Bambang Muryanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta
The Ministry of Forestry learned a valuable lesson about the importance of communication when it tried to establish the Mt Merapi National Park.
Villagers rejected the park, which includes territory from both the Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces. The community also registered their displeasure with Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa about not being involved in the park’s establishment.
Concern that park would be off-limits Locals were concerned the establishment of the park would make Merapi an untouchable area that was closed to human activities and would not take into account the community’s long-established, sociocultural relationship with the area.
People living on the slopes of the volcano have interacted with Merapi for generations, either harvesting grass to feed their livestock, selecting dry branches as firewood, or cultivating food crops there.
A discussion on the establishment of a TNGM caused controversy early on Nov. 26 2001, Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Ministry of Forestry director general of forest protection and natural conservation Wahyudi Wardojo agreed to establish the TNGM as a conservation area.
Government officials from Yogyakarta and Central Java also attended the meeting.
Lack of public information
In fact, it was not until almost a year later that the people most affected by the change in status for the land would be told.
A public information program was carried out on the slopes of Merapi in August and September 2002 by the Yogyakarta provincial Forestry and Plantation Office.
At that time strong objections were aired by locals and environmental activists. Some, however, were persuaded to change their mind after they attended the program.
“We accepted the plan because were allowed to continue using grass on the slopes of Merapi,” Sadjiman, of Kaliadem village, Kepuharjo, Sleman, said.
However, as not all locals attended the program, not everyone concerned had the same information about the plan.
A housewife in Kinahrejo, Sleman, for example, said she knew nothing about TNGM when she was asked about it. T. Maryoto, Head of Ngargomulyo village in Dukun, Magelang, said his people had never received any news about the matter.
Wignyo Suprapto of Umbulharjo, Sleman, meanwhile, said although he had received an explanation about the plan he still could not understand what TNGM was really all about.
Many people, therefore, reacted strongly when the Minister of Forestry, in May this year issued Decree No 134/2004 on the establishment of the 6,410-hectare park.
Locals rally against park
In July, they staged a rally involving thousands of people from the four regencies of Sleman (Yogyakarta), Magelang, Klaten and Boyolali (Central Java) in Deles, Klaten.
At the same time Walhi, a non-governmental organization on the environment, also accused the ministry of forestry of violating Article 5 (3) of Law No 23/1997 on the management of the environment by not involving the community in the establishment of the park.
The Ministry of Forestry, however, insisted the decree was in line with legal procedures, but admitted the publicity could have been better.
The irony is that many people who are against the establishment of the TNGM agree that Merapi badly needs conservation programs.
It is public knowledge that the forest is the main water catchment area for the surrounding region. Its Umbul Wadon spring, for example, is the main source of clean water for the majority of Sleman’s population. Its mountain slopes form the upper reaches of some 27 rivers below.
Overexploitation in Merapi area
Yet, due to the overexploitation of the region, Merapi has become endangered ecologically. A study on the potential of the TNGM as a possible conservation area, carried out by the UGM school of forestry, identified large-scale sand quarrying, unsustainable tourism and unsuitable buildings as blights on the landscape.
Of the whole area, only the southern slopes of the mountain in the Yogyakarta province including the 1,283 hectares of Plawangan Turgo nature reservation and tourist attraction, is still considered to be in good condition and rich in biodiversity.
Yogyakarta Natural Resources Conservation Office (BKSDA) reported in October 2001 that it was home to some 95 species of plants — 19 as-yet unidentified — and some 96 species of birds, including the endangered Java eagle (Spizaetus bartelsi).
Since objections to TNGM have been raised, people have expressed concern that its establishment would only lead to a mass eviction of the indigenous people from the protected area, as has often been the case upon the establishment of national parks around the globe.
BKSDA Yogyakarta head Kuspriyadi however has assured residents no one would be evicted in order to create a TNGM, as it would be established on state land. People, similarly, would still be allowed to exploit grass on the slopes of Merapi, he said.
“We shall involve the community in deciding where the (conservation) zones are later,” said Kuspriyadi. The zones which local people used for grass would be gazetted “traditional use”.
Similarly, the zone in which people used to cultivate land belonging to the state forestry company Perhutani I would be included in the “rehabilitation” zone, where people would be still allowed to continue agricultural activities but would be required to plant large trees, including fruit trees, from which they could harvest fruit.
Kuspriyadi also gave an assurance that national park status was the most suitable of the five types of conservation approaches as set out in Law No 5/1990 on natural resource conservation and ecosystems.
The other options, which include a nature and wildlife reserve, he said, focused more on conservation, while taman hutan raya and taman wisata alam status took into account local culture and usage.
“The national park concept accommodates both conservation and sociocultural interests,” Kuspriyadi said. By establishing Merapi as a national park, management of the area would be under the yet-to-be-established TNGM Office, and not under the three different institutions — BKSDA Yogyakarta, the Yogyakarta provincial Forestry Office and Central Java’s Perum Perhutani I.
Transtoto said the Ministry of Forestry was ready to facilitate a social contract between the new park management and the local community.
He referred to it as a “new model” of a national park.
Now it seems the toughest thing to do is to convince the local community that establishing a TNGM will not marginalize them.
But as ministry of forestry officials admit, their task is now more difficult because a thorough awareness campaign was not carried out in the first place.