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Conserving Tradition Saving Forests
Wednesday, 01 February, 2017 | 14:52 WIB
Conserving Tradition Saving Forests

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Zahari, 52, can still remember the 1997 event in the village of Hurun in Lampung. He had just left his house to work on his garden, some 100 meters away when he saw billows of smoke and heard the whizzing of bullets, coming from the direction of his house.

Alarmed and with a pounding heart, he saw that some houses in the village, with their highly inflammable thatched roofs, had been set on fire by dozens of forest rangers in green uniforms. "The guns in their hands looked like toys meant to scare us," said Zahari.

According to Zahari, in those days the police believed that local villagers like himself were doing harm to the Wan Abdul Rachman Community Forest Park. For years, people cut down trees haphazardly within the conservation area to clear the land and prepare it for farming. 

What saddened him was the fact that prior to the burnings, there had been no warnings, notifications at all for the local residents to leave their homes. An awareness campaign and education on forest conservation were also not made available to residents.

Since 2002, however, Hurun villagers were no longer persecuted by the forest authorities. Instead, residents were granted permission from the community forest park's management to live in the area, farm and get involved in the Sustainable Community Forest System's management. Hurun residents were finally allowed to cultivate crops in peace. 

Today, Hurun villagers are awaiting their legal status from the government, in accordance with the Environment and Forestry Ministry's Regulation on Community Forests, issued in October 2016. The regulation takes into account a number of issues concerning forest management by residents, including the legality of land use in conservation areas. 

Since January, Hurun villagers have prepared the required documents to legalize their 'sustainable community forest' status, to be brought to the attention of the environment and forestry ministry. "Locals will soon be able to manage the forest legally," said Hendrawan, coordinator of the non-profit organization Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) in Lampung. 

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said she supports the community forest practice. The government is committed to allow communities to manage 12.7 million hectares of forest land. "It's more than 10 percent of Indonesia's total forest area," she said. The ministry continues to monitor 20 critical community forest points throughout Indonesia, including in Lampung, Jambi, South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan, said the minister. 

Siti explained the requirements for obtaining forest management rights, included holding a valid ID and a recommendation from the village chief, to be copied and submitted by the would-be manager of a sustainable community forest. Additionally, a supervisor must be present, holding a letter of approval from relevant directorates-general. The villages of Hurun and Hanura have fulfilled these requirements. 

The people of Hurun have struggled quite a bit to be able to cultivate their land peacefully, while at the same time take part in the conservation forest area's management. Zahari said he and his family, along with other 90 families once lived in Hurun, some 27 kilometers from the provincial capital of Bandar Lampung, since 1965. 

Problems began to occur in 1992 when the area was declared part of the Wan Abdul Rahman Community Forest Park, some 22,000 hectares in acreage. This meant that residents were not allowed to live in the area or cut down trees and cultivate the land. At first, residents were not aware of the new regulation that restricted their activities.

At the beginning, villagers refused to leave but then the forest rangers set fire to their settlements in 1997. People moved downhill, as far away as five kilometers, towards the village of Hanura. There, some of them had to rent homes, but those with limited funds, could not afford to rent. In 2000, Zahari was able to buy a house for Rp2 million, where he has lived with his wife and five children. 

In 1998, some of the residents were determined to return because the forestry minister issued Decree No. 677 on the Rights to Community Forest Management that year. "Many misunderstood and thought that their community forest status had been made official by the decree, when that was not the case," said Agus Guntoro, a Hanura resident.

Not wanting to act hastily, Agus, 43, urged his neighbors to follow the proper procedure in managing forest conservation. But this was at first opposed by many villagers, who were deprived of their economic resources after they were driven out of the forest park. 

Several villagers began looking for a solution that would allow them to reside and cultivate their land legally, and to participate in the management of the community forest park. After a number of meetings, they agreed to form a community in 2000. Agus Guntoro was named chief of the community. He then contacted Walhi, a respected non-profit and independent environmental organization in Indonesia. "We asked Walhi to help legalize the community's forest management status," Agus said. 

The villagers' expectations varied, from awareness on certain campaigns to land mapping and plant cultivation training as well as to setting up communication with stakeholders. "Without the help of NGOs, villagers would have faced difficulties in mapping their land," Hendrawan said.

Walhi then introduced the community forest concept to villagers. The community forest program is meant to urge residents to manage their forest area without clearing and cutting down trees. Community forests are expected to reduce the ongoing deforestation, albeit gradually.

Hanura and Hurun's community forest management was formally established on February 14, 2002, under the name Lestari. Villagers received the concession after lengthy discussions with the forest park's management. Discussions were focused on how to urge villagers to actively participate in forest management. Permit issued by the regional forestry department has enabled residents to take part in managing their forests, provided that they follow the rules and regulations. (*)

 

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