In the past two years, Conservation International (CI) has gotten the “tire” rolling on a project in Sumatra that is helping to revive local economies and protect forests – two steps vital to storing climate-changing carbon and providing a home for tigers, siamangs, tapirs, golden cats and the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii).
In Sumatra, and specifically the West Batang Toru forest of South Tapanuli, orangutan habitat is insufficient to sustain large populations, and is being encroached upon from all sides. Logging and agriculture eat into the remaining forest, and alternative livelihoods for local people – livelihoods that don’t require cutting down standing trees – are in short supply.
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That’s what helped Jatna Supriatna, CI’s regional vice president for Indonesia, develop an insight that brought tires into the equation for saving orangutans. And he found an important ally in Enki Tan, CI board member and director of GITI Tire Corporation.
Supriatna made the case that in order to slow the felling of Sumatra’s forests, alternatives to logging and cash crops needed to be put in place. To achieve this goal, Supriatna and his team proposed a fully integrated program of conservation action in the field, conservation and political planning and the creation of sustainable economic alternatives for local residents.
GITI responded by supporting that multifaceted program, with a specific focus on “jungle rubber” – an incentive program that encourages local farmers to maintain long-standing rubber plantations around the forest. “Sumatra is one of the biggest sources of rubber,” explains Tan.
The World Agroforestry Center has carried out extensive research in the Sumatran jungle rubber systems and identified significant biodiversity and ecological values in these complex agricultural forest tracts.
The project maintains critical habitat for the orangutans that traverse these forests and provides ecological buffers around the remaining forests of the region. It also helps sequester the carbon that deforestation would contribute to climate change.
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Essentially, jungle rubber agroforestry preserves valuable (and biologically diverse) buffers around standing forests, helping “to prevent illegal logging and create jobs.”
“It’s being encroached from the outside and the middle,” says Tan, of the Batang Toru landscape. “If healthy stands of forest are too isolated or small, the animals will die off.” The jungle rubber program and other forest maintenance projects give a variety of animals room to move, forage and find partners to breed.
Economics, Humans and Orangutans
As always, the protection of biological diversity is closely linked to human well-being, and jungle rubber agroforests offer not only respite for orangutans, but carbon storage and water filtration for the people of Sumatra as well. Despite the odds, CI and its partners remain committed to protecting orangutans, tigers and other species, and to keeping forests standing and carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere.
“We have to make it economically viable for people to protect forests,” concludes Tan. “It’s a complex issue. We’re not giving up yet.”
READ MORE: Check out what primatologist Jatna Supriatna is doing for the plight of the Java Gibbon.