Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil in the world and it is the country’s largest agricultural export. Demand stems from its use as a low-cost cooking oil as well as its burgeoning role as a biofuel source. Palm plantations have quickly decimated Borneo’s forests, home to a staggering diversity of species including the endangered orangutan. In 1998, palm oil production picked up around Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, home to about a thousand wild and rehabilitated orangutans.
The nonprofit Yayorin, run by Rare alumni Eddy Santoso, has developed an alternative to deforestation. Santoso and his colleagues educate and train rural communities in agroforestry while promoting the intrinsic value of a pristine forest. In 2008, Rare partnered with Yayorin and Santoso to run a marketing campaign to inspire pride in the natural wonders around Lamandau. Rare recently caught up with Santoso.
You were in the first class of Rare Conservation Fellows to receive a master’s degree. Has that helped you?
It has helped me give professional recommendations for Yayorin staff. The Rare leadership program has really helped build the capacity of the staff. They all now know about making effective media and targeted messages. Our slogan is, “People need the forest. The forest needs orangutans.”
What is the biggest impact you have noticed from the Pride campaign?
It is very important. The Pride activities can change behavior very fast and effectively. I targeted 12 villages with my first campaign. In a second and third campaign (funded and executed by Yayorin), I now reach another 16 villages. In the first campaign, 77 percent of farmers stopped using slash and burn agriculture; with the second campaign it increased to 96 percent. I am proud to have helped reduce forest fires in my country.
Have you seen evidence of behavior change?
Yes. The campaign was about getting people to adopt sustainable agriculture. 58 percent of farmers have now adopted agroforestry. They grow mixed gardens with rubber, banana and papaya trees. Since the campaign, there has been a significant reduction in illegal logging and slashand- burn agriculture in the area.
How do you compete with the large palm oil producers in the area?
We have coordinated with two of the local palm oil companies. Our deal is that 500 meters from the border of Lamandau Wildlife Reserve is off limits for palm oil plantation. The community manages the forest in that 500-meter zone. People feel they have a choice for their livelihoods. Now they question when the palm oil companies want to open up swampland because they know that it provides water, protects wildlife and regulates temperature.