Forty years being exploited, Mentawai still becomes the poorest district in West Sumatera.

Mentawai will still struggle to detach themselves from the poverty if there are no real actions taken to solve the problems they’re currently facing. One of them is that 82% of land spatial in Mentawai being owned by the state.

Gotomo Bayu Aji

“The government has handed over almost the entire forest area in Kepulauan Mentawai to the business entities in the form of IPK, PT HPH, and PTPN since 1969. The natural resources in this area has been exploited for 40 years, thus it’s not fair for the local society,” said Gutomo Bayu Aji, a researcher from Population Research Center of LIPI in Sustainable Ecosystem Management Workshop of Kepulauan Mentawai that was held by The Local Government of West Sumatera and Yayasan Citra Mendiri Mentawai on May 23rd, 2016.

According to PP-P2K LIPI draft, Gutomo explains that Kepulauan Mentawai is currently being the poorest district in West Sumatera (BPS, 2014). The poverty level has even reached 15% (13.265 people), way above the national poverty level in 11%. Most of the people in Kepulauan Mentawai are only elementary school graduates. They also don’t have proper public health facility and the number of life expectancy is relatively low, which is around 63,55 (2014).

“The state’s control over the land and Mentawai local society makes people feel dissociated from the uma, tenure system, and land tenure. They’ve been losing their social resources and its environment for the last 40 years, which leads to poverty,” said Bayu.

Based on the data from the Ministry of Forestry, during January-May 2016, the production of the round wood by two HPH corporations that are being operated in Mentawai, has reached 22,571,35 cubic for meranti and 348,08 cubic for mixed rimba.

“If the meranti wood costs Rp 1.270.000 per cubic and the mixed rimba costs Rp 953.000 per cubic, the total value of round wood production by those two HPH per month is Rp 5 billion. It shows that Mentawai has a huge potential of natural resources. Not to mention that this practice has been going on for 40 years,” Bayu explained.

The state’s claim over lands (forests) in Mentawai has alienated the local society themselves, whereas the mainland has essential meaning for them; a group’s identity, migration history, group’s rivalry, and rivalry of the claim. That’s why there are not Mentawai people that don’t have their own land.

“I’ve read somewhere about the meaning of lands for Mentawai people. Not owning and having control over lands not only take away the natural sources they can use for the daily activity. It also shows that they don’t have uma dan the history of decent with fellow Mentawai people, thus they’re acknowledged as Mentawai people,” Bayu said.

Besides, forest exploitation in Mentawai doesn’t only create conflict regarding the ownership issue, but also created the environment deforestation and degradation because there’s no proper reforestation effort from HPS corporations and the government (KLKH) in Mentawai.

“For the past few years, people in Mentawai have been suffering from flood and washout because of SDH exploitation,” Bayu added.

Sustainable Development
To be able to reconstruct Mentawai, it needs a paradigm shift from exploitative to a sustainable one. We need to think harder about what kind of development plans that can be started from the bottom (bottom-up).

“The local society needs to have a wider capacity to establish local policy by streamlining the Musrenbang as a development mechanism and increase people’s control over the planning and execution of local development,” Bayu said.

People in Mentawai also need to revitalize the local wisdom and implement them in the natural resources management. Let local people be more acknowledged by establishing the Local Regulation (Perda) MHA that is accompanied by a mapping of indigenous territories in a long term. It’s time to encourage the collaboration between business entities and local people to manage natural resources through access and control improvement over SDH management, stock sharing, etc,” Bayu said.

(Ocha Mariadi)