- Demand for firewood in recent years led to the depletion of the mangrove forest in the Indonesian village of Paremas.
- But the local government and NGOs worked with the community to emphasize the importance of restoring the mangrove, with surprising results.
- Today, the tidal pools on the coast provide food that can both sustain the locals and provide an income, allowing families to be less dependent on the remittances sent home by mothers and fathers working arduous jobs overseas.
- In addition to protecting biodiversity, the mangroves also absorb energy from large ocean swells and stop garbage from piling up in foul-smelling sumps on the beach.
PAREMAS, Indonesia — Harniati keeps her youngest daughter close as the pair walk along the footpath from this village to the southeast coast of Lombok Island. For years, the people of Paremas have walked down to the beach to scoop up fish and other sea life left behind in pools by the falling tide.
“It’s easier to search around here now,” she says, dressed in a fern-colored hijab and clutching an old paint bucket to collect the catch of the day. “Even for the kids.”
Paremas stares out into the Alas Strait, a narrow channel between Lombok and Sumbawa, linking the Flores Sea to the north with the Indian Ocean to the south of the two islands. The village lies just east of the Wallace Line, a boundary delineating where the generally wetter ecosystems of Asia meet the more arid Australasian continent.
Until relatively recently, Harniati’s coastline was shielded from storm surges and deposits of plastic trash by a large mangrove forest. But demand for firewood in the community meant the Paremas mangrove was slowly depleted. This then created new pressures on food security, and increased the risks of coastal erosion during storms.
Around a decade ago, the local government and environmental NGOs began work on building a consensus in the community: that the mangrove needed restoring. Everyone came around to the idea; then they got to work replanting the Paremas mangrove. The result has brought surprising changes.
Lombok is one of the two main islands that make up West Nusa Tenggara, one of the 34 provinces in the world’s largest archipelagic nation. It is hot and dry at this time of year in East Lombok; the sun is still high in the sky late into the afternoon.
The houses in Paremas were built by migrant labor. West Nusa Tenggara province has one of the highest rates in the country of this form of work. Poorly regulated agencies place mothers in domestic servant roles for middle-class families in the Middle East and East Asia; fathers emigrate for long, stifling days in Malaysia’s oil palm plantations to remit home enough money to raise children and care for elderly relatives.
There were few men in Paremas when Mongabay visited earlier this year. Depleted fish stocks over the years meant agriculture became the only viable source of work. Some men stayed in the village to till cornfields or work on trawlers for larger fisheries operations. But you can count the number of small fishing boats moored at the beach on one hand. Few of the Paremas fishermen owned land on which to farm. Frequent water shortages and an absence of irrigation technology compounded the problem, closing this avenue to most here.
Harniati’s husband was one of many who made the difficult choice to work in Malaysia to support the family.
But restoration of the mangrove has also boosted Harniati’s ability to raise an income. Harniati is one of several women in Paremas deriving new economic benefit from mangroves without damaging the trees.
Two years ago, students from the University of Mataram, the largest city on Lombok, visited Paremas and taught Harniati to make crackers from crab shells. Harniati brought other women in the village together to refine a recipe. They found the sweet spot between texture and consistency, and began selling the crackers at Harniati’s small kiosk.
“People liked it and word of mouth spread,” she told Mongabay. “So we got a group together to make more.”
Siti Fauziah, a mother of three, was one of several women to join Harniati in the start-up. Siti told Mongabay the group needed 50,000 rupiah ($3.55) in capital to produce 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of crackers, but they could triple their money selling the finished product.
“I invited them [to join the business] instead of just sitting and waiting for our husbands’ remittance,” Harniati said. “Now there are 10 of us.”
Siti told Mongabay that the revenue earned from the crab crackers covers her daily expenses on food. This makes her family less vulnerable to sudden inflationary spikes in food prices, the primary risk factor in people falling into poverty.
Nearby, Nursian and Suhaini bake cakes made from flour using the fruit from mangrove trees. They pick and peel the fruit, dice it, then dehydrate the fruit in the sun. The dried-out flesh is later pulverized into a flour.
“This mangrove flour is our substitute for chocolate,” Suhaini told Mongabay.
Suhaini offers up a slice of freshly baked cake made from mangrove flour. It’s soft, with the sweetness of chocolate but without the bitterness of the cocoa.
The decision to replant the mangrove forest has brought multiple benefits, with no obvious downside. The businesses started by the women of Paremas may eventually mean fewer people will need to leave their families to find better-paying work. In addition to protecting biodiversity, the mangroves also absorb energy from large ocean swells and stop garbage from piling up in foul-smelling sumps on the beach.
“There are many benefits now,” Harniati said. “Even the mosquitoes are gone.”