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Social Impacts of Logging

Social Impacts of Logging

Part III

MOST OF THE forest-dependent local peoples in tropical forests have lived on their lands for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The land and the forests are their most important economic resource, providing them with food, building materials, medicinal plants and other products to meet their subsistence needs. Their relationship with the land has formed the cornerstone of many of their societies and cultures and has a deep significance in their spiritual lives, often representing the past and the future as well as the present. Because forests are so central to their lives, most forest peoples have devised ways of forest management which ensure that their needs are met and that the forest ecosystem is protected.

The negative social impacts caused by industrial logging are all too often overlooked in assessments of the damage caused by logging, particularly the high numbers of people affected, the wide-reaching nature of the problems created in people's lives and the potential costs in economic terms of replacing the lost benefits provided by forests.

The land and forests are the most important economic resource for forest-dependent peoples, providing them with food, building materials, medicinal plants and other products.

Food security

Logging has had a severe impact on food and other resources which form the basis of the livelihoods of many forest-dependent peoples. In terms of food resources, wild meat and fish represent vital sources of protein. A number of studies have shown that the availability of wild meat has declined in logging areas in a number of forest regions, including those in Central Africa, Brazil and Asia-Pacific, as logging opens up previously inaccessible forest areas to commercial hunting and the over-use of wild game. In Central Africa, research has found that logging roads have made the forests more accessible to poachers, some of whom are logging company employees, and logging trucks often transport bushmeat. In Sarawak, data showed that 3806 kg of meat per 10 families was harvested from unlogged forests, compared with 1240 kg during the first decade after logging, 534 kg during the second decade, and just 155 kg during the third decade. This is equivalent to a collapse in annual meat consumption per head from 54 kg to 2 kg from unlogged to logged areas.139

Fish, another vital source of protein, have also been severely affected by logging. The large quantities of soil sediments washed away from logging areas into streams and rivers causes high turbidity levels and siltation, combined with run-off of diesel oil used by logging machinery and chemicals employed to treat the timber, causing dramatic declines in fish stocks. By 1987, 59% of Sarawak's rivers were considered polluted and severe reductions in fish catches were reported by 57 longhouses along interior rivers.140 In Cameroon, fishing has traditionally been a significant part of local subsistence livelihoods, mostly undertaken by women. In logging areas, there is already damage to streams and rivers.141 In the Solomon Islands, logging around the Marovo Lagoon has been so intense that siltation threatens traditional marine fisheries.142 In Cambodia, where fisheries provide 40-60% of people's protein needs, logging is also becoming a threat to habitats crucial for the survival of these fisheries.143

Besides protein, logging affects other sources of vital daily food too. Numerous instances around the world have been reported of logging companies bulldozing fruit and vegetable gardens located in or on the edge of forests and destroying wild fruit trees and other edible forest plants. These resources are often lost altogether when forests are degraded by logging. In Central Africa, logging activities in the forest have disturbed populations of large mammals, such as elephants and great apes, who start to roam more widely, leading to increased human-animal conflicts and crop-raiding by animals.144


As watersheds are destroyed and rivers become silted and polluted, forest peoples are deprived of the most vital resource for survival—clean water. Streams and rivers provide the primary source of potable water. In Sarawak, according to research carried out by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, "The consequences of raised silt-load in rivers are far reaching. Upland streams, naturally clear, become turbid during spates and remain so for longer periods after the water level abates. Rural communities are deprived of sources of clean water and rural life suffers. In some of Sarawak's areas, the river water is permanently turbid now".145 In the Solomon Islands, damage to water sources by logging practices is often the single most serious issue identified by local women as it has an impact on all aspects of their daily life.146


The loss of food and the pollution of water sources leads to health problems amongst forest-dependent communities, with women and children tending to suffer the most. In Sarawak, in the late 1970s and early 1980s malnutrition became widespread in the interior due to the decline in wild meat harvesting and the fall in hill rice production because less land was available for swiddening. In the Brazilian Amazon, a 1994 survey of hunger amongst indigenous peoples recorded high levels of malnutrition amongst those Indians whose land had been invaded or disturbed by loggers.147

Besides health problems created by a lack of food supply and clean water, diseases have been introduced by outsiders to forest communities. In Brazil, incursions into indigenous reserves have resulted in the spread of diseases against which Indians have no immunity, and this is the cause of more deaths amongst indigenous peoples than anything else.148 In addition, the opening of the forest encourages the spread of diseases such as malaria. In Papua New Guinea, for example, "logging operations in several provinces are experiencing intense levels of malaria among both workers and the local surrounding populations".149

Disruption of local economies

The loss of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as rattan, nuts and resins can have profound consequences on the local economies and subsistence lifestyles of forest-dependent peoples. Even when these resources are specifically marked to be excluded from logging, they are often damaged or felled.150 The value of NTFPs is often overlooked in assessments of the benefits from forest resources. A study of the local cash economy in NTFPs in Cameroon found that the sale of NTFPs earned at least US$ 1.75 million in the first half of 1995. More than 1,100 traders, mainly women, distribute these NTFPs. The study confirms the role of NTFPs as a source of employment and income, not only for gatherers, but also for traders.151

Changes in social stability

Community values are being undermined and the fabric and integrity of forest communities disrupted by extractive industries such as logging and by the subsequent reliance on the cash economy for essential daily products such as food. Social tensions within and between communities are often exacerbated as a result.

The social division caused by the arrival of large-scale logging is one of the major negative impacts identified by local people throughout the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The industry has created a new distinction at the village level between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' based on a sudden influx of cash from royalties or 'sweeteners'. Because of the complex land tenure structures in Melanesia, and the need for logging companies to identify "landowners" in order to obtain national government licences to log, negotiations are often based on expediency and restricted to a few key individuals rather than taking place with all legitimate landholders. In this way, a few individuals can undermine the whole structure of customary land tenure in return for cash. Communities rarely see the promised infrastructure developments such as schools, clinics and permanent roads, other than logging roads.

In Brazil, as illegal roads are driven through indigenous reserves, uncontrolled colonisation follows, adding to social tensions and sometimes violence. Illegal logging in Indian reserves usually takes place as a result of deals struck between loggers and certain individuals amongst the Indian community, resulting in social conflict within the community and neither a fair return for the timber nor any positive development projects.

In Guyana, as the younger, more employable community members seek jobs in towns or in the mining and logging camps, the drain of labour not only deprives the communities of needed hands in agriculture, hunting fishing and cultural activities, but also contributes to other negative sides of the extractive industries, namely alcoholism and prostitution.152

In Sarawak, as local forest, food and water resources have declined, many forest peoples have had little choice but to move to towns in search of work, to move into resettlement schemes, to find jobs in the logging industry—or to resist and struggle to protect their way of life and to regain their rights. Those with little or no education or work experience have found it difficult to obtain employment in towns; many have ended up in squatter settlements while some women have turned to prostitution.153 Many complaints have also been reported by those who have joined land development schemes such as oil palm plantations; they have often found it hard to adjust to formal and rigid lifestyles and to depend totally on the cash economy. Furthermore, in many cases, the promises of compensation for lost customary rights have remained unfulfilled.154 Many of those who have remained in the longhouses have had to join the logging industry to survive. Due to insufficient safety standards, lack of training, long working hours and pressure, the accident rate has been high.

Women seem to have been the worst affected. As many men go to find employment either in towns or with the logging industry, a newly-emerging division of labour requires the women who remain to cope with previously male tasks in the swidden plots and to work harder and longer hours to collect water and forest products, both of which are scarce because of logging. In those cases where communities are encouraged to move into settled rather than swidden agriculture, women tend to be economically and politically marginalised because they have no relation to the new crops and little access to new information and technology. Any matter related to land and resource rights in settled agriculture is dealt with by the government or the private sector through the male household head, pushing women further aside. As the community begins to place more reliance on male, non-resource-based livelihoods, it shifts from depending on an integrated community livelihood system to one based on greater gender differentiation.

Even in those few instances where local communities have had clear contracts to provide locally-produced timber to foreign loggers at prices attractive to the community, local communities have still been badly affected. In Guyana, the Orealla community on the Corentyne River, for example, negotiated contracts with the Malaysian-controlled Barama Company to supply it with logs at prices three times more than those offered by local log traders. After one year of shipping 1,000 cu m a month to Barama, the community realized that the apparently favourable deal was turning sour due to increased transportation costs, delays in payments, and less time for other productive activities. As a result, timber species were declining, cash flow was not improving, the quality of diet was getting poorer and women and children were suffering. Poverty increased and tensions in the community rose as women complained that basic community maintenance and improvement activities and farming were being neglected because of 'logging fever'.155

Promised infrastructure: a main river crossing in the Solomon Islands with total bridge collapse—this only a matter of months since cessation of logging operations in this area. (See Isabel Timber Company).
Logging deprives people of access to economically important non-timber forest products, such as those used in weaving.

Opposition to logging

Another major social impact arising from industrial logging is the potential for conflicts between logging companies and forest communities. In Melanesia, landholders have caused damage to logging company property as a last resort to get loggers off their land. In Brazil, an unknown number of Indians have been murdered because of their opposition to logging in their reserves. Indians have often been forced to take direct, sometimes violent, action in their attempts to halt the loggers' illegal incursions into their territories.156

In Guyana, the Amerindian communities found themselves living in forest concessions without having been consulted. As a consequence, the prospect of conflict with foreign loggers became a serious issue. Amerindians have already voiced concern about instances of eviction, resettlement to poorer areas and low salaries (when employed) in some of the foreign-owned concessions.157

The eastern province of Cameroon has been the country's main timber producing region. The population comprises Bantu people and some indigenous people (Baka), largely rural communities who depend on forest products for 95% of their livelihood. Over time they have become increasingly disillusioned with commercial forestry operations, seeing no benefit or improvement in their living standards nor local infrastructure.158 As a result, the local population, logging companies and administrative authorities are often in conflict with each other.

In Sarawak, meanwhile, the conflict between native communities and the logging industry has been going on for at least fifteen years. The collusion between the industry and the political forces has led to the repression of the Dayaks and those who have tried to help them (see box below, 'Social conflict and human rights abuses in Sarawak').

NGOs and local communities in a number of countries have established informal international networks to exchange information and to campaign at local, national and international levels against the negative impacts of logging companies. These networks are often the only source of information on companies' activities and provide vital input to the debate on the protection of forests to local communities, national governments and international fora in the face of destructive logging practices.

Over 500 Penan men, women and children gathered at their blockade site near a logging road in Ulu Selaan, Ulu Baram (Sarawak) to protest against the destructive activities of a logging contractor in their area, June 1991.

Social conflict and human rights abuses in Sarawak

THE DAYAKS have lodged many complaints to the authorities about logging-related and land rights problems, but their complaints have constantly been ignored. Over the years, hundreds of indigenous peoples in Sarawak defending and protesting against logging, plantations and other destructive development activities within their customary land and against infringement of their rights have been harassed, assaulted, intimidated, suppressed and arrested.

Between 1987 and the early 1990s, the native communities put up a series of major blockades across logging roads to prevent loggers from entering and destroying their customary lands and forests. These blockades interrupted logging operations throughout the state. The two most timber productive regions, the Baram and Limbang districts, were particularly badly affected. During this period, hundreds of natives were arrested, detained, charged and imprisoned for erecting blockades.

"When I think of our land which is destroyed by the kompeni, it really pains my body now. Now we can't find wood for our boats. The only wood left are the logs going down the river, there is none left on the land. They just bulldoze across our lands, now it is only sand and stones. Is it right for them to do this? What is the meaning of this? This is my land, my fruit trees. Yet they ask the polis to arrest me?" (Kayan quote)

Native Customary Rights are simply ignored by the private companies. Supporting these companies' interests, police and forest department officials have arbitrarily arrested and detained those indigenous people who put up any form of protest, even though such protests are undertaken within the confines of their own lands and they have legitimate rights under the law to such forms of protest.

In a number of cases, natives who were arrested and brought to court were subsequently found to be not guilty. The court decided that the natives were blockading / protesting on their own customary land, and that defence of one's property was recognised in law. The Miri Sessions Court found that 42 Kayans of Uma Bawang longhouse community in Baram, arrested and detained by the police in 1987 for putting up a blockade against a logging company, had been wrongfully arrested, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted by the police. The Court also ordered the police to pay damages and costs to the Kayans.159

At present, indigenous communities are still erecting blockades and protesting against the timber companies in the interior region of Sarawak. Indigenous communities continue to face various threats from unsustainable development projects and arbitrary and high-handed aggression from the authorities. Of particular concern now is the clear-cutting of forests for oil palm plantations. Over the past 18 months, the Police Field Force has stepped up its campaign of intimidation and arrest of natives defending their land against encroachment of logging and oil palm plantation companies:

On 13 March 1997, when 75 Penan went to a logging camp to deliver a protest letter to the head of the logging company, they were met by Police Field Force who started to hit and arrest them. About 30 Penan were injured and four arrested and severely wounded.160

On 17 April 1997, the Police Field Force arrested nine Iban men from Rumah Reggie for voicing opposition to an encroaching oil palm plantation.161

On 25 June 1997, 42 Iban men and women were arrested during a peaceful gathering. In both cases, the Iban were violently arrested and jailed without warrant or formal charge.162

On 19 December 1997, when a violent conflict between unarmed Iban and the Police Field Force broke out following a dispute with a palm oil plantation company, one Iban man, Enyang Ak Gendang, was fatally wounded by a gunshot wound to his head (below).163

'We will defend our land at all cost. We will never surrender it. We have our dignity and we must leave something for our future generations'.164

As a consequence of their resistance, the most vocal indigenous activists in Sarawak are continuously intimidated and their privileges as citizens denied. Thomas Jalong, Jok Jau Evong, Garah Jalong and Raymond Abin cannot travel abroad because their passports have been confiscated. A number of Dayak activists are black-listed by the authorities. Some lawyers and representatives of Malaysian NGOs from Peninsular Malaysia have been deported from Sarawak and are denied access to the state (see 'Human rights vs. logging', page 22).

Community development initiatives as an alternative

In a number of countries, communities have taken development initiatives into their own hands and have shown that both they and the environment benefit. In the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, a number of community timber and resource mangagement initiatives have been established, suggesting an alternative development path to the short-term activities of large-scale (often foreign) logging companies. In the Solomon Islands, the promotion of this alternative looks set to become mainstream government policy.165 In Sarawak, several resident or longhouse associations have been set up since 1987 to implement bottom-up development projects designed to improve peoples' livelihoods while improving and regenerating the environment. The community of Uma Bawang, for example, has taken development issues into its hands since 1987. The local people have worked together on integrated organic farming, forest regeneration and plant nurseries, handicraft production, medicinal plant growing, and educational and cultural activities. In Cameroon, new forestry legislation, which aims to encourage participation in the management of forest resources, provides for community forests, which can be exploited by a legally-constituted community entity,166 although the success of this has yet to be tested.

Community based forest rehabilitation using indigenous species at Sungai Keluan, Uma Bawang.