Indonesia - In a lush valley in Lampung Province in the southern tip of Sumatra sits the village of Tri Budi Syukur, surrounded by idyllic terraces of rice paddies and fields of coffee plants ornamented with red berries.
Officially, the land belongs to the government, but it’s the local management that keeps it prosperous and beautiful.
“Most of the people here are farmers,” says Engkos Kosasih, manager of the local Bina Wana social forestry group. “There are a few civil servants and teachers, but they also farm. The main crops are coffee and rice. Some also plant fruit and vegetables.”
Having implemented versions of social forestry schemes for nearly two decades, Lampung is the pioneer province for social forestry in Indonesia, and Tri Budi Syukur has been its flagship village.
To examine its reasons for success, researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) chose it as one of the research sites for the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure).
Between 2014 and 2017, the research team measured the impact of social forestry on local livelihoods, using three indicators: income from coffee bean harvest, family food security, and initiative to invest in land recovery.
“From around 70 respondents that we interviewed, only 10% still have difficulty fulfilling their food needs for 3 months every year,” says CIFOR Scientist and project coordinator Tuti Herawati.
“When investing in land recovery, 98% of social forestry program members replant and do other activities to conserve land and water,” she says. “The other important impact that we found was the increase of forest cover. Members of the community forest project are obliged to reforest the concession with a canopy density of at least 400 trees per hectare.”
Livelihoods and the landscape are thriving hand-in-hand, and this is largely due to the institution of social forestry.
Like its surrounds, Tri Budi Syukur has had a history of hills and valleys to become the success story that it is today.
Kosasih says the village was founded in 1951 when the government granted 727 hectares of land to a group of independence war veterans from Tasikmalaya, West Java. They migrated here to manage the land.
However, as the village grew, so did local tensions with the government.
“Our community grew, and some of our families from Java joined us here,” says Kosasih. “The land became too small, and some community members encroached on the forest area. That’s when the conflict happened.”
In 1995, in an aim to protect the forest, the government performed massive evictions in two districts in the province, involving the destruction of 1,000 hectares of productive coffee plantation land. This severely shook the village. Because so many people depended on the coffee, the community collapsed, says Kosasih.
Things didn’t begin to turn around again until 1999, when the central government issued a regulation on community forests that allowed the Tri Budi Syukur community to apply for licenses to manage state forests.
“We negotiated with the government, and thankfully, after the community forest regulation was issued in 1999, we can feel peace,” said Kosasih.
In 2000, the Bina Wana community group received a license to manage 645 hectares of the Bukit Rigis Protected Forest in the western part of the province.
Since, the village has emerged as a case study in how incorporating locals into their surrounding landscapes leads to better results than keeping them out.
“Evicting forest encroachers, like what happened in the past, is not a good solution,” says Eni Puspasari from the Lampung Province Forestry Office. “I believe that the social forestry scheme is the best solution to tenurial conflicts in Lampung.”
Yayah Suryani remembers the days of the conflict. She says the community was unaware that they had been illegally managing state-owned land when they were evicted. But with no other options, they continued to secretly cultivate coffee in the forest area despite fears of being arrested.
“We worked on our land before dawn and returned just before sunrise,” she recalls. “But thankfully now we are allowed to manage our land and harvest non-timber products from the forest.”
This success is in part due to the village’s women, including Suryani, who in 1993 formed Melati, a female farmers group that helps women contribute to their families’ incomes. Often, their husbands’ incomes as farmers often weren’t sufficient to meet daily needs.
The women’s group started as a savings and lending activity but later grew to produce coffee grounds, sell basic foods and operate a plant nursery. In 2013 and 2014, they were awarded for their efforts at the Lampung Food Security Competition.
“Our group members now prosper, after we’ve been given the community forest. The group has grown from having only 48 women to 94. For the past two years, we’ve been able to process two tons of coffee beans every month.”
The village has since attracted further support and attention from the government and other organizations including NGOs, companies and academics. In 2014, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry named Tri Budi Syukur a community forestry pilot project.
As such, one of the key lessons learned in Tri Budi Syukur is that despite local capabilities, outside support is still needed. Whereas once the government and villagers were pitted against one another, success has grown since they began working together.
“Involvement and support from many stakeholders – including from the regional government and business sector – is important for forest sustainability and returns economic benefits to the community,” says Rini Pahlawanti, member of the local environmental advocacy group Watala.
“We realize that we cannot manage the forest alone.”
Read part two of this story, Why social forestry: Securing the sap.
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