Intigenous people walk through mud at a logging dump in PNG
Unscrupulous logging operations in PNG include ‘shameless exploitation’ of native people – photo Greenpeace
BOOK REVIEW: ‘Jungle Jive’ by John Halkett, Connor Court Publishing

Murder and corruption are frequent bedfellows of the illegal trade in tropical timber. But by far the biggest threat to global rainforest survival is the international palm oil industry.

In his recently released and curiously titled book Jungle Jive, Sydney-based forestry consultant and wood industry advocate John Halkett pulls no punches. But along with addressing the huge environmental and social challenges ahead for the forests of Southeast Asia, he identifies some possible solutions.

As with other recent books in the genre, such as the hugely controversial ‘Money Logging’ by environmental activist Lukas Strauman, some of Halkett’s revelations should make your blood boil.

Jungle Jive is a wide-ranging (perhaps too much so), name-and-shame chronicle of the underlying reasons why the international trade in tropical timber, particularly in Southeast Asia, is a corrupt and environmentally unsustainable business.

The major culprits

As a journalist and publisher, this Natural Images reviewer has observed the activities of the tropical logging industry from close quarters over many years. So it comes as no surprise that Halkett should identify Chinese and and Malaysian interests as the major culprits behind the region’s illegal logging business.

His claim that China is the world’s largest importer of illegally logged wood – much of it allegedly supplied by corrupt and ruthless Malaysian companies – is generally accepted.

Unprecedented loss

He reports that jungle loss in Southeast Asia continues at an unprecedented rate, with estimated prime forest loss in Indonesia* alone having trebled in the last 12 years.

Aerial view showing recently cleared jungle in Sabah now occupied by oil palm
Oil palm plantations in Sabah are rapidly replacing pristine tropical forest – ©Tony Neilson

Far more devastating in quantum terms is the almost total destruction of the natural forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, where the author says illegal and corrupt forest clearing have left just five percent of the natural rainforest intact – for now.

Shameless exploitation

In a chapter headed ‘Paradise in Peril’, he traverses the horror story that is now playing out in Papua New Guinea, where the Sarawak-based multi-national Rimbunan Hijau controls some 60% of PNG’s timber industry – and a major newspaper. Halkett describes as ‘shameless’ the exploitation of local people and the rape of their natural resources.

The latest big target for the illegal loggers and timber traders is the recently liberalised economy of Myanmar. Often described as the last frontier of large-scale biodiversity, Halkett says the country already has one of the worst rates of deforestation on the planet.

Lifeless oil palms

The extent of tropical forest destruction and loss of rare wildlife is sickening – made worse, he says, by the fact that those priceless natural resources are being replaced by lifeless, soil-degrading palm oil plantations.

Cover shot of Jungle Jive book by John Halkett
John Halkett’s ‘Jungle Jive’ is more shockin’ than rockin’.

Halkett nevertheless offers some hope in confronting the ‘twin evils’ of illegal logging and forest clearance: “The answer is really quite simple … Make the jungle trees too valuable to chop down.” Sounds too simplistic, but he is referring to the likes of carbon offsets, where communities are paid for keeping the carbon locked in the trees.

No colour images

On the disappointing side, all images beyond the cover are in black-and-white, and the proof reading leaves a bit to be desired.

(*Footnote: In a related positive development, Indonesia and the European Union jointly announced in September that Indonesia will become the first country in the world to export “verified legal” timber to the EU through a licensing system that certifies legal wood. The program is designed to improve the efficiency of trade in legal timber.)

Reviewer: Tony Neilson September, 2016

Natural Images regularly reviews books about sustainability, photography and the natural environment. Submissions for review should be e-mailed (e-books) to: tonywneilson@icloud.com or mailed to Natural Images, PO Box 77 Yorkey’s Knob, Cairns 4878, Australia

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