TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Today, coffee trees almost completely cover parts of Bukit Rigis (Rigis Hill), West Lampung—once nearly barren. From the crest of the hill one can see coffee trees are fl ourishing among other plants such as pine, spice, avocado, and durian, as though they were at one with other trees in the protected forest. In fact, these coffee trees are grown in a protected forest area assigned by the environment and forestry ministry as a community forest.
One of the locations is Register 45B Bukit Rigis, whose management the government has awarded to the farmer group Mitra Wana Lestari Sejahtera for an area of 260.7 hectares. Of the said area, Mitra Wana only makes use of 83 hectares of land divided among the group’s 103 members. “This doesn’t mean we are clearing new land. This island that had already been cleared or planted before the reformasi (in 1998). No more trees are cut down,” said Ahmad Erfan, Mitra Wana’s member and mentor, when we met him last year.
In West Lampung, Sumatra, 50 farmer groups are recorded as having the permission of the forestry ministry to manage community forests located in protected forest areas with a total area of 24,790 hectares. The number of farmer groups has grown rapidly since the forestry ministry granted 35-year community forest management permits in 2007. At the time, Erfan and farmers from five farmer groups submitted permit applications with the assistance of two non-government groups.
Erfan, mentor of Mitra Wana Lestari Sejahtera group in West Lampung. TEMPO/Amston Probel
According to Erfan, community forestry has improved the welfare and economy of the people in West Lampung, whose primary skills are farming and plant cultivation. The problem was that 80 percent of land in West Lampung was made up of protected forest areas owned by the state. “[The people] could only plant. So if they are not allowed to make use of the protected forest, they’re finished,” said Erfan. The protected forest status also deterred members of farmer groups from felling trees. “No one dared to even chop-fallen trees in the protected forest.”
Agus Supriyatna, subdistrict head of Sumber Jaya, West Lampung, said the residents in his area rely on growing coffee in the protected forest. He explained that people with other primary occupations, such as civil servants, traders, teachers, and members of the military also grow coffee. This is why the regional government estimates around 70 percent of West Lampung’s coffee production comes from farmers working in protected forest areas. A farmer can harvest up to 100 kilograms of coffee on one hectare of land, with a selling price of Rp20,000-35,000 per kilogram. “If community forests are eliminated, Lampung coffee would perhaps also be eradicated,” said Agus.
Hasan Basri, chief of the Forest Management Unit II Liwa, Lampung, said West Lampung’s protected forests still hold great potentials. According to Hasan, a number of locations in the protected forest could make promising tourism sites, such as pine forests, waterfalls, and hill crests. But tourism in protected forests is still hampered by the lack of infrastructure, namely roads.
Hasan said fruit and coffee trees are still the most effective uses of protected forest management for the people of West Lampung. Even so, Hasan feels that the application of the community forest status is still met with hurdles, including monitoring. Although he said there has been no report or incident of illegal logging in protected forest areas, he has received numerous reports of farmers leasing their lands in the protected forest to others. This complicates monitoring and assistance because of the disparity between the regional government’s data and reality.
“Community forests are more effective than reforestation programs. But we ask the farmers to not only plant coffee but also large trees that function as tree cover. Fact is, there are many who only plant coffee,” said Hasan.
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