NORTH KALIMANTAN AT A GLANCE
||70% (4,500,000 ha)
||1,260,000 ha (28% of total forest cover) majorly in the
Kayan Mentarang National Park and The Heart of Borneo
Clear water jungle in Indonesian Borneo
About North and East Kalimantan
The island known as Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Until recently, East Kalimantan was the largest province on the island and the second largest in Indonesia. The northern end of East Kalimantan was declared Indonesia’s 34th province, in October 2012, becoming North Kalimantan. The new province has taken over much of the Malaysian border in the north, while East Kalimantan continues to share borders with its Kalimantan counterparts to the south-east and west.
The inland areas in the west of the two provinces are defined by the Iran Mountains, with mountainous and hilly terrain. The remaining inland and coastal area is majorly lowland. 162 rivers run through the province towards the Celebs Sea and the Makassar Strait in the east, causing a large basin covered in swampland in the south east of the province.
Four regions in Kalimantan are declared by the WWF as global ecoregions. The most precious of these is ‘The Heart of Borneo’, a 23 million ha area of exceptionally rich rainforest containing 6% of global biodiversity and various endangered plant and animal species. The rainforest itself is considered to be older than the Amazon forest. The largest amount of The Heart of Borneo, 8 million ha, lies in North and East Kalimantan.
Due to the variety in landscape across the region, there is significant diversity in ecosystems ranging from tropical and montane to peat and mangrove forests. In the Kayan Mentarang National Park in the north, half of forest area is situated at an elevation above 1000m, whereas the Kutai National Park in the south east is largely swamp. Each type of forest has a crucial function for maintaining ecological balance, from regulating water quality to absorbing carbon and maintaining weather patterns.
North and East Kalimantan are abundant in natural resources. Before North Kalimantan was established, the region had the second highest GDP per capita in Indonesia, largely due to a high exploitation of oil, natural gas and coal. These industries are supplied by both commercial bodies and local miners; there are an estimated 20,000 small scale coal miners across the two provinces.
The forestry industry has also consistently contributed a large sector of the economy. East Kalimantan alone contributed 17% of total log production in Indonesia from 1994-2006, and it is expected once oil, coal and gas reserves decline there will be a further shift to timber production. Palm oil plantations and pulp and paper mills are common across the region.
For rural communities, the cultivation of cash crops and agriculture is the mainstay livelihood. Palm oil, coffee, coconut, pepper and cacao are common crops and smallholder farmers produce roughly 90% of the region’s rubber. Local indigenous people have also traditionally produced non-timber forest products, such as rattan, resins, bird’s nest, honey and medicinal plants. Freshwater farming of fish and shrimp farms is also widespread.
Threats to forest and biodiversity
There are environmental concerns about the establishment of North Kalimantan. Although 70% of East Kalimantan is considered forested area, much of the central and southern areas have been degraded or illegally cleared. Production forest covers 60% of forest area and almost 12 million ha of forest have been acquired by timber and mining companies.
The majority of intact forest in the north of the region was absorbed into North Kalimantan’s boundaries and subsequently East Kalimantan’s intact primary forest area dropped from 35% to 15%. Environmentalists warn that the creation of North Kalimantan will lead to encroachment on the remaining intact forest areas.
The largest threat to Kalimantan’s forest over the past few decades has been forest fires. During the dry periods of 1997 and 1998 extreme forest fires devastated Indonesia and over 8 million ha was burned in Kalimantan. While the direct cause of the fires is disputed, it is speculated half of fires originated from palm oil plantations. Land clearing for oil palm through fires occurs every dry season in East Kalimantan.
Mining and illegal logging has also been a significant cause of deforestation, on both commercial and local scales. Across the whole of Kalimantan 272,066 ha of commercial mine licenses overlap with protected forest area. Mining and logging concessions cover 49% of The Heart of Borneo. Due to this, only 35% of original peat swamp in the forest remained in 2012.
These activities have a number of environmental consequences, including increased flooding and landslides, and significant loss of biodiversity. Fish populations have declined by nearly 10% in East Kalimantan due to deforestation of mangrove forests for fish pond conversion and a related increase in sediment in rivers.
Burning peatlands in Indonesian Borneo