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Story Publication logo February 10, 2019

Fire and Rain: 'Living Downstream' Reports from Borneo


Smog and smoke over Borneo and Indonesia, 1997. Image courtesy of NASA.

Indonesia is repairing a vast peatland damaged in an ill-fated agricultural project. Peat breakdown...

Farmer Norhadi points to forest cleared to make room for the Mega Rice Project
Beginning in 1995, loggers working for the Indoesian government leveled a swath of jungle 70 miles long and 30 miles wide to make room for a vast rice plantation. No rice ever grew there because the land was not suitable for rice. Farmer Norhadi unrolls a handmade map showing how villagers in the town of Mantangai divided up their land before government workers cut their forests. Image by Daniel Grossman. Indonesia, 2019.

Twenty-four years ago, loggers holding government concessions began cutting down a jungle on the swampy southern fringe of Kalimantan—the Indonesian part of the south-pacific island of Borneo—supposedly to make room for rice paddies for feeding the populous country. Nobody predicted the chain of disastrous events that happened next. The huge development project robbed indigenous people of their land and livelihood. It turned tracts of rare jungle habitat into vast plantations of oil palm and acacia trees. And then it set in motion an environmental catastrophe of global dimensions. Indonesia is still trying to set things right. And some of the solutions are making life for the rural farmers and fishermen of Kalimantan even worse off.

Support for this reporting was made possible by the Rainforest Journalism Fund, in association with the Pulitzer Center.