>Villagers create forests, improve environment

>Bambang M, Contributor, Wonogiri, Central Java
22 Februari 2005, The Jakarta Post

Wonogiri has long been known for its dry, barren areas that recurrently experience clean water shortages during the dry season. That was also the case with the two neighboring villages of Sumberejo and Seloputro in Batuwarno subdistrict, Wonogiri, whose landscapes are dominated by rocky land. Yet, like magic, both the villages are now among the greenest areas in the regency with thousands of teak (Tectona grandis ) and mahogany (Swietenia mahogani ) trees emerging from the villager’s cornfields and herbal medicine plantations, and in other village fields.

The same huge trees can also be easily found in the housing compounds, in the yards of locals’ houses, providing good habitat for various kinds of birds living in the region. It seems that no spare space in the villages is left unplanted, creating an impression that the villages were established in the middle of a forest.

It is difficult to believe that both villages were once barren like the surrounding environment that is located on the southern karst mountain range. But local villagers have created and maintained a true community forest on their own land. Indeed, among environment activists, Seloputro and Sumberejo are not new names. Numerous researchers from both Indonesia and abroad have carried out studies in the villages, which are located some 50 kilometers east of the regental capital, Wonogiri. Dozens of scientific writings and theses describing the success of the villages have also been produced.

Many, too, have expressed astonishment and appreciation over the success and asked about the key to the success. “I always answer such a question jokingly — that it is because we have no mantri hutan (forest rangers) here that we are successful in managing the forest on our own,” Head of Sumberejo village Hadi Subroto, 44, said. He was referring to government officials assigned by the Ministry of Forestry to control state forests. It has been public knowledge that forest rangers have often been the parties behind rampant illegal logging in many Indonesian forests that has led to massive damage to the nation’s forests.

The success of Sumberejo and Seloputro is a good example that people truly have the ability to manage community forests. Unfortunately, this has been a marginal issue in the country regardless of its benefit, both economic and environmental. A community forest can have greater biodiversity. Besides, economically, they are also of greater benefit compared with state monoculture forests,” Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University Center for Community Forest Studies chairman San Afri Awang said.

The reforestation movement in Sumberejo was started in 1976-1977 following a presidential instruction to plant Acacia trees in the village. People, however, have different opinions on when exactly they began planting their fields with teak and mahogany. Sutanto, chairman of Gondangrejo Farmers Club of Sumberejo, for example, said that people started to plant the trees in 1981, after realizing that acacia was not marketable, so they eventually substituted other trees.

Hadi Subroto, however, said that people began to seriously manage the community forest by planting teak and mahogany in 1985 when members of the farmers club of Wates hamlet, Sumberejo, planted teak and mahogany in their respective fields. “At that time people did so merely because they wanted to earn more from planting the trees because they could not rely solely on agricultural products to make a living at that time. It was only later on that we realized that what they did had a positive impact on the environment,” Hadi Subroto explained.

Speaking separately, Siman, chairman of Seloputro’s Certified Farmers Community Forum, said that reforestation in his village has been taking place since 1975, with Karsomo and his son Misman pioneering the movement. They started so by planting teak and mahogany in their fields. Other farmers, however, were reluctant to follow their move, worrying that they would deplete their food supply if they substituted food crops with trees.

A few years later, however, it turned out that Misman made a lot of money from the wood, so they began to plant the same trees in their respective fields. As more and more people did the same in the years that followed, both Sumberejo and Seloputro eventually become greener than ever. And that was the way community forests in both the villages were established.

Currently, some 70 percent of Sumberejo’s 547 hectares is covered with big trees. In Seloputro, similarly, the community forest totals 263 hectares. This success, of course, cannot be separated from the people’s discipline in sticking to what they had jointly agreed. They have made a kind of “rule” which stipulates that whoever fells a tree has to plant 10 to 25 new trees. They abide by the rule.

As a result, no spare space remains for them to plant more trees. All the space is already planted with either teakwood or mahogany, such that the rule is only effective for those who still have spare land on which to plant. The community’s stance in maintaining and nurturing the trees is also no less important. Although both the villages are located in Java, which has long been known for its consumerism, people of both villages do not sell their wood easily.

Sutanto, of Sumberejo, said that people’s earnings from wood amounted to only about 20 percent. The rest was mostly from animal husbandry, agriculture and quarrying. “We only sell wood if we are forced to do so, when things are too difficult to handle, financially,” Sutanto explained. Another factor that contributes significantly to the success of the villages in managing the community forest is the fact that many of the villages’ youth work in Jakarta. As a consequence, the economic burden on each family is smaller, so pressure to fell trees for money is also reduced. Moreover, many of those working outside the villages also help support their families back home by sending them money, thereby improving their financial situation.

Thanks to the forest, the people of both villages now no longer experience flooding. Many water springs are also found along the village’s Nekuk River, while existing water springs have improved water flows. A large spring in Seloputro has even been providing water to people in neighboring villages. “In short, we no longer experience shortages of clean water during dry seasons as before,” Sutanto said, adding that both Seloputro and Sumberejo were also major suppliers of teak and mahogany seedlings to neighboring villages.

Thanks to the success, Seloputro and Sumberejo have become the country’s first villages to win certificates from the Indonesian Eco-labeling Institution (LEI). The certificates were officially granted on October 22, 2004. Former Minister of Environment Emil Salim handed over the certificates in Jakarta. With the certificates, both villages have the right to enjoy a premium price facility for their wood products, both on the domestic market and abroad.

The higher prices are paid by environmentally sensitive consumers who take into account sustainable approaches to forest management. With the premium price facility, they can sell their wood products for 15 percent to 30 percent more than the usual price,” said Taryanto Wijaya of Persepsi (Perhimpunan Untuk Studi Pengembangan Ekonomi dan Sosial , Society for Social and Economic Development Studies), a non-government organization that has been supporting farmer communities in Selopuro and Sumberejo. Currently, there are reportedly four potential buyers from Bali, Surabaya, France and the Netherlands, that have been considering buying wood from Seloputro and Sumberejo at a premium price.

Whatever the advantages that both the villages have enjoyed, Seloputro and Sumberejo have shown that communities are also capable of managing and preserving their forests. This is in contrast to Forest Authority Rights (HPH), which have frequently caused damage rather than contributed to sustainability in the country’s tropical forests. It is also more beneficial for the community compared with the forests managed by state-owned Perhutani. “I think it’s time for the government to encourage the implementation of community forest systems,” Awang said.

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