DeforestACTION: Partnerships with local people
DeforestACTION has received some really great questions from people who want to see this become the most positive, empowering project ever.
This is a complex project with many innovative aspects. This post is about questions relating specifically to DeforestACTION – Partnerships with local people.
DeforestACTION is a partnership between young people across the planet, and the local people in Indonesia who are watching their forests disappear before their eyes. In coming weeks we will be announcing some very exciting new partnerships which will make the project even stronger.
In the meantime, here are some recent questions posed by some of you, with answers from Dr. Willie Smits.
When you say ‘buy back land’, does this mean local people can still own it and prosper from it?
Absolutely. DeforestACTION is a partnership with local people and is carefully designed with their best interests at the core.
The plans for the Eco-village for example are quite spectacular, but significant funds have to be raised. Once that dream-village for the local people is announced it will raise expectations. We believe it is better to always promise little and deliver more.
The Kobus Foundation, one of our project partners led by Father Jacques Maessen, has a long-standing tradition of supporting local rights. We arranged for the local Dayaks to become legal owners with land certificates in order to protect their traditional forests. Kobus House has been instrumental in setting up a museum, educational activities and fellowships. The son of the Dayak leader now works with us and received his forestry degree through this program. The centre also supports local culture with thousands of Dayak women earning real income from weaving and maintaining the old stories and know-how and having an outlet for their work. The Bupati is a local Dayak and has the interests of the local community at heart.
Do you have the required concessions / permissions to film / work on this land?
Of course we do, and the process of gaining legitimacy is ongoing as the project expands.
The status of the land in question at this point (Sintang Lestari) is HTR (Hutan Tanaman Rakyat) meaning that the Bupati’s permit (Bupati is the local leader) is conditional on complete collaboration with the local people. They decide where the filming aspect of the project will be set, and they are engaged in the project’s decision-making. There have already been several meetings with village communities and these are ongoing.
Some time ago we commenced an Environmental Impact Assessment Study, led by Dr. Eduardo Dias. This was deemed necessary to future proof certain aspects of the project, and to ensure we have the necessary satellite imagery, land data and other information to proceed with the project.
Orangutan rescues are urgently needed and will be very exciting to watch. Will the ‘action agents’ have the necessary qualifications and permissions to engage in orangutan rescues safely, or will the local people be involved?
The ‘Action Agents’ (now referred to as ‘team leaders’) will work with the local authorities and local people to provide assistance during orangutan rescues. All activities will be guided by these principles and will be conducted in a transparent and legal way. Some of the team leaders have training and expertise in veterinary science and animal care, and all will receive appropriate briefing in respecting local traditions, cultures, expertise and laws.
There are many orangutans that need to be rescued in the Sintang area alone, but there are many other animals and wildlife that are suffering greatly. One of the key aims of this project is to draw attention to the beautiful and incredible diversity of plant and animal life in Borneo, so rescues and attention will span much more broadly than orangutans.
Have you consulted with local people in Borneo around aspects of this project?
Yes. The DeforestACTION team continues to consult broadly – this is a fundamental aspect of this vision. Recently, over a dozen local villages were represented in a meeting in Sintang about this project. After the news got out, there is now a constant stream of people from villages from Mengerat as far away as Putussibau and surroundings, up to Martinus and Tempunak that all want to be involved.
As this project is funded by donations, we are conscious of the need to manage expectations of the local people to ensure we can deliver on all areas of the project we release. As we generate more funds, we can promise more positive and empowering benefits for the local people.
How are will you ensure local people understand what is happening with the project ongoing?
The project has not yet grown to a level that can include all the local people who want to be involved. The demand from locals simply outweighs the funding capability we currently have. That is why fundraising is a priority at this point. Once sufficient funding is secured, all the communities in the region will be offered the opportunity to participate. But we need the security of funds first.
What processes are you using to consult broadly with local people?
DeforestACTION is about inclusion. That means, ensuring consultation and collaboration with young people, elderly, men and women.
A key partner, The Kobus Foundation, has been working for many years to help the younger generation attain land, and with the women, getting them income and a more respected place in their communities as earners of income.
One of the challenges of this project is ensuring we are consulting with the right people in the right places. This requires a thorough process of investigation and cross-checking.
When we have secured the funding, we first will make an inventory of local claims and interest. This will include a process of local consultation and engagement and will go beyond the few groups that claim to be the sole representatives of the local groups. Often such groups try to cut deals before the start of the project and in such a way actually hamper the objective process.
Following the process of local consultation, using appropriate methods considered acceptable and fair by all relevant groups, we will move forward.
We strive to include the youth and women as far as culturally is acceptable. We have a Pencinta Orangutan Sintang club of thousands of school children. Students from around the world connected through our networks are lining up to form learning partnership (like pen pals of old) with the local Dayak people, and to work with them remotely in ways that are relevant to them. We also have more than 6000 Dayak women in a cooperative from so many different villages, etc. who are working with us to create models of engagement that are relevant to them.
What benefits are being offered to the communities (as of now, and in the future, if funding comes through)?
The plan includes building eco-villages, complete with environmentally friendly features such as using rammed earth walls, roofs made of specially cut Bangkirai timber that we get from the dead stumps in the soil and that can last a hundred years, sanitation, clean energy and good hygiene, good secure access to rivers and transportation for people and goods.
In the short term, this project will provide selected seedlings and saplings of many useful tree species of their choice along with training on how to implement better forms of agroforestry that are sustainable and culturally relevant.
Processing units for sugar palm juice (Village Hubs) that will bring them services such as electricity, drinking water, local fuel for cooking, motorbikes and boats, food security, processing of their agricultural products, telecommunication, educational services, telephone, health access.
Most importantly in the short term, is we are providing an opt-in model for local people to preserve the forests that sustain them, and to make them better off in the long term, through a co-constructed vision for the future.
There will be many other benefits to local communities as the project unfolds. As previously stated, it is essential we effectively manage their expectations so as to ensure we can deliver on these promises. For that reason, announcement of the full scope of the project will be held over until funding is secured so we can ensure there is no disappointment.
What is the role of traditional swidden agriculture in the project area? Will communities still be able to plant rice in the project area, or is the intention that income from sugar palm will be able to provide for their needs?
DeforestACTION will focus on working with the local people in a way that is consultative, relevant and effective for them. This is a core component of the project.
The unfortunate truth is, there is no longer any “traditional” swidden agriculture in Indonesia!!
Kenyah Dayak for example have the old system still well described, which was truly “traditional” and sustainable. They recognize the need for an 8 year cycle that they name in all their stages from Jekau Meta to Jekau Betiq, after which the same spot of land can be used again. But this is only for a period of 80-100 years, then the whole community moves to a new location and the old site is given centuries to recover its original fertility. Because of the “domeinverklaring” of the 1960-ties, that right to just move is now gone. That is why the traditional forms of agriculture are no longer sustainable.
In the past, the Dayaks would go by boat on the water and look for tell tale signs such as the presence of the Ipul (poison dart) tree (Antiaris toxicara, Moraceae) as an indicator of good soil for growing rice. Then on land, they would look for triangular grass and stick their Mandau (Dayak sword) in the soil and see how the clay particles would stick to the blade. Then they would calculate how many axes for how many days would be needed and how much rice would be needed to bring as seeds, and from this information, calculate how much return they would get for all their work. It once was like that! Unfortunately these methods are no longer viable due to excessive deforestation and because chainsaws have changed the equation.
They now cut very quickly and burn where ever. The traditional ways have been eroded. Their lands have been invaded by unscrupulous people that come for the quick money. Also changes in weather patterns, especially the El Ninos, have contributed to the breaking down of their systems and the old ironwood calendars do not work anymore. Many young Dayaks don’t even have an idea what they mean anymore. Now you find these valuable little wooden boards in antique shops in the big cities.
So the short answer is: Yes they can plant as much rice as they want in between the trees. It is their land. Probably in between the reforestation efforts they will prefer the better suited corn or pineapples or other crops. They will evaluate themselves where to plant what. Many already know about the sugar palm. There are significant endeavors underway to create a global market for sugar palm with good income, which will benefit the local people. There is no longer going to be a “cultuurstelsel” as practiced in the colonial period. Rubber planting in the area shows how the people themselves can choose.
What is the time frame around community consultation, and how will that work with the time frame for filming?
As soon as possible and that is when enough funding is secured. This is why support and help with fundraising is so critical, and why this project has gone global so quickly through the young people who started it. They understand the need to expedite the process.
What happens if communities decide that they don’t want sugar palm, but instead want continue their traditional agriculture, or plant a different crop? How will this impact the overall project?
This consultation has already occurred. There are many thousands of people who want the sugar palms, so we are working with those people who have opted in. We also will look at forest honey, rattan, medicinal plants, forest fruits, etc. The Project is about stopping deforestation and bringing transparency to the local people and the world and show that we still can bring positive improvements!
How successful have you been in assisting people to move to plant sugar palm, instead of relying on traditional farming methods?
Some of these communities already started adopting the sugar palms several years ago. Dr. Willie Smits has lectured there, and they already asked the Bupati for money to send a delegation to North Sulawesi to learn more. Dr. Smits team sent teachers and instructors, and they have set up a nursery and they leant better tapping methods. Some communities are already planting the sugar palms (and using no dangerous chemicals) and now we have many requests for further development of the sugar palms, but we need to secure the finance. Communities like Tertung next to Sintang already live from sugar palms. Groups like Tempunak offer their forest if we switch with sugar palms to their village. Villages like Martinus and others see the sugar palm as their last hope to keep logging companies out who seek to influence and corrupt triabal leaders.
Many people have already indicated they want an alternative to palm oil, and as this project becomes more successful, we will be able to help them achieve this goal.
What groups are already undertaking conservation efforts in Borneo?
Here is a list of groups and organisations active in Borneo in relation to saving forests and wildlife. Click to visit their websites and learn more.
Please email us at email@example.com to inform us of other credible conservation efforts.
Dr. Willie Smits