Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Batu, East Java
A small mosque sits atop a spring in Toyomerto hamlet, Pesanggrahan village, Batu district in Batu city, East Java. It is used for religious activities and also as a meeting place for local villagers.
The water source is one of 11 spread around the village, located between 900 to 1,000 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Panderman.
According to community figure Syaifuddin, better known as Gus Udin, thanks to the small mosque, 277 household heads have united in a mission to save 11 water sources at risk of being exploited by outside parties.
Local residents are aware of the importance of reforestation and protection of the production forest area owned by the Perhutani state forestry company, spanning 21,640 hectares around the village, from illegal loggers.
According to Gus Udin, people initially opposed the conservation effort, which began in 1997. Farmers and firewood sellers depended on the trees in the production forest, which they felled and sold to make a living.
The forest is a catchment area which feeds 11 springs that people rely on for their daily needs.
The slopes of Mount Panderman at one point appeared barren due to uncontrolled logging, which triggered floods and landslides during the rainy season in 1998 and 1999. Recurrent droughts occurred during the dry season, thus affecting water quality in the 11 springs.
Residents also became prone to illnesses, such as diarrhea.
"The situation is better now. The residents have found other ways to make a living, such as raising dairy cows and cattle for meat, the results of which are starting to show," said Gus Udin.
In 1997, a rumor that a prominent businessman from Jakarta was interested in purchasing the village, including the 11 springs, prompted the local community to protect the forest and water sources in their village. They eventually formed an environmental study group called Yayasan Iqro.
"I also heard that a significant amount of gas was located in the ground below our village," said Gus Udin, who also heads the foundation.
During meetings, residents were made aware of how to preserve the surrounding environment. They were taught to change their habit of felling trees in the forest, shown how to live a more healthy lifestyle through planting trees and learned the importance of preserving their water sources. Even children were taught to cherish the environment by planting trees in the forest.
After three years, the group imposed stiff regulations in the form of customary law, which residents mutually agreed on.
The punishments are quite stern; anyone caught felling a tree is required to pay a fine of a truck-load of sand, while those found felling five trees are fined 100 sacks of cement.
"Harsh punishments have been cast on the community," added Gus Udin.
The customary law is currently effective and acts as a deterrent to those who destroy the environment in the village. So far, residents have been able to protect the 11 water sources, which each supply four liters of water per second.
Each family pays a monthly fee of Rp 7,500 (approximately 83 U.S. cents) toward operational funds to manage the springs. From each fee, Rp 1,000 is set aside to fund the building of schools, roads, houses of worship and other community facilities.
To help improve people's welfare, the foundation offers credit for dairy cows and cattle. It has so far distributed 600 heads of cattle to residents without collateral.
This scheme has somewhat been able to change the look of Pesanggrahan village, which is evident from the 3,600 dairy cows and cattle already raised by the villagers.
The residents can now even fulfill their household energy needs by turning cattle dung into butane biogas to light their stoves and lamps.
"Residents can finally save on fuel and electricity," said Gus Udin.
A villager, Lasmi, 50, said she was able to make use of biogas from cattle manure after receiving a grant from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) for a pilot project in 2005.
Gas is channeled through a small pipe to her stove and lamps from the back of her home, which is directly next door to a cattle shed.
Two structures resembling septic tanks are stored inside the cow shed; one is used to store the manure, which is connected to the other that collects gas.
"We no longer buy kerosene because we can use biogas derived from cattle dung," Lasmi said.