Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Sleman
Five years ago, Nganggring hamlet in Girikerto village, Turi, Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, located some 10 kilometers from the peak of Mount Merapi, was a wasteland littered with disused sand mines found in most residential yards and nearby forestlands.
The Krasak River, which passes through the hamlet inhabited by around 800 people, is showered by tons of ash each time Mt. Merapi erupts. Merapi sand, which is renowned for its quality, has brought blessings to the local people.
ENVIRONMENTAL PIONEER: Sjambjah Samsinurrosyid,
leader of the Mandiri Farmers Group, poses for a
photograph next to his goat barn. JP/Slamet Susanto
However, a lust for money and a lack of environmental awareness led to some locals transforming their plots into sand mines to feed the construction sector.
"Six hectares of residents' land became a wasteland due to sand mining," said the leader of the Mandiri farmers group, Sjambjah Samsinurrosyid.
Concerned by the area's poor environmental condition, in 2003 Sjambjah motivated the farmers group to reclaim the disused mines and make concrete efforts to restore the area.
"The forested area around the Merapi is a catchment area. It does not only supply us with water, but also other areas in Yogyakarta province. If the area is damaged, all of us would be affected," he said.
Environmental destruction has also caused difficulties for residents unable to find grass, as most in Nganggring depend on livestock for their livelihood.
Through group discussions, villagers organized a money collection to rent a backhoe to level the land, on which they later grew trees such as sengon, mahogany and gaharu.
"We planted 700,000 trees of several varieties, 41,000 of which were donated while the rest we made available ourselves," Sjambjah said.
Thanks to hard work by the farmers, the wasteland is now a "green" area. To prevent the parcel from being damaged again, residents have mutually agreed to impose social penalties on whomever mines for sand in areas other than the river.
It was appropriate then that last week the farmers group received the Kalpataru Environmental Award from the Environment Ministry for its preservation efforts.
Sjambjah, a retired civil servant at the Sleman Education Office and husband of Rubiyah, said that in addition to the replantation program, his group is developing environment-based livestock breeding, food crop and horticulture cultivation, community-based forest management and fisheries.
Nganggring residents have formed groups to manage the activities -- 80 families are involved in livestock, 118 in forest management and 180 in food crop cultivation.
Now, 46 ha of residential land and 88 ha of community forestland have been replanted on a self-supporting basis since 1997. Residents have successfully planted 257,000 salak pondoh trees and 450,000 other tree varieties such as mahogany, duku, sengon and mango.
The replantation program is also having a positive impact on the livestock sector. Residents have built 80 goat pens on a 3-ha plot of land in the village to raise 1,000 Etawa goats. Under good management and superior stock, goats from the village have become highly sought after by farmers throughout the country.
The farmers group also concerns itself with non-environmental social issues. They have built their own water pipe network spanning six km to channel water to five neighborhood units or 100 families. They get their water supply from a spring on the slope of Mt. Merapi.
"We use the water for our daily household needs and livestock as well as the community forest," said Sjambjah.