Samboja Lestari is an area of restored tropical rainforest near the city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, created by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) led by Dr Willie Smits, with the aim of providing a safe haven for rehabilitated orangutans while at the same time providing a source of income for local people. According to Smits’ talks for Qi Global and TED, Samboja Lestari has evolved on the principles of People, Planet, Profit, linking community and empowerment and capacity-building with promoting economic development and conservation. Located about 38 kilometers from East Kalimantan’s capital, Balikpapan. The project covers nearly 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq mi) of deforested, degraded and burnt land. In 2001 BOS began purchasing land near Samboja that, like much of the deforested land in Borneo, had been by impoverished by mechanical logging, drought and severe fires and was now covered in alang-alang grass (Imperata cylindrica). The name Samboja Lestari roughly translates as the “Samboja Forever”.  Reforestation and orangutan rehabilitation is the core of this acclaimed but controversial project,  with hundreds of indigenous tree species planted. By the middle of 2006 over 740 different tree species had been planted;[6] by 2009 there were 1200 species of trees, 137 species of birds and nine species of primates. The small town of Samboja was founded about a century ago in what was then rainforest when oil was discovered in the area. The first drilling began in 1897 near Balikpapan Bay.  Dutch oil workers moved into the area to work for a company that was later taken over by Shell and later still by the national Indonesian oil company Pertamina. The oil company began cutting wood in the 1950s and as people came flooding into the booming oil town of Balikpapan they cleared the surrounding forest. With the pronounced El Niño of 1982 and 1983 the worst firestorms then known in a tropical forest ravaged the area, destroying what small pockets of forest that remained. Following the pattern of deforestation in Borneo as a whole, the area was now vulnerable to the dry years that followed. In 1997 and 1998 the fires enveloped the region in smoke. The thick choking smog darkened the sky and caused respiratory problems throughout the region and beyond. According to Smits’ 2009 TED talk, Samboja in 2002 before reforestation was the poorest district of East Kalimantan, with 50% of the population unemployed and a high crime rate. There had been climate change, with severe droughts resulting in crop failures, along with almost total extinction of plant and animal life. Flooding occurred five or six times a year and there were annual fires. Almost a quarter of average income went on buying drinking water. The land no longer sustained any agricultural productivity and was covered with alang-alang grass (Imperata cylindrica) which produces hydrocyanic acid that prevents the germination of tree seeds. There were many nutrition and hygiene related health problems and life expectancy was low, with high infant and maternal mortality.

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