Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung
Amid environmental activists' concerns about the threat of global warming, there is a glimmer of hope -- a community-based forest conservation program currently being carried out in Lampung.
The Community Forest Program (HKM), which bears the motto "people prosper with preserved forests", began in 2000 and has since involved more than 6,500 rural families living near preserved and commercial forests in West Lampung regency.
The residents are committed to the conservation and revival of the forests, which are in a critical condition due to illegal logging.
In barren areas they have planted fast-yielding shrubs that produce cooking spices, medium-yielding crops like cacao and coffee, and long-yielding plants like palm and durian.
A 12,000-hectare preserved area in Tangkit Tebak, which was previously barren, has been transformed into a green space and now provides a source of income for the farmers.
Under the program, the community organized a forest conservation group, which has been entrusted to manage the preservation of the forests for five years.
A team consisting of village heads, natural resource operators, environmentalists, forest authorities and farming groups will supervise and evaluate the group's performance annually.
"Members of the group are permitted to operate farms in and around the forest, but they are not allowed to build homes. The group is somewhat relieved as West Lampung Regent Erwin Nizar has issued lease-rights licenses, which are valid for 25 years," said executive director of the Watala environmental group, Rama Zakaria.
The farmers must pass four stages to obtain the licenses -- form a group; establish a work area; issue regulations and work-group plans; and complete a license application. Each group consists of about 50 farmers and works a different plot of land.
The groups have the right to manage the land, but not to sell it. Licenses are revoked if a group fails an annual monitoring and evaluation, does not uphold conservation efforts or violates the regulations.
Rama said community-based forest management was the best solution to prevent further destruction to forests.
"The residents have been living there for many years and have witnessed illegal logging activities, but could not do anything about them. Now, with the HKM program, they are directly involved in protecting the forest and do not hesitate in reporting offenders," he said.
According to Rama, West Lampung was chosen for the HKM pilot project and the local administration is the first to issue forest management licenses valid for 25 years.
Erfan, a HKM group member, said the program has helped improve farmers' welfare, as well as preserve the forests.
"We now have legal permission to manage the forests, the products from which we can benefit from... unlike land-clearers who are often chased by the authorities. We till the land peacefully and benefit from the harvests monthly," said Erfan, adding that farmers can harvest fast-yielding crops like ginger, turmeric and galangale once a month.
Rama said Lampung is the first province in Indonesia to trial the HKM program, which was initiated by the Forestry Ministry.
Despite showing positive results from evaluations, Rama said there were still problems associated with restoring damaged forest areas, especially in national parks and community forests.
In the Way Kambas National Park in East Lampung, 125,000 hectares or 60 percent of the area is in a critical state. An area of 365,000 hectares or 40 percent of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is also severely damaged, while 22,000 hectares or 40 percent of Wan Abdur Rahman People's Park in Bandarlampung is in a critical condition.
Almost 33 percent -- or 1.4 million hectares -- of Lampung province's total area of 3.3 million hectares consists of forested areas. Currently, more than 65 percent of this area is in a critical condition.
Rama says it was not easy to convince the government the residents were capable of managing the forest.
"Initially, the provincial administration was doubtful the people could effectively manage the forest. However, it was proven wrong."