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Lombok’s blooming community forest bears fruit and raises livelihoods – and haj trips

  • In 1997 the land around Santong was practically a dead zone following years of untrammeled exploitation during the rule of General Suharto.
  • To address this the community banded together with the local office of the Forestry Ministry and made Santong the pilot site for a community forest program.
  • Today, delegations from each of the ASEAN bloc states have visited Santong to study the scheme’s successes.

For hundreds of years water has run down the western foothills of Indonesia’s second largest volcano over the nearby Tiu Teja falls. But here on the slopes of Mount Rinjani in Lombok, the land surrounding Santong village has undergone radical and unusual change.

“This community is safeguarding and securing the forest,” the head of the Santong village cooperative, Artim Yahya, tells Mongabay.

Dressed in a swirling brown and ivory batik shirt that blends into the speckled bark of the valley’s coffee trees, 50-year-old Artim has driven this land from void to abundance. In 1997 the 758 hectares of land around Santong were practically a dead zone following years of untrammeled exploitation during the rule of former strongman General Suharto. The lack of productivity from the land restricted livelihoods and imposed a multiplier effect on longer-term poverty reduction as the dearth of agriculture prevented families from affording school fees for children.

To address this the community banded together with the local office of the Forestry Ministry and made Santong the pilot site for a community forest program (HKM). With help from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education & Information (LP3ES), an independent think tank formed in 1971, and Indonesia’s Consortium for Training (Konsepsi), Artim and colleagues in the cooperative and government have replanted rosewood and mahogany, as well as the fast-growing sengon tree. After the initial phase of replanting, the cooperative set about crafting a productive permaculture – intercropping coffee, betel nut and avocado with jackfruit, cocoa and durian.

Haji Artim Yahya, head of the Santong village cooperative on Indonesia's Lombok island. Photo by Jay Fajar
Haji Artim Yahya, head of the Santong village cooperative on Indonesia’s Lombok island. Photo by Jay Fajar

Seed capital

Years after the first seeds were planted the labor is bearing fruit.

Artim tells Mongabay each member of the cooperative can earn between 3-5 million rupiah ($215-358) for each three-quarter hectare plot of land. Indonesia’s labor market has seen a gradual migration from agriculture into the often better-paid service sector over the last decade, but the livelihood on offer in Santong compares favorably with the minimum wage in the rest of West Nusa Tenggara province – 1.33 million rupiah per month in 2015. Every fortnight the community harvests approximately 50 kilos of cocoa, which is sold through the cooperative to a distributor in Bali for 33,000 rupiah per kilo. Even for a lower-value product such as betel nut, residents can generate around 500,000 rupiah each month.

“We’ve had many successful coffee harvests here,” the principal of Bayyinul Ulum school tells Mongabay. “We grow both arabica and robusta beans and harvest once a year.”

The total coffee harvest here yields around half a ton each year – a not-insignificant haul.

Indonesia has around 1.1 million hectares of coffee plantations providing an annual harvest of 650,000 tons of beans, making the archipelago the world’s fourth-largest producer of coffee after Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia. But the Trade Ministry’s ambitious plans to make Indonesia the world’s pre-eminent supplier will require an unprecedented boost in productivity – and will require investment and training in the archipelago’s fertile baskets, like northern Lombok.

The Tiu Teja falls are visible amid the greenery of Santong forest. Photo by Jay Fajar

Community forestry is an emerging branch of forestry employed in other Indonesian regencies such as Bantaeng in South Sulawesi – and as far afield as Brazil and Korea. In Santong some 258 families have the right to utilize a total of 225 hectares for life. The regional cooperative counts some 1,258 farmers in total, spread across Kayangan and Bacan, two contiguous regencies which stretch from Lombok’s northern coast to the slopes of the volcano around 25 kilometers to the south.

The community’s control over the land extends to pest management, with farmers ensuring maximum productivity from their concessions.

“Monkeys from the protected forest encroach into Santong forest,” Artim says. “They’ll ruin the cocoa trees, so farmers keep them out.”

In addition to straightforward harvesting and selling of crops, local farmers have looked to attract training to add to the supply chain. The cooperative is exploring processed products, such as producing banana chips and dodol, a fruit cake. The Agriculture Ministry has chipped in with training on improving growing practices, from the splicing of local coffee with arabica beans to teaching replanting techniques best suited to minimize wastage. The government has also trained the community to better ferment cocoa beans. Fermentation is a vital process in the life cycle of chocolate production where harvested beans are stored under banana leaves for up to a week in order to reduce astringency and allow the chocolate flavor to develop.

“By fermenting the cocoa we’re reducing the number of broken beans,” Artim says. “That lowers the price.”

Model community

The results of this community initiative have received international recognition.

As the pilot project for this kind of community forestry program, Santong has graduated to being fully managed by the local community, with the right to lease extending for 35 years. The village chief was presented with the certificate by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a ceremony in Bogor to mark Indonesia Tree Planting Day in 2011.

“Many organizations have come here for comparative studies,” Artim says. “In 2000, the regents and parliamentary chairman Kulonprogro of Yogyakarta came. Then in 2011 we had 35 countries on a field trip here.”

A year later delegations from each of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc arrived in Santong to study the successes of the community forest scheme. Today staffers from the newly merged Environment and Forestry Ministry come to the village to see the merits of the project firsthand.

A black lutung monkey (Trachypithecus) sits in a tree in Santong forest. Photo by Jay Fajar

While the project has raised standards of living, more remains to be done.

The cooperative is also pushing for further financial assistance, targeting soft loans which will enable investment in training and equipment needed to raise productivity. The Agriculture Ministry is expected to continue to help with post-harvest training in order to minimize crop failures and boost yields.

One easily apparent indicator of the area’s economic development is the number of local farmers who have been able to go on the haj. Completion of Islam’s holiest pilgrimage is a high mark of status in Muslim-majority Indonesia, with alumni pilgrims renaming themselves “Haji” as a sign of accomplishment. Haji Artim is among the 20 members of the 258-strong cooperative who have traveled to Mecca to stone the devil. Many others plan to make the journey to Saudi Arabia soon.

Around the 40-meter-high Teja Tiu falls – teja means “rainbow” in the local Sasak language – a colorful cast of long-tailed macaque and black monkeys roam next to productive plantations providing communities with an increasingly strong hold on their own destinies. At the very least, the free-for-all days of unfettered logging here are numbered.

“There’s no more logging and timber theft,” Artim says. “Thank God.”

CITATION: Jay Fajar. “Naik Haji Dari Merawat Hutan, Cerita Kesuksesan HKm Santong.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 14 February 2015.

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