The natural integrity and rural livelihoods of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) are threatened by illegal logging, mining, and the expansion of industrial-scale monoculture, such as oil palm plantations.

Photo: Björn Vaughn

Every year large-scale fires cover the area in a toxic smog that reaches as far as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.  In 2015, Central Kalimantan experienced an unprecedented environmental and public health emergency that has been labelled by many commentators as ‘the worst environmental crime of the 21st century’.

In October 2015, the emissions from these fires exceeded the emissions from the entire US economy – that is more than 15.95 million tons of CO2 emissions per day. This was the result of unsustainable agriculture and land management practices; studies estimate that they killed over 100,000 people across the region and caused damage in the region of USD $20 billion.

Within the last 10 years, Kalimantan forests have declined by more than 9%, mostly converted for commodity crops such as palm oil, with severe associated losses of carbon, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Sustainably managed forests are still the exception in this area, and remaining protected forests and degraded buffer zones are threatened by conversion – despite legal restrictions and policy objectives – due to the high opportunity costs compared to palm oil and other commodities.

Also, unprocessed timber is often exported, which leaves few opportunities to enhance the local economy by adding value to the product or creating new options for livelihoods and income generating.

The landscape of Central Kalimantan is a critical ecosystem and is known as one of the last remaining ‘lungs of the earth’. It is still home to an array of threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species including the Bornean orangutan declared ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservancy of Nature (IUCN) in 2016.

Into this context have come Jayadi and Frederika Paembonan, a couple from Australia and Indonesia who, in 2014, set up Yayasan Permakultur Kalimantan (YPK) to work on sustainable solutions to these challenging environmental and social issues. They pride themselves on implementing a ‘solutions-based’ approach.

Through working with communities on sustainable and natural rehabilitation of infertile areas YPK aims to help them to improve their livelihoods and environmental conditions.

As its name suggests, it does this largely through permaculture – an integrated sustainable land and livelihood management approach that creates agriculturally productive ecosystems leading to ecological diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.

Food security is achieved through sustainable agricultural methods such as: carbon sequestration, no-burn no-tillage farming, use of perennials, pioneer and nitrogen-fixing trees as well as multiple methods of composting; all of which also present practical strategies to address climate change.

The permaculture approach seeks the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and nonmaterial needs in a sustainable way.

Working in the Bina Cita Utama school kitchen garden

YPK uses this method in conjunction with local/community centred and culturally appropriate education programs, establishing farming demonstration sites and running other activities.

You can watch a video about one of YPK’s recent training sessions here.

One activity YPK has recently begun is a collaboration with the Bina Cita Utama school in Rungan Sari (also a member of SDIA). Working with school staff, students and management, YPK has designed and created a school kitchen garden by converting unused land behind the school and the green corridor alongside the river into a productive space. The garden includes a chicken coop, food forest, nursery, aquaponics and grey water systems and a forest library under the existing forest canopy.