Central Kalimantan, Indonesia
Late last year I made a short documentary for a local Dutch NGO about the Kalimantan MegaRice Project (aka Peat* Lands Restoration Project) here in Central Kalimantan. The film was part of a presentation at the Bali Climate Change Conference.
*Peat, a highly organic material found in marshy or damp regions, composed of partially decayed vegetable matter. It's one of those extremely delicate eco-systems, like wetlands, that is critical in the balance of all things nature.
The original 1996 MegaRice Project (sometimes called the Peat Lands Development Project), a Suharto government initiative, aimed at turning the very extensive peat lands of south Central Kalimantan into the Rice Bowl of Indonesia.
Unfortunately, the project was a grotesque failure on such a gargantuan scale that it beggars the mind; these words and pictures of mine fall miserably short of conveying the human and environmental misery.
Which did present a problem in the making of the film, I must say.
However, thankfully, the human heart is beautifully articulate organ both in joy and sorrow, and that is, of course, where you aim the camera, for better or worser. (It helps if you keep the lens clean.)
Briefly, re the very failed MegaRice Project (so as not to bore you with facts), after stripping the peat lands to the southeast of Palangkaraya - an area of land bigger than the Netherlands - of primary forest, constructing a network of canals, draining the peat swamps and shipping in some 15,000 immigrant families from all over Indonesia, the Suharto government finally had to acknowledge that peat lands don't make good paddy fields, but by then, of course, anything worth taking had been took, and who's gonna complain?
Greed and avarice blind us all, as any good Buddhist will tell you.
What we are left with today in south Central Kalimantan is fire, flood, drought, polluted waterways, bad soil, dead fish, dead animals, a disaffected local Dayak population forced to scratch a living from a once prosperous area, sama the transmigrant families who have managed to hang on (50% of the original transmigrant families returned home) and a flat expanse of arid land stretching the filmmaker's mind from horizon to horizon, whether he liked it or not.
The current Indonesian government is taking tentative steps to rectify the situation, but of course, what took a couple of years to de-construct will take a generation or three to put back together, if at all.
The Dream: 1996
Above: The (very recently) late President Suharto in jolly harvesting mood, and happy peasants all in a row - way to go! Pics from the original 1996 Indonesian government promotional film.
Above: Peat Land Development in Kalimantan, 1996.
The Mega Rice Project: The official Indonesian Government film.
Edited to 6 mins from the original 15 mins.
1. This is NOT my film, this is NOT my film, this is NOT my film.
2. Have a close listen to the Environmental Poodle Speak. It is truly a seamless work of art.
3. The voice-over guy is one Mr Paul W. Blair, obviously from North America, and nobody on planet earth pronounces KAR-LEE-MARN-TARN quite the way he does. I'm with you, Pak!
Below: 2008, the God-awful reality...
Ain't nothin' much growin' out there, Pak!