from fishing. Farming and fishing activities have evaporated in the area, threatening the lives of people who depend on
the forests for their food and livelihood.
Once, all he had to do to get his fish, was
to place dozens of traps under the river water, and he would net around 30 kilograms
of catfish and three sacks of clams at the
end of each day. Such a life is long gone. At
best, after painstaking hunting upstream,
Ali is able to catch just 10 kilograms of catfish a day.
Director of the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), T.M. Zulfikar, said that the experience
of the locals around Tripa in the past five
years is quite different from the aspirations of the Aceh Green program designed
by then-Governor Irwandi Yusuf, following
his election in early 2007.
Based on the data, Zulfikar said that before 2007, some 20,000 hectares of forests in Aceh were destroyed annually. Since
then, the number has increased to 40,000
hectares per annum. The Aceh government does not practice what it preaches,
said Adnan N.S of the Sustainable Ecosystems management. UNTUNG WIDYANTO

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After the Helsinki peace treaty is signed
following the 2004 tsunami, some
companies resume operations.

IN the past two decades the size of the
Tripa Peat Swamp has shrunk by 42,000
hectares. Investigations into criminal
violations were launched only after the peat
forest was slashed, burned, and is now near
complete ruin.

5 February 2008
PT Kallista applies for an additional 1,605hectare concession.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment
(Walhi) records that other companies also
have their entitled land use expanded up to
a total of 8,000 hectares.
Kallista drains and clears the peatlands. Of
591 hot spots detected by MODIS satellite,
203 spots are in Kallistas fields.

Early 1990
The Tripa primary forest encompasses
62,000 hectares of peat swamp and is
inhabited by 1,000 orangutans.
Indonesia issues land-use permits, or
HGU, to five companies including palm oil
plantation company Kallista Alam to clear
land within Tripa and convert them into
plantations. The permits entitled companies
to use 35,000 hectares.

Banda Aceh

May 20
President Yudhoyono issues Presidential
Instruction No. 10/2011 to ban issuance
of new clearing permits on primary natural
forests and peatlands.
August 25
Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf awards a
permit to Kallista Alam for 1,605 hectares of
peatland in Tripa.
November 23
Aceh Walhi files a lawsuit against the Aceh
governor at the State Administrative Court.
- The Banda Aceh State Administrative Court
rejects Walhis suit.
- Irwandi Yusuf loses to Zaini Abdullah in the
Aceh gubernatorial election.
Early May
A joint investigation team begins a probe
into alleged criminal violations in Tripa. As
of now, there are only 17,000 hectares of
peatland and 250 orangutans left in Tripa.

Tripa Peatland

Conflicts in Aceh escalate. Companies
discontinue their operations.

2015-2016 (estimated)
Unless urgent rescue initiatives are
launched, the peat swamp and orangutans
of Tripa are expected to go extinct.


1. Gelora Sawita Makmur
(June 1992)
2. PT Agra Para Citra
(April 1993)
3. PT Kallista Alam
(December 1996)
4. PT Cemerlang Abadi
(September 1990)
5. PT Patrol Guna Sabda Abadi
(December 1996)


Due to
rampant land
clearing, the
population of
has dropped
from 1,000
(1990) to 250
(May 2012).


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| JULY 22, 2012

Orangutan Habitat


Since 2007, two

permits have been
issued in Tripa Peat
Swamp inside the
Leuser Ecosystem Area
for: PT Dua Perkasa
Lestari (blue line) and
PT Kallista Alam (red