In Search of Alternatives for Encroachers and Squatters of Protected Parks


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Yulia Rahma Fitriana looked at the tradeoffs between forest conservation and development, and concluded that the two could not always find a middle ground.

By Angela Dewan

One of the greatest challenges in designing forest conservation projects is ensuring forest-dependent communities do not lose their livelihoods. Conservation efforts often pose a development trade-off, and vice versa. Scientists and decision-makers are getting creative to find ways for both to improve at the same time.

While this is undoubtedly possible in many cases, there are some cases where a balance is unachievable, according to Yulia Rahma Fitriana. Yulia, who has looked at how squatters and encroachers of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung Province on Sumatra Island, Indonesia, are clearing protected land for agriculture,

This park was protected in 1982, when communities were pushed out of the forest on the government’s orders. The park is rich in biodiversity and is home to three of the Sumatran elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the Sumatran rhino, all of which are endangered.

Despite its status, the park is also home to encroachers and squatters, who have converted 20 per cent of the land into coffee farms.

Yulia and her team analysed a number of approaches to protecting the forest from illegal land conversion, namely law enforcement, land use planning, certification and payment for environmental services (PES).

“We found that law enforcement had little correlation to how well protected the forest was,” Yulia said.

Corruption and collusion related to land use is rife in Lampung and Sumatra Island in general.  There is also a risk of leakage, meaning law enforcement may encourage squatters go somewhere nearby to convert the land.

District heads are reluctant to enforce laws to protect the park in fear of losing political support from voters.

“Before, the district heads were chosen by the central government,” said Patrice Levang, whoalsoworked on the study.

“Now they are voted in by the locals. One leader from a village of 300 received around 3,000 votes because he let people use the forest, and they all came out to support him,” Levang said.

Land use planning, Yulia said, could be somewhat effective through the establishment of sanctions and incentives, and through clarifying land tenure to attract investment and development.

“But this would, of course, require equitable participation, which is difficult to achieve.”

While certifying coffee produced on legal land seems like a step in the right direction, the process has not gained the momentum needed. More than 95 per cent of farmers cannot access certification because of difficulties proving land tenure.

Encroachers and squatters in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra have converted 20 per cent of the protected forest to grow coffee beans. Photo Shashank Gupta/

The last approach Yulia looked at was PES, in particular, microfinance options. Netherlands-based Rabobank has begun microfinancing some farming activities in the park, but it is still in early stages.

“The main challenge is to promote cooperative systems, build social capital and strong local institutions,” Yulia said.

Microfinance could be an effective option as it supports livelihoods, compensates for limited access to forests and is inline with international policies and mechanisms.

On the other hand, microfinancing would be costly and would require better transparency and would have to be effective and equitable.

While all these approaches seem to have tradeoffs, what Yulia and Levang are sure about is that in this national park, there are no compromises. The people need to leave.

“We have to look outside the forest if we really want to save it,” Levang said, adding that squatters and encroachers need to look at alternative sources of income. “We have to get the people out the forest. The solution to saving the forests could be outside the forestry sector.”

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