In Indonesia, a model of forest management rises from the mud
Sixty years ago, the land that now makes up Indonesia’s Gunung Walat University Forest was almost completely bare. Like so many other parts of Indonesia, which has recorded some of the world’s fastest rates of deforestation, a state-owned timber company had cleared the entire region, leaving little behind other than mud, some rutted roads, and field upon field full of stumps.
By Paige McClanahan
A visitor from the past wouldn’t recognize the area today. Gunung Walat’s 360 hectares are now densely forested, its slopes laden with trees that tower 40 to 50 metres high. The forest now provides a critical habitat for wildlife and serves as an important resource for the communities that live along its borders. Gunung Walat’s managers hope that their model of multi-use sustainable forest management might serve as an inspiration for other forests across Indonesia.
‘Gunung Walat is proof that a managed forest can survive without cutting any trees,’ says Dr Tatang Tiryana, the forest’s Director of Education and Research. ‘We don’t get any money from the government or donors. We are completely self-sufficient.’
The people who live in the communities adjacent to the forest are key to that self-sufficiency. It was these villagers who, in partnership with the faculty of Bogor Agricultural University, replanted the hillsides with saplings. And today, in return for a modest wage from the managers of Gunung Walat, they gather resin from the forest’s pine trees, which is then sold to industrial turpentine producers. This business supplies about 60% of Gunung Walat’s total revenue, Tiryana says.
Locals are also given access to the forest to pick fruit, collect fuelwood from the forest floor (the cutting of trees is never permitted), and grow coffee, cardamom, cassava, and other crops under the forest’s canopy. It’s a relationship that works well for both sides.
‘We wouldn’t manage the forest as well if we were doing it on our own,’ says Jejan, the chief of the village of Citalahab, which sits along the forest’s edge. ‘We would probably just clear the land for agriculture.’
Some people in the village travel to other parts of the country, or even abroad, to work in factories or do service jobs, says Jejan, who uses only one name. But most earn their livelihoods within the forest, collecting resin, growing crops, and harvesting fruit. He adds that much of his village’s wealth has come from the sale of mangosteen, a sweet, tangy fruit that the villagers sell in local markets.
To help cover the remaining 40% of its operating costs, Gunung Walat has struck up partnerships at the other end of the spectrum, with major corporations such as ConocoPhillips and Toso, a Japanese manufacturer of curtain tracks. These companies pay the forest to plant saplings and manage plots of land. In return, they get to say that they are offsetting some of their companies’ carbon emissions.
Such partnerships bring in some revenue but Tiryana insists that the forest’s primary purpose is education. Gunung Walat partners with schools both in the region and further afield, hosting masters and PhD students from as far away as the United States and Europe, who come to study silviculture, hydrology, agroforestry, and other topics. The forest also regularly welcomes high school students from within Indonesia.
‘There is a growing demand from schools in Jakarta to make students aware of the environment,’ Tiryana says, adding that Gunung Walat ‘is the best managed of all of Indonesia’s educational forests.’
‘We hope we can continue our management so that in the future we can have many areas like this across Indonesia.’