The people of Papua province are as diverse as the plant and animal life they live among. In the Mamberamo region, approximately 11,000 people from 40 ethnic groups live in the lowlands along the river and speak at least 36 languages. The remoteness of the region means that the communities maintain subsistence livelihoods and rely heavily on the area’s natural resources – from forest to swamps, lakes, and rivers.
But the remoteness of the region also means education and health services are poor and that transportation and communication with other communities is limited. Few children continue on to junior high school and literacy rates are low. In fact, in the Mamberamo region, 90 percent of the people can neither read nor write and few people are proficient in Indonesian, further hindering communication with regional and national governments and services. The people of the Mamberamo region too often suffer from malaria and respiratory and skin problems. Health centers and health personnel are a rarity. Only six centers and eight medical staff serve the entire region.
Mamberamo communities draw a majority of their livelihood from harvesting sago in the swamp areas. Sago is a Mamberamo staple food and the area has the largest stock of this valuable starch-producing palm in the world. Traditionally, the sago harvesting is a community affair. The men cut down the sago trunks when they are mature and the women remove the fibrous pith, wash out the starch, and dry the resulting product, which is then made into porridge or baked into bread. Agriculture, fishing, and hunting are also important and necessary Mamberamo traditions.
The small indigenous communities throughout Papua province are reliant on the natural resources that surround them. And because of this, their future prosperity depends on the conservation and sustainable management of the region’s flora and fauna. They are the most important partners for conservation in Papua province, the Mamberamo high-biodiversity wilderness area, and the Foja Mountains.