The green alliance that is restoring a national park
In Sukabumi in Indonesia an environmental organization has partnered with a private company, communities and a national park to restore the park’s barren areas.
By Enggar Paramita
When the Indonesian state forestry enterprise Perum Perhutani delineated its land in Nagrak sub-district, Sukabumi, West Java in 2003, it didn’t only transfer ownership to a national park but also gave rise to conflict, as the change of ownership meant that members of the neighbouring community who had been cultivating the area would no longer be able to do so. At that time, 600 ha of the national park was used for agriculture and was badly degraded.
To address these issues, in 2008 Conservation International together with Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park started the ‘Green Wall’, a community-based, forest management project aimed at rehabilitating the degraded land. The project, supported by Daikin Industries, a giant Japanese manufacturer, worked with the community to replant the area with fast-growing, native species, namely ‘puspa’ (Schima wallichii), ‘ganitri’ (Elaeocarpus sp), ‘salam’ (Syzygium polyanthum), ‘rasamala’ (Altingia excelsa), ‘champak’ (Magnolia champaca), ‘suren’ (Toona sureni) and ‘blackboard tree’ (Alstonia scholaris).
‘The Green Wall project is like creating a buffer zone surrounding Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park’, said Mr Anton Ario from Conservation International. ‘At the moment, we’ve planted around 120,000 trees and it was challenging. In the first years, because of the devastated soil conditions many seedlings died and we had to replant’.
Mr Ario emphasized that the rehabilitation program helps to protect the water catchment and enrich biodiversity, providing ideal habitat for the wildlife in the national park.
The project facilitated villagers’ access to clean water too by building a 6 km pipe that streams water from the mountain to their homes.
‘By doing so, they [the villagers] gained a clear understanding that well-preserved forest is able to retain water. Forest means water, so they feel the urge to protect the forest to maintain the water supply’, explained Mr Ario.
Mr Ario also said that to fully prohibit people from farming in the national park area was not easy. In fact, it requires long-term facilitation before communities gradually shift their perspective and eventually move out.
Up until now, villagers are still allowed to cultivate seasonal crops in the national park. They intercrop cassava, maize, banana, papaya, durian, banana and sugar palm with the timber species. This agroforestry practice admittedly provides livelihoods to the community.
‘In the past, we bought cassava. But now, we grow, produce and sell it in the market’, said Mr Ojang, the representative of Pasir Buntu village, while welcoming scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre who were visiting on a field trip as part of their annual Science Week. ‘We have improved our knowledge of farming and we feel more at peace too’.
Nevertheless, Mr Ojang realizes that eventually the community members will have to move from the zone. ‘When the trees have grown and tree cover is dense, then it’s time for us to go. It’s the risk we have to bear’. When asked about where they might relocate, Mr Ojang admitted that he’s still laying out plans.
Promoting alternative sources of livelihoods for villagers through development of goat raising and fresh water aquaculture was done by the project to familiarize the community with other income sources. Moreover, their capacity was built for creating home industries and cooperatives, helping to further empower the community.
In seven years, around 300 ha of the formerly degraded area has successfully been restored. Approximately half of the 780 households who farm in the national park have voluntary revoked their claims over the land they used. On top of that, 40% of the farmers who had encroached on the park now work on other people’s farms instead or have moved to other jobs outside the farming sector.
The Green Wall project shows that with mutual goals, a solid collaboration can produce valuable outcomes so that in the end, when the once-bare land is covered in green vegetation again, all can rejoice and say, ‘We won’.