​​​​​​​​​​A Chance at Improved Welfare through Village Forests

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Unstable food commodity market prices will have a tremendous impact on villagers in Marancar Julu and Sugi Villages, South Tapanuli District. In both villages, where the majority work as farmers, it means people will be forced to abandon their farms to find employment in the city, which is unfortunate seeing the two villages have Village Forests that can be exploited.

A Village Forest is a state forest on which no license or management right has been issued. The forest is managed by a village for the interest of the village. The policy is a solution to cut deforestation and forest degradation rates. By 2015, the Indonesian Government designated 10 working areas in North Sumatra as Village Forests.

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Village Forest management is assigned to a village government agency according to the Government Regulation Number 6 of 2007. In South Tapanuli District, six village forests are established under the Minister of Forestry's Decree Number 727-732/Menhut-II/2013 on work area designation.

The Head of Village Forest Management Agency (LPHD), Rinuan Simatupang, expressed his optimism for better forest management. "I hope the people in Sugi Village can benefit from the presence of a Village Forest," he said in Sugi Village. From 12 November to 6 December 2016, LPHD in both villages held discussions in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) Indonesia to develop a work plan for gradual and participatory village forest activities by engaging all elements of the communities.

From the discussions, the village youth seemed to have a deep understanding of the many potential forest resources. "Imagine if we can take proper advantage of meranti, rattan, and red fish from the clear river in the Village Forest and manage them well, I'm sure we'll prosper," said Guntur Siregar, the Head of Naposo Nauli Bulung (youth group), Marancar Julu Village.

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​Besides unstable prices, unsustainable agricultural and plantation practices such as shifting cultivation have also created a serious problem. "With this practice, people clear a new land in the forest when their last land becomes unproductive. A sustainable agricultural practice that can counter this problem is agroforestry," Fitri Hasibuan, North Sumatra Senior Landscape Program Manager of CI Indonesia explained.

The farmers of Pakpak Bharat District have started adopting this practice. In the future, the Village Forests must be managed sustainably according to the regulation. Ecosystem services (water, ecotourism) and non-timber forest products are some of the potential benefits offered by the forests, especially production forests.

Rinuan said that he was glad and encouraged by the discussions since he could share ideas and thoughts in person. "In general, the villagers are very concerned about the forest and natural resources in Sugi Village. They hope they can find a way to boost agricultural and plantation productivity without damaging the forest," he said.

A village regulation on river protection was also a point of highlight noted in the discussions. The note will be discussed further at the 2017 Village Medium-Term Development Plan. This December, Marancar Julu and Sugi Villages will hold an election to choose the next village chief. Salasa Siregar, Head of LPHD in Marancar Julu Village, hoped that the new village chief would allocate a budget for village forest management as the policy's concrete realization.

 

Dedy Iskandar is a North Sumatra Spatial Policy Senior Coordinator of CI Indonesia.

Sarmaidah Damanik is a Project Officer of CI Indonesia in North Sumatra. ​(December 23​, 2016)

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