Clearing for pulp plantation in Sumatra’s Riau province.Photo: Rainforest Action NetworkOn a humid afternoon in Sungai Tohor, a coastal village in Sumatra’s Riau province, 50 or so men are packed into a town-hall conference room. They sit in neat rows of blue plastic chairs, many clad in knee-high rubber boots, loose-fitting polo shirts, and baggy pants — the casual uniform of an Indonesian farmer. Women and children peer in through open windows and doors. There’s excitement in the air, thanks to a gaggle of visiting journalists and enviros who have come to discuss the fate of the village — and a way of life now under siege.
Over multiple generations, residents of Sungai Tohor have built a thriving trade network that has brought them relative prosperity. Each month, they ship several hundred tons of sago paste — a starchy dietary staple produced from trees they cultivate in the jungle — to Malaysia and Java. The proceeds have enabled them to buy bright new motorbikes, build quaint homes, and maintain a slow-paced lifestyle that prioritizes family and community above all else. Some families can even send their c... Read more