We recently spent time in Northern Sulawesi with Dr. Lynn Clayton at Nantu, which is the 62,000 hectare forest conservation area that the Oxford-edcuated biologist has worked effectively to protect from loggers and poachers over the past 20 years.
I was struck by the incredible size of the trees, the quantity of unusual birds, the general force of nature and indeed the privilege of spending time in such an untouched environment.
Separated from varied threats by a team of rangers who protect trees with trunks the width of houses, the endemic species, the babirusa and anoa among others, Nantu truly is like another world, a parallel and agreeable universe that is largely free of any human footprint.
Immediately evident is the interconnectedness of the forest – the trees, the plant life, the soil, the wildlife, the rain that cascades in waterfalls, that each facet of life adapts to meet its own needs, adjusting for self-preservation.
Also noticeably absent in this harmonious environment: evidence of humans. The footpaths along the perimeter and to a blind for watching babirusa at a salt lick, the ranger stations, a community of gold miners deep within the forest, are the only apparent confirmation that humans are part of this forested world.
The opposite side of the Nantu river is where the local communities have established themselves – many of them brought in as a result of the government’s transmigration program, designed to move landless people from densely populated areas to less populous parts of the country. This tells another different story: Kilometers of denuded land, the occasional lone tree, fields of wheat and a few other crops.
Still, when crops fail in these areas, inhabitants are forced to look for alternative income and that, most recently, has involved illegal gold mining inside Nantu or rattan collecting for local officials interested in seizing control of the protected area and its precious assets for their own benefit.
Clearly we need to preserve natural environments, which exist as lungs for the world, as repositories of biodiversity and as guardians of the watershed for local communities. But we also need to consider the need of communities to generate income to feed their families, to live decent, rural lives.
Although carbon REDD (reduced emissions from degradation and deforestation) in the future may become part of the puzzle, paying communities to help protect forests and the cost of conservation, that is not the only answer.
Generating livelihoods for communities and building businesses that help pay for conservation must also be part of the solution. Dr. Clayton has been working with local families to plant cocoa and build livelihoods. So far about 100 families have received saplings over the years and many are now deriving income from their crops.
But even that is a balance. How to satisfy the local community and not attract others looking for similar rewards?
Are you building an interesting forestry conservation model that involves communities?