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Rebuilding a Forest in Borneo - Sintang Lestari

Sintang Lestari is an area of destroyed forest in Sintang, West Kalimantan that will be restored to a full forest ecosystem with the help of young people across the planet. The area is 46.771 hectares (more than 115.000 acres) mostly severely degraded / grassland cover, is home to a population of approximately 7000 Dayak people, who will work in partnership with Dr. Willie Smits and the DeforestACTION team to revive the land.

Sintang Lestari
Sintang Lestari Infrastructure and Land Map

Sintang Lestari will be based on the highly successful model created by Dr. Willie Smits at Samboja Lestari.

Samboja Lestari
 Samboja Lestari is an area of restored tropical rainforest near the city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Borneo created by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) led by Dr Willie Smits, with the aim of providing a safe haven for rehabilitated orangutans while at the same time providing a source of income for local people.

The project is much smaller than Sintang Lestari, covering nearly 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq mi) of deforested, degraded and burnt land.  Reforestation and orangutan rehabilitation is the core of this acclaimed project, with hundreds of indigenous tree species planted. By the middle of 2006 over 740 different tree species had been planted; by 2009 there were 1200 species of trees, 137 species of birds and nine species of primates.

As you will see in the above TED talk, Samboja in 2002 before reforestation was the poorest district of East Kalimantan, with 50% of the population unemployed and a high crime rate. There had been climate change, with severe droughts resulting in crop failures, along with almost total extinction of plant and animal life. Flooding occurred five or six times a year and there were annual fires. Almost a quarter of average income went on buying drinking water. The land no longer sustained any agricultural productivity and was covered with alang-alang grass (Imperata cylindrica) which produces hydrocyanic acid that prevents the germination of tree seeds. There were many nutrition and hygiene related health problems and life expectancy was low, with high infant and maternal mortality.

In May 2003 the Borneo Orangutan Sanctuary (BOS) bought 1,200 hectares (4.6 sq mi), most of it with credit from the Gibbon Foundation, also under the management of Smits. In a tree nursery of 3 hectares, 250,000 small trees of about 400 species were waiting to be planted. Of particular importance were the 500 or so species that bore fruit eaten by the orangutan. Many of the seeds of these had been recovered from orangutan faeces all over Borneo.

As soil-forming pioneer trees the drought-resistant Sungkai (Peronema canessceus) and legumes such as Acacia mangium which fix nitrogen through symbiotic Rhizobium bacteria in their root nodules.

Smits drew on his background in microbiology and his doctoral dissertation on mycorrhiza, making enormous quantities of compost for tree seedlings. Along with organic waste, he mixed in sawdust, fruit remnants from the orangutan cages, manure from cattle and chickens scavenged from his other projects in Kalimantan and a microbiological agent made from sugar and cow urine.

At the request of the Indonesian Government, Samboja Lestari became home to 52 sun bears, confiscated from the illegal pet trade or rescued from deforested areas.

The sanctuary includes a 58 hectares (0.22 sq mi) area put aside for the bears including a 55 hectare patch of fenced secondary forest with maturing fruit trees and a river and a second area of approximately 3 hectares.[17]

Samboja Lestari - This was a barren landslide in 2002.

A young forest is quickly emerging which it is hoped will evolve over time into such a rainforest. In the tropical climate of Borneo plants grow much faster than in Europe. A tree may reach a height of up to 17 metres within four years. Already dense forest surrounds the headquarters of BOS in the Samboja Lestari area. In addition to the return of bird species (such as the rare Hornbill), 30 species of reptile, Porcupines, pangolins, mouse deer and many other animal species have returned. The endangered Proboscis monkeys are one of seven primate species to be found at Samboja Lestari.

The local population around the area is a crucial part of the project. Planted around the perimeter of the rainforest is a belt of sugar palm (Arenga pinnata) trees. This serves both as a protective barrier against fires and as a source of income for over 650 families. Samboja Lestari enjoys the support of the local people through its creation of employment such as in the fire protection program and maintaining the security of drinking water resources.

By switching to agriculture combining rattan, sugar palms, pineapples, papayas, beans, and corn along with other fruits and vegetables a community of 2,000 Indonesians can now support itself on the land.

Smits believes that to develop the orangutan population, their forest habitat must first be built; also, to achieve sustainable solutions the root social problems must be addressed by empowering local communities to take up livelihood options that is more rewarding than logging.

Learn more about Samboja Lestari.


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