Protecting the Forests, Protecting Dragon’s Blood

Natalie Y. Campbell / RRI

Indonesia faces a deforestation crisis.

An estimated 55 percent of forests located in concession areas were lost over a period of 15 years (2000-2015), with an estimated total loss of more than 6.7 million hectares within and outside of concession areas. The country has been losing its forests at a rapid rate for decades, and in turn, adat and local communities’ livelihoods are under threat, and the wildlife and plant diversity in their traditional territories is being lost.

Riau Province is home to over 24 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations—as well as the critically endangered Sumatran tiger and local communities who depend on these lands. With support from RRI’s Strategic Response Mechanism, local organization Yayasan Hutanriau (Riau Forest Foundation), in collaboration with Scale – Up Riau, helped communities in the Bukit Betabuh Forest Reserve respond to the illegal expansion of palm oil plantations on their customary lands, which threatened their livelihoods and vital biodiversity alike.

Bukit Betabuh is in an important wildlife corridor, connecting Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve and Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, a crucial area for tiger conservation. Bukit Betabuh was classified as a “protected area” by Riau Province in 1994, and categorized as a “limited production forest,” legally stipulating no private development or plantations of any kind but lacking any clear consideration of existing tenure systems and natural resource management regimes.

200,000 hectares of forest in Bukit Betabuh caught fire. Local community members from the Air Buluh village fought to stop the fire from spreading.

After the flames were stifled, they found an excavator and several other artifacts illuminating a private company’s covert attempt to encroach on the protected forest with illegal oil palm plantations. The machines were confiscated by the communities, but illegal oil palm plantations and destructive illegal deforestation inside Bukit Betabuh Forest Reserve continued to threaten every part of the local landscape.

According to local media and RRI Collaborators, the provincial and local governments ignored these large-scale violations while simultaneously accusing local communities of encroaching on the forest when they extracted their traditionally important and highly valued non-timber forest products (NTFPs).

Jernang—commonly referred to as dragon’s blood—is a particularly valuable NTFP in the region—not only on the market but also for local adat communities.

This red resin is secreted from the rattan fruit, and extracted through a long and tedious process. Dragon’s blood has a long history of traditional usages, including in furniture varnishes and as a dye. it has also been used as medicine for diarrhea, and is sold to pharmaceutical companies to be used as an antiseptic, as medicine for asthma and rheumatism, and as a sedative.

Local elections for a new kepala desa (village head) on November 22 were vital to the success of planting traditionally important tree and rattan species, and to the advocacy and training work that were conducted throughout the activity. A member of the forest-farmer community being supported by the program won the local election, and became the new kepala desa. The community and the forest-farmer group went on to afforest their protected areas with traditional trees and plants and influence other communities in the area to do the same.

As the jernang community based forest enterprise grows in Bukit Betabuh, biodiversity in the area is also thriving. In December, the local communities conducted an adat ritual, a celebration that invited the local honey bees back into the newly reforested landscape—honey was once a primary part of local livelihoods in this area—and simultaneously showed gratitude for the election results.

This activity will continue until March 2018, hopefully with the good spirit of the adat ritual, and whilst celebrating the election of the new kepala adat.


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