For the last four years I’ve managed CI’s Green Wall project in Indonesia. This project is located in the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, a forested, mountainous landscape that is one of the last havens for biodiversity on the island of Java. It is home to rare species found nowhere else, such as the silvery Javan gibbon (Hylobates moloch) and Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas).
What many people don’t know is that these mountains are also essential for local people. They serve as the primary water catchment area for over 30 million people living in five cities — including Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital. Water filtered from this forest is so clean and pure that over 20 water bottling companies have situated themselves downstream. These forests also help to prevent floods and droughts for the millions of people in these cities.
Sadly, the forest is struggling. In the past few decades, much of it has been converted to farmland and residential areas. Illegal logging continues in the remaining forested areas, largely carried out by local people simply trying to make ends meet.
The Green Wall project involves replanting trees on the fringes of deforestation. It also includes a tree adoption program, agroforestry, community education and public outreach activities across the island. The project is described as a “green wall” as it lies on the boundaries of the national park — separating natural and degraded areas — and will protect against encroachment of critical ecosystem services.
In the last four years, we’ve managed to restore 200 hectares (almost 500 acres) of green wall — but with thousands of hectares of degraded landscape remaining, our work is far from done.
I work closely with the communities in this landscape to educate them on the importance of preserving the forest for future generations. It takes patience and commitment to shift the practices of local people from exploitation to sustainable management.
Part of that process involves offering the community direct benefits for supporting conservation, such as tools for agroforestry, livestock, fisheries and health services. In return, they must agree to actively support conservation efforts and refrain from contributing to deforestation in the park.
Sometimes these benefits can radically change the lives of rural residents in a single day. Last year, we installed piped water for over 500 families here, as well as electrical power for a village of six families. It was really satisfying to see the joy that the families gained from these basic services so many of us take for granted.
When we talk about conservation, many people — both here in Indonesia and around the world — often think it’s about saving species. In reality, conservation is about changing people’s behavior in a way that benefits them, too.
We need to understand what’s important for these people, and then try to design a program that will change their behavior but also meet their needs. We need to be concerned about the state of the local population’s livelihoods, health care and food security because assisting with these factors is absolutely critical to gain local support for conservation. Only by addressing those issues can we get conservation going.
This project is made possible through a donation from Daikin Industries, a Japanese company that manufactures air conditioners. In addition to directly improving the lives of over 500 families, their investment has indirectly helped 30 million people living downstream in this watershed. For so long, humans have taken nature’s gifts for granted, so it’s great to see companies or individuals give back to support conservation.
Looking ahead, we would like to continue to help local communities (who have committed to protecting the forest) with their daily needs, such as improved health through proper sanitation. We also need to raise our level of engagement with the general public and stakeholders in Java on the importance of this watershed and our conservation activities. We hope these next steps will allow us to help more people understand that protecting nature is for all of our benefit.
Anton Ario is CI-Indonesia’s Gedepahala program manager. Special thanks to Lynn Tang, communications manager for CI’s Asia-Pacific Field Division, for her help with this blog.