A logger's lot: $22.50 per week for a job that won't last
SEKONYER RIVER, INDONESIA — Each day, Tamat rises from his bamboo mat at dawn, wolfs down some cold rice and leftover fish with his crew, then loads up the chainsaws and sets off into the vanishing forests of Central Kalimantan.
Working nine-hour days, his six-man rombongan (team) takes down three 150-year-old giants a week. They carve the trees up into manageable pieces, haul them to the Sekonyer River on a rail system made from saplings and timber scraps, and float them to sawmills in Kumai, 20 miles downstream.
They brave leeches, snakes, malaria, and opportunistic policemen, who have to be paid off to let them keep logging in what is technically a "buffer zone" around Tanjung Puting National Park. For their efforts, the team clears $135 a week - a tiny fraction of the $2,000 the timber will be sold for by the sawmill owners.
"We're not the ones who are getting rich," says Tamat. "It's the bosses who get rich.''
Asked about the ethics of logging on protected land, he grows impatient: "This was our land for hundreds of years. It's our right to cut here."
While deforestation is often imagined to be a Malthusian tragedy, logging in Indonesia is driven by a small, well-capitalized group, and gives little back to the working poor.
Tamat used to collect wild rubber and resins in the forest, but when logging started a few years ago, he joined in rather than let "his" trees be cut by someone else.
Even so, Tamat's not saving much money. His hopes for his 1-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son lie in making enough to put them through high school. "They need that. The timber won't be left for them when they get older.''
Tamat estimates that there are only a few more years of logging to be done on his stretch of river. He smokes a clove cigarette as hornbills flap across the water at the end of the day. "I'll miss this."