is blessed with the greatest and most diverse biological resources in the world,
after Brazil. This natural wealth can be sustainably utilized for the welfare of
the population. Unfortunately enough, however, the country has not been able to
successfully use the enormous natural wealth to improve the welfare of her
1996, before Indonesia was hit by the on-going economic crisis, the number of
people under the poverty line was 22.5 million (around 11.3 per cent of the
total population). According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics,
Indonesia’s population under the poverty line increased drastically to around
79.4 million people (about 39 per cent) in 1999. And up to now, Indonesia has
not yet recovered from the prolonged economic crisis marked by a high inflation
rate, the increasing number of jobless people, and the devaluation of the
country’s currency (Rupiah) against the US dollar in particular.
Center for Biodiversity
is a highly valuable asset, and has been the lifeblood of Indonesia’s
traditional multi-ethnic population. Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is
the term used to explain the variety, variability and uniqueness of genes,
species and ecosystems. With its enormous wealth of biotic resources, Indonesia
has a great potential to sustainably utilize her biological resources to meet
the basic needs of the population: food, clothing, housing and medicine.
is the largest archipelago in the world, located between two oceans, the Pacific
and the Indian, and bridging two continents, Asia and Australia. It consists of
more than 17,000 islands, including five main islands - Java, Kalimantan
(Borneo), Irian Jaya (Papua), Sumatera and Sulawesi.
acknowledge Indonesia, which has a population of around 220 million, as one of
the world’s ‘mega centers’ of biodiversity for her wide range of natural
habitats, rich flora and fauna species.
17 per cent of all species in the world can be found in Indonesia, although it
forms only 1.3 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. The country has around
515 mammal species, 122 species of butterflies, 600 species of reptiles, 1531
species of birds, 270 species of amphibians, and 28,000 flowering plants.
Komodo dragon is the world’s rarest and most primitive reptile
you remember Jurassic Park? Come to Indonesia and meet the Komodo dragon (Varanus
komodoensis). Komodo is one of the world’s rarest and most primitive reptiles,
with a prehistoric appearance. The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard,
can grow to three meters long and weigh up to 60 kilograms, and is found in
western Flores and the islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca, East Nusa tenggara,
and eastern Indonesia.
exact number of Komodo dragons is unknown, but estimates range from 3,000 to
6,000. Since 1931 it has been classified as an endangered species. The habitat
of the endemic animal is decreasing due to lack of protection and the increasing
illegal logging activities.
rich flora of Indonesia includes many unique varieties of tropical plant life in
various forms. Rafflesia arnoldi, which is found only in certain parts of
Sumatera and Kalimantan, is the largest flower in the world. In Irian Jaya, 2500
different orchids are known; among them is the world’s largest orchid,
Grammatophyllum papuanus, with three-meter sprays of orange blossoms.
arnoldi is the largest flower in the world
6,000 species of plants are known to be used directly or indirectly by the
people. The use of plants in the production of traditional herbal medicine or
“Jamu” is very common.
the largest tropical forest in the world, Indonesia has species-rich forests
that harbor the world’s greatest diversity of palms; more than 400 species or
70 per cent of the world’s dipterocarp species (the most valuable timer
species in Southeast Asia) including ebony, teakwood, and sandalwood; and 122
species of bamboo. The country also has over 350 species of rattan and produces
three-quarters of the world’s rattan cane.
Challenges to Indonesia’s Biodiversity
the good chances and opportunities referred to above, Indonesia is confronted
with some real challenges, including a high population rate, low levels of
awareness, the absence of environmental
enforcement, weak institutional infrastructure and inadequate development of
science and technology concerned with conservation and utilization of
country’s forests, estimated to cover over 130 million hectares, which are the
main home of Indonesia’s biodiversity, have been considered to be
over-exploited both by legal forest concession holders and illegal logging
activities. Around 1.6 to 2.1 million hectares of forests are destroyed every
year in Indonesia.
is worth mentioning that the Tesso Nilo conservation area in Riau Province,
Sumatra, is one of the country’s richest biodiversity forests. However, Tesso
Nilo, which is inhabited among others by rare Sumatran tigers and elephants, has
also been damaged seriously due to logging activities, particularly for paper
and pulp industries. Clearing projects do not only threaten natural habitats,
food chains and the survival of the Sumatran tiger and elephant, but also that
of orangutans, the large apes of Kalimantan (Borneo Island).
this man-made ‘disaster’, forest fires are also ‘a main enemy’ that
often hit the country. Experts say that actual and potential harm to
Indonesia’s jungles from forest fires is enormous. Forest fires are usually
triggered by cheap land clearing projects undergone by the forest concession
holders and by the El Nino natural phenomenon that brings severe drought to
bitter lesson was learned from the 1982-83 and 1994 forest fires that destroyed
6.4 million hectares of forests, especially in East Kalimantan.
Haddad, Executive Director of the Indonesian Biological Diversity Foundation,
Kehati, told workshop participants in Jakarta in 2000, that many people were not
aware that forest fires posed very serious problems to the preservation of
biological diversity. Thousands of flora and fauna species, including the rare
ones, were destroyed during the forest fires.
Biodiversity Lures Colonialists
is also a center of crop biodiversity with a wide range of varieties such as
banana (Musa spp.), nutmeg (Myristica fragans) and cloves (Syzygium aromaticum),
which attracted Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial rulers to come and occupy
Indonesia in the 15th century. In the colonial time, nutmeg was the most
valuable commodity after silver and gold for most Europeans.
to Setijati D. Sastrapradja, also from the Kehati foundation, the Russian
biologist Vavilov traveled around the world in 1930 to identify economic plants
from many countries. According to the Russian scientist, there were eight
centers of economic plants in the world. But his student, Chukovski, discovered
there were 12 centers rather than eight, including the “Indonesia-Indochina
center of Vavilov”. Vavilov’s study identified 3,500 edible plants,
including four main edible plants such as rice or paddy, which basically feed
the world. Sugarcane, banana and coconut trees are among edible plants
originally growing in Indonesia. Indonesia is currently not the world’s main
producers of these commodities, however.
is quite ironic that in Indonesia, 1,500 local varieties of rice have
disappeared in the past 15 years. Research on rice conducted by the
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last year discovered the remarkable
ability of biodiversity to help farmers improve their livelihoods while
protecting the environment and their health. Based on its research in China,
IRRI has found that farmers can use biodiversity to improve their incomes and
profitability while controlling pests and diseases with fewer pesticide
applications. The Philippines-based IRRI has made biodiversity a central
research focus for more than a decade and runs projects exploring its potential
in most Asian nations.
Right of a Nation
Borneo Island is famous for its orangutans
the second largest megabiodiversity nation after Brazil, Indonesia has placed
great interest in the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of its
people’s rights over knowledge of the science. Indonesia was among the first
signatories of the Earth Summit Convention on Biodiversity and was represented
directly by the then President Soeharto.
the issue of biodiversity is not only a question of preservation, but also the
right of the nation and her people, especially the indigenous population who
benefit less from the country’s biological wealth than those who monopolize
the technologies to process medicinal plants, mostly in the West.
discouraging fact is that efforts to conserve biodiversity and to rehabilitate
degradation go on at a lesser rate in comparison with that of the depletion and
erosion of the biotic/genetic resources.
former minister for population and environment, Prof. Dr. Emil Salim, once said
that empowerment of the Indonesian people is imperative for the preservation and
survival of its biodiversity. He also commented that poverty tends to push
people to harm nature, especially the forests. So, while Indonesia is still busy
fighting against economic crisis and poverty, the environment will remain in the
last of the priority list and continue to be a victim.
2003 - Gap on Environment in Rich, Poor Nations Evident: World Bank
1997 - Jungle Animals Exact Lethal Revenge for Indonesian Fires
- Workshop on Biodiversity by Kehati Foundation
- Biodiversity for the Survival of Humankind, the Government of Indonesia
ANTARA, Fardah Assegaf - Tropical Rain Forest, A Curse or Blessing
ANTARA, Fardah Assegaf - Acculturation Could Also Mean Loss of Biodiversity
- IRRI - Biodiversity: Adding Value to Rice farming
WWF Indonesia - Stop Forest Destruction
Ms. Hani Mumtazah is an environmental journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She graduated from a three-year English language non-decree program at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta. She attended the Non-Aligned News Agencies Journalism Course in New Delhi, India, in 1987. Comments and suggestions may be forwarded to her by contacting the editor at: