- Palm oil farmers in Indonesia have established a new foundation to help farmers around the country in protecting forests and selling their sustainable products to the global market.
- The foundation was established after the Indonesian palm oil farmers union, SPKS, carried out a pilot project in six villages in western Borneo.
- The pilot project proved that smallholders could cultivate palm oil without clearing forests by implementing the high carbon stock (HCS) approach, but they needed incentives and benefits.
- This is where the new foundation, called the Farmers For Forest Protection Foundation (4F), comes in by providing farmers with both financial and non-financial support, like training.
JAKARTA — A new foundation has been established to support Indonesian farmers in protecting forests and selling their sustainably produced products to the global market.
The foundation, called the Farmers For Forest Protection Foundation (4F), was established by the association of Indonesian palm oil farmers, or SPKS.
This makes 4F the only foundation platform in Indonesia to be formed by and for farmers.
The idea behind the foundation comes from the increasing market demand for Indonesian products that are deforestation-free and sustainable, according to SPKS secretary-general Mansuetus Alsy Hanu, known by his nickname, Darto.
The European Union, for instance, recently adopted a regulation that bans the trade of commodities, such as rubber and palm oil, that come from deforested areas and illegal sources.
Therefore, there’s a great barrier between the global market, which increasingly demands sustainable products, and smallholders, who are often left to their own devices without much support, Darto said.
“We want to break this great wall, which has limited the access of palm oil farmers who are conserving forests or farmers who don’t deforest to the global palm oil market,” he said during the launch of 4F on Aug. 1 in Jakarta. “We want to tear down this wall so that palm oil farmers who produce without deforesting could have access to the market.”
But there’s a cost to produce commodities like palm oil sustainably.
The SPKS estimated that to map, collect data and trace smallholders so they can have legal certificates, at least 200,000 rupiah (US$13) per hectare is needed.
And training small farmers so they can implement good agricultural practices costs up to 500,000 rupiah ($33) per farmer.
Educating smallholders on the sustainability requirements of various certification schemes like the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) requires 5 million rupiah ($330) per village.
To obtain ISPO and RSPO certificates, 3.5 million rupiah ($230) per hectare is needed.
At the same time, smallholders often face various risks such as fluctuating market prices, limited capital, high production costs and low income, especially in times of drought.
“The cost to comply with no deforestation [requirements] is not insignificant,” Darto said. “That’s why we form a separate foundation to collect the funding [needed].”
The sources of funds for 4F may include private and government donors, including consumer goods companies. 4F will then manage and channel the funding to small farmers. The small farmers will then decide themselves how to best use the money.
Among the possible actions are land mapping and legalization, recognition of customary forests, forest guarding, processing and marketing of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), good agricultural practices training, agroforestry, establishing traceability of farmers’ products, strengthening farmer village institutions and market access and fair prices.
These areas are off limits from deforestation.
The SPKS has tried using the HCS approach to dispel the narrative that private companies often use, in which they blame deforestation in their concessions on small farmers, Darto said.
“I’m sure there’s still a lot of companies not brave enough to implement the HCS standard,” he said. “But we at the SPKS dare [to use it] so that smallholders could get connected to the global market.”
The SPKS tried the HCS approach in six villages, and it proved to be possible for smallholders to use the methodology to produce palm oil without deforesting.
But some farmers questioned what benefits they would get from not clearing forests, said Tirza Pandelaki, the head of 4F.
There are also farmers who serve as forest guards who patrol areas for illegal logging and encroachment.
This is a risky job that takes time. Without financial incentives for these farmers, it’ll be hard to encourage them to keep guarding the forests, Tirza said.
“Whatever the approach [for forest protection] is, we can’t do it optimally if there’s no incentives or benefits for them [smallholders],” she told Mongabay.
This is where 4F comes in by providing incentives, whether financial or non-financial, to smallholders who conserve forests, she said.
A 2020 study found that an Indonesian government poverty alleviation program, which give cash to eligible households, resulted in the reduction of forest cover loss in participating villages by an average of 30%.
The program was able to do so even though its design did not focus on benefiting the environment because it guaranteed rural communities cash transfers so they would be less likely to cut down forests as a source of income.
Beatus Pius Onomuo, a leader of a Dayak Indigenous clan in Sanggau district, West Kalimantan, said his community has been protecting its forests for generations by giving sanctions to whomever cut down trees and encroached on the forests.
He said the community was well aware of the importance of the forests as the source of their livelihoods.
“We hope that the world can understand, appreciate and support our efforts to protect forests. We hope that all parties, especially the government, business actors and the market can support us through policies, programs and financing,” he said. “We hope that our efforts to conserve our forests can generate added value and our products can be well received in the market, to support our efforts to keep our forests sustainable and continue to be maintained from generation to generation.”
To achieve the goal of empowering small farmers to protect forests, it’s important for the government to support the initiative, Tirza said.
A local head who has voiced his support is Aron, the district head of Sekadau in West Kalimantan, where the SPKS implemented the HCS approach.
The district government has rolled out an action plan for sustainable palm oil, which entails the identification, mapping and protection of customary forest areas.
Aron said the identification process of customary forests had started, which will be followed by a mapping and legalization process.
“Support from various parties is very important because we need to expand this important work to conserve our forests together with Indigenous peoples and farmers in other villages in Sekadau district and beyond, for the welfare of our people and so that our products are well received in the world market,” he said.
In the future, Tirza said 4F wants to widen its reach from the initial six villages.
The foundation is also looking to expand agroforestry in regions that already have agroforestry practices in limited scope like West Kalimantan, she added.
Tirza said the Indigenous Dayak community in West Kalimantan had been practicing a traditional land management system that’s akin to agroforestry called tembawang.
Tembawang is usually formed from shifting cultivation, an agricultural practice where farmers temporarily cultivate plots of land before abandoning them to allow for vegetation to freely grow while the farmers move to another plot.
In the case of tembawang, before abandoning the plots of land, farmers plant various tree crops, including fruits like durian and spices.
The result is a forest garden that looks like a forest from a distance and contains various trees with a relatively large diameter to resemble a forest ecosystem.
Tirza said tembawang is important in the context of greater forest landscapes, as it serves as a buffer zone to natural forests.
Through support from 4F, Indigenous communities in Kalimantan can protect existing tembawang forests and turn barren lands into tembawang forests, she said.
“Our hope is to protect existing tembawang while also establish new tembawang forests,” Tirza said.
Sahana, M., Areendran, G., Sivadas, A., Raj, K., Sharma, D., Sajid Sultan, M., … Parameswaran, S. (2023). Assessing high conservation value areas for rare, endemic and threatened (RET) species: A study in high altitude Changthang landscape of India. Journal for Nature Conservation, 73, 126406. doi:10.1016/j.jnc.2023.126406
Banner image: A worker fertilizing on oil palm plantation in Indonesia. Image by Agus Andrianto/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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