‘Conservation will only be effective if it is managed by, or at least through engagement with, communities’ (Q&A)

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Deforestation, particularly tropical deforestation, poses a great risk to our planet through increased CO2 in our atmosphere and the loss of biodiversity.

Forests act as carbon sinks, trapping carbon created by humans and other sources. When trees are cut down (and often burned), not only do they stop sequestring carbon but the carbon they stored gets released into the atmosphere. About 20 percent of fossil fuel emissions are absorbed by tropical forests. Mangroves in particular are adept at trapping CO2; despite composing less than one percent of the tropical forest area, they release as much as 10 percent of all deforestation emissions worldwide.

Tropical forests are also home to much of the world’s biodiversity. Tropical forests cover about seven percent of the Earth’s surface, but they contain upwards of half the world’s species. Clearly, protecting the world’s forests is important.

But how do we stop deforestation? It’s a big task that requires balancing several stakeholders’ needs: indigenous people, local governments, businesses, etc.

Rare’s VP of Indonesia, Taufiq Alimi, a forestry expert, provided some thoughts on why protecting forests is so important and how we can go about doing that. Prior to working at Rare, Alimi worked at the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) in Indonesia as National Coordinator, where he managed their forestry program with the aim of developing 750,000 hectares of forest for REDD+ activities

Why are forests so important to conserve?
Forests are homes for important species and other biodiversities, destruction of forests will also devastate the important biodiversity. The loss of biodiversity will cost us hugely, especially in the loss of potential medicine, loss of ecological balance, etc. Forests are also the keeper of ecological integrity. Once a forest is disrupted, it may lead to further disruption: climate change, flood, and drought and lead to social problem such as famine, displaced people, etc.

What makes Indonesia in particular an important place for forest conservation?
Indonesia has the third largest tropical forests. The forests are home for endemic species, and play an important role in the global climate change mitigation. Indonesian forests are home for 40 million forest dependent communities, among others are indigenous group. The forests are also under constant pressure from conversion especially from palm oil and pulp/paper industries.

What are some proven effective ways to protect forests in Indonesia?
Conservation will only be effective if it is managed by, or at least through engagement with, communities. For the forest dependent communities, the forests are their habitat. They will be the biggest stakeholders for any disruption in the forests. The case of Sui Utik Customary Forests (in Kapuas Hulu District, West Kalimantan Province) was an example of how the community’s ability in maintaining their 9,000 hectares of forests. The forest was part of a concession to a logging company, but since the communities understand the value of the forests to their life, they defended that by managing the forests sustainably while negotiating their tenure rights.

The communities gained recognition from various parties and was finally have their de facto/political recognition from the Minister of Forestry. The 9,000 hectares of forest managed by communities are the only intact natural forest outside natural park in that areas. Another example is the greening of southern part of Java by “proliferation of community forestry.” Knowing the importance of forest, communities in the dry land of southern Java devoted their efforts to plant the forest with various vegetation. The total community forests in Java now has exceeded the forest in state land.

What are the biggest issues you face with forest conservation in Indonesia?
Volatile regulations, unclear tenure, and corruption (poor forestry governance).

How do you get local populations to buy into conservation?
Couple strategies: develop awareness on the need of conserving the forests (like what our IP has done in the Buffer Areas of Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve in Central Kalimantan) or by providing alternative income for compensating the loss of income from illegal (destructive) activities. Understanding local values is also key. The success in Sui Utik is because of the strong adherence of communities to the local and traditional values of conserving the nature. The traditional wisdom has divided the forest into certain zones that ensures the sustainability of the forests.

How do you get big businesses, particularly palm oil companies, to buy into conservation?

  1. Buyer pressure
  2. Government pressure
  3. Education
  4. Providing incentives for doing the right things.
  5. For undertaking all of the above it needs cooperation, collaboration and intensive campaign from all parties.

Will REDD/REDD+ be a major answer to the deforestation issues facing Indonesia?
It will not be a major answer in term of the size and volume of the forest worked under REDD scheme. But in term of the sentiments, trend and influence on decision making it is. REDD+ has developed leverage for improvement of the forestry governance, it helps improving tenure system, etc.

How does social marketing and communications help tackle a large issue like deforestation?
Social marketing and communication with local communities will help strengthening communities resilience from the temptation for taking part in the destructive activities to the forests. It also helps communities identify their own values and used that for convincing other members of the communities. Having all parties on board is the key to sustaining the conservation efforts.