Indonesia: Conserving Forest Is a Way of Life For Some

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 26 Apr 12;

North Halmahera, North Maluku. Forest conservation in Indonesia has long been mired in red tape, obscured by conflicting regulations and undermined by weak law enforcement.

But some of the country’s indigenous groups are getting the job done by relying on their own centuries-old traditions of forest stewardship.

“We have had our own ways to protect the forests for hundreds of years,” Rizal Mahfud, a member of Ngata Toro community in Central Sulawesi, told the Jakarta Globe on the sidelines of the fourth Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) Congress in Tobelo, North Halmahera, last week.

“We don’t need any government programs. We just need to develop [our own].”

Rizal said that without having to rely on written statutes, his community, which now comprises 600 families, has been mapping out land use zones in forests since the 1800s.

The main zone, or wanangkiki , is where people are only allowed to log small trees. The second zone, wana , is for larger logs. For farming, the community can use the omah — old farmland that has been allowed to remain fallow for 35 years — or the pangaleh , which has lain fallow for 25 years.

They can also grow crops in the zone known as pampa , and may only build their homes in the pongata zone, Rizal said.

This age-old way of managing the forest has frequently put the Ngata Toro at loggerheads with the authorities, given that much of their land falls inside the Lore Lindu National Park. “The national park covers 16,000 hectares of the total 22,950 hectares of our community’s living zone,” Rizal said.

“If you talk about forests as being the world’s lungs, what about our lungs? We were there before the national park, so you can’t treat us as though we’re nonexistent. If the authorities respect our existence, we will also respect theirs.”

He added that the indigenous group was only formally recognized as forest stewards by the local authorities last year.

Another success story of sustainable forest management comes from the Iban Dayak community in West Kalimantan, who since 1819 have practiced a quota system for logging trees and mapped their own forest zones.

“We sustain our forest by designating zones for housing and for preservation,” said Samay, an Iban member. “For instance, we don’t touch water catchment areas because that’s our source of clean water. We also allow each family to cut down just five trees a year, and the wood may only be used to build a house.”

The Iban’s forest stewardship methods were certified in 2008 by the Indonesian Ecolabel Foundation as sustainable forest management, making it the first community forest to get the certification.

But the community’s efforts at forest zoning have still not been officially acknowledged by authorities in their home district of Kapuas Hulu.

“We’ve been trying to get acknowledgment for our mapping since 1998 from the local government, but still nothing,” Samay said. “We need that acknowledgment because we’re worried that our lands could be changed for other uses. It’s not for us, it’s for our children and grandchildren.”

Noer Fauzi Rachman, a senior researcher at the Sajogyo Institute, said indigenous peoples did not need money for support, only formal acknowledgement of their land rights.

“They already consider themselves rich with the land and resources that they have,” he said.

“But they hate the government for giving away their lands to companies. What they want is a government that will give them support and security.”

Abdon Nababan, secretary general of AMAN, said more needed to be done to protect the traditional ways of forest stewardship that had proved effective for hundreds of years.

“Indigenous people have their own concept of wealth that’s different from that of city dwellers,” he said.

“They might have brighter smiles than you do. But their smiles are fading because their lands, their lives are being taken from them, and we want to return that smile.”