The Power of A Bedtime Chat

Empowering rural women is a good way to preserve the area’s forests

Yusuf doesn’t put on airs when he visits the villagers in the collection of hamlets bordering the area’s conservation forest. Because of his simple, down-to-earth manner, officials from the Forestry and Plantation District Office of Central Lampung are always welcome in Sendang Baru village. As the district head of forest-area management, Yusuf will happily travel for three hours along bumpy, pot-holed roads to speak to communities living around the forest. Often he spends the night in these villages to see old friends and track the community’s progress in conserving the forests.

By keeping up a harmonious relationship with the Sendang Baru villagers and guiding them in agricultural programmes, Yusuf has succeeded in eliminating the typical conflicts that occur between the local government and communities in other forest areas in Indonesia. He has also persuaded the community to conserve the forests they live in. Masri, a villager from Sendang Baru, admits he was formerly involved in illegal logging until he joined the district’s agricultural programme. Since then, he says, members of the community have caught loggers several times and taken them to the Forestry Police. “The forest earns us a living, so whoever conducts illegal logging will be caught,” he said.

The Central Lampung forest, at around 450,000 acres, makes up only a tenth of the total area in the regency. “That number is still far from that required by the 1999 Forestry Law, which stipulates that 30 percent of the whole area should be covered in vegetation. Therefore, after we succeed in preserving the existing forests, we will expand them,” Yusuf said.

Watala (an environmental conservation organisation), the Forestry and Plantation District Office helps village communities grow non-timber forest products without destroying the land they live in. Villagers are encouraged to organise themselves into farmer groups and are trained in a range of skills – from crop cultivation and animal husbandry, to managerial and basic accounting skills. A former head of the District Forestry Office, Isyanto, said the cooperation between the regional agency and Watala came about because of necessity. “We still lack experience and knowledge or managerial and proposal writing skills. Therefore, Watala’s role is very important in the facilitation of programmes for this forest area,” Isyanto said.

He believes efforts to foster cooperation among stakeholders on forestry issues has proven successful. “If we did not collaborate with Watala, the trees in Sendang Baru forest would likely all be gone by now.”

Firman Seponada, working for Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Walhi) Lampung said the model of collaboration between the government and NGOs in managing the forests in Central Lampung regency is one that other regencies should follow. “In terms of environmental problems, when people and the government are in conflict, then an NGO should be present to find a solution,” he said.

In Sendang Baru, Watala and Forestry and Plantation District Office guide two women and four male farmer groups. Taking advantage of existing agricultural businesses in the area, they train the farmers to make the best use out of the traditional crops and livestock they grow. The programme also introduced them to new sources of income. The involvement of women is important, Yusuf says. “Women often express their ideas to the men, who unfortunately are still felling trees in the forest. “If we told the men directly that we must conserve the forest, it would be less effective. Instead, we explain the situation to their wives, who then talk to the men – we’ve found this strategy to be more effective,” Yusuf said.

Women are also good at organising and managing, he said. With more spare time than the men working out in the fields, they can be trained to manage the produce grown in the village plantations, he said. Sri Banon, the head of the women’s Farmer Group – Wanita Tani Lestari Organisation, said the training from the Forestry and Plantation District Office has increased families’ income. “We were trained how to make banana crackers, coconut sugar, and coffee powder. Now all of my family’s needs can be fulfilled,” she said. “With our current income, there is no need to fell trees and take the risk of being jailed.” While the women in the women’s farmer group manage the cultivation of semi-processed products, another group is involved in fisheries and goat rearing as well as banana cultivation. All the groups are trained in financial management, Yusuf said. “If they need money urgently – for their children’s books or school fees, then they can borrow from the collective.”

It has been relatively easy to find markets for the farmer’s products. The bananas from Sendang Baru village are now being sent to Muara Angke and Bintaro in Jakarta. Since the development programmes began, production has increased to around three tonnes a week. Muhammad Kubar, the second assistant for Economy and Development in the Central Lampung regency government, said the existence of new income sources has led to a decrease in deforestation in the project areas. Forest destruction has always been caused by economic factors, he said. Either because poor communities cleared the forests to survive, or because interests that are more powerful wanted to make quick money, he said. “Those destroying the forest to survive are usually people who live in or around the forest. The only way to cope with this problem is to improve people’s welfare.”

Zubair also said the involvement of women in the forest conservation programme is essential. The image of a rural woman playing servant to her husband is outdated, he said. Wives have plenty of power over their husbands, and they know how to use it. “In fact, women often forbid their husbands to fell trees in the forests in the chit-chat they have before going to bed.” **

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