Archives For indonesia conservation

Recently we were in Northern Sulawesi visiting Willie Smits, an evangelist for sugar palm. I had seen his Ted talk and met him in Hong Kong on a previous visit and we wanted to see his work for ourselves.

We were keen to understand more about both sugar palm as a source of livelihoods for local populations and also his program of ecological restoration built around the trees, which are native to Sulawesi.

ADM Capital Foundation has been working with the Nantu conservation effort, also in Northern Sulawesi, and are looking at ways to help Nantu generate alternative local livelihoods. Clearly we can’t talk about forest conservation without working on the development/education piece for communities, as I have discussed in previous blogs.

Smits, a biologist/forester, has lived in Indonesia for three decades and is married to an Indonesian tribal princess who is also a local politician. Having worked previously for years for the ministry of forestry in Jakarta he has a good understanding of both Indonesia and its political/corruption challenges.

Over the past decade writing about, researching and working with sugar palm, Willie has built a unique store of data on everything about the tropical plant, as well as on deforestation, its causes and consequences.

He spends much of his time working through how to restore land for people and forest-dwelling animals alike, create livelihoods for local populations so they no longer must poach, log or otherwise log to support their families.

Understandably, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry is focused not so much on conservation in Indonesia, but on how to support development that will sustain a rapidly growing population currently at around 230 million. This was made patently clear in a recent conversation with Jakarta MOF officials.

Understanding this, Willie Smits instead of talking about saving Orangutans from palm oil plantations, talks about community livelihoods, about Samboja Lestari, which is the restoration initiative discussed in his TED talk, about his sugar palm cooperative of 6,285 shareholders in Northern Sulawesi.

Although he now is not directly involved with Samboja, which is administered by the organization he founded but no longer leads, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Willie is still a board member of BOS. The principles around which Samboja was built stand regardless of its management: diversified secondary forest that includes sugar palm and at each layer provides income for communities as well as habitat for animals.

Secondary forest that produces income of course also takes the pressure off native forests.

To achieve this, Willie has developed a franchise process and system to sign up local holders of degraded land, provide the palms and training at a cost of approximately US$1000 per hectare.

The idea is that each cluster of about 150 farmers form a “Village Hub” or a cooperative that acts to build the social fabric, as a bank and to consolidate the product. The mini sugar processing plant, the core of the village hub, which is primarily solar driven, concentrates the raw sugar juice from about 20% to above 60% where it is nonreactive and easier to transport.

Each farmer has an account with the hub and this is credited with each container of juice brought in. They can then use the credit to buy goods and services in the village. This removes the use of actual money and the potential for corruption or theft.

The concentrate is delivered to a regional hub that processes the concentrate to various products, including raw sugar, rum, bio ethanol, among many others. Village Hubs are estimated to cost around 350,000 Euros.

Now to the numbers:

Willie claims to be able to plant 70 producing sugar palms per hectare in among other vegetation, with each tree producing 13 liters of sugar syrup, equivalent to 3 kilos of sugar per day. That’s roughly 36.5 tons of sugar or  19 tons of ethanol per hectare per year – according to Willie the equivalent of 82 barrels of oil per hectare per year.

Sugar palm, he says, requires little water, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides (they have their own built-in defenses), creates local jobs for tappers (trees must be tapped twice a day and this keep local people occupied and away from natural forest). They also enhance food security since sugar palms produce sago, sugar (better for you apparently than cane sugar) and fruit.

Sugar palm, Willie emphasizes, is not a crop but a forest and there are already an estimated 10 million existing sugar palms, many of these in Indonesia. Furthermore, there are tens of millions of hectares of grassland or wasteland that could be restored to include sugar palm that would provide local livelihoods, sequester carbon, while producing fuel and food. He is looking at where else in the world sugar palm might be used to generate income.

Some interesting concepts and hard to verify since most of the work around sugar palm has been done by Willie himself.

Certainly, we would be keen to be pointed in the direction of other numbers/thinking connected to community livelihoods and sugar palm.

 

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?

 

We recently hosted a forum with the Asia Foundation on Philanthropy and Climate change.  We hoped to encourage Asian funders to draw the lines between climate change (something that seems often hard for the individual to grasp) and the more tangible and immediate air pollution, forestry degradation, water scarcity etc.

We also hoped to then get them to think beyond the environment to a wider philanthropic portfolio and to consider the impact of climate change on livelihoods, health, education – even how funders in the arts might get involved to build awareness around the need to act.

Why? We feel that given the enormity of the problem, it’s often hard for the individual funder, the family office foundation, to see how they might act in any way that is impactful.

But what we found was remarkable energy in the room. Rather than despair, we felt that participants left informed and energized by our panelists and keynote speaker, Stephen Heintz of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has an excellent environment and health, southern China program, managed by Shenyu Belsky.

Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists and head of the New York’s NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, provided an overview of climate science – setting the scene for discussion. Dr. Hansen, an advocate for a carbon tax, spoke of our inertia in the face of an emergency, the possible extermination of species, receding glaciers, bleaching of coral reefs, acidification of the ocean, basically that we are a planet out of balance.

Heintz also spoke about urgency, describing climate change as a “planetary threat that knows no bounds.” He emphasized the particular threat in Asia – that of 16 countries facing extreme risk, five are in in this region and they are among the most impacted, low-lying Bangladesh for example.

In all, he said, global warming could cost southeast Asia 6-7 percent of GDP. Clearly, Asia is squarely at the intersection of climate and development and he emphasized the need for new ideas and new ways of thinking, something that accurately reflects current realities and anticipates new needs.

It is easy, Heintz pointed out, to be discouraged by the science, yet philanthropy, government, civil society and the private sector all have roles to play. In reality , it is imperative that we act because, inevitably, climate change will impact every other issue that we are working on.

Global grant-making, Heintz said, has increased dramatically over the past decade yet environmental issues are way behind, receiving only 5 percent of funding. Resources targeting climate change specifically, of course, are far less.

The philanthropy sector, Heintz said, can play a crucial catalytic role, take risk, experiment, support advocacy to change public policy and trigger larger systemic change. Important will be innovative public-private partnerships, helping to develop emerging models of low-carbon prosperity. His was an excellent speech.

Our three panelists, Runa Kahn of Bangladesh’s Friendship, Dorjee Sun of Carbon Conservation and John Liu, an environmental filmmaker and journalist based in Beijing, spoke of the practicalities of working effectively within this context – and they also were inspiring.

Runa spoke about making life possible for the 4 million people living  in impossible circumstances in Bangladesh’s northern chars, John Liu on a massive ecological restoration project in China and showed the results, Dorjee on carbon, community and market solutions for saving forests.

The entire session was expertly moderated by the Asia Business Council’s Mark Clifford who managed to draw together the discussion, keeping an often amorphous and difficult topic moving toward practical solutions and away from fear.

The forum was a private side event to the C40 Climate change conference early this month organized by the Civic Exchange and supported by the Hong Kong government and Jockey Club Charities Trust.

It would be great to hear about other experiences linking climate change with a wider philanthropic portfolio, about nudging funders into action in this arena.

Babirusa

If I were a pessimist, this might be a moment of total despair over the future of high conservation value tropical forests in Indonesia.

The question we and others have struggled with has been: how to make the economics work for conservation? Logging is profitable business for large landowners; for communities, cutting trees can often represent the only source of income.

Most recently, hopes have rested on the carbon markets and REDD as a source of funding for both communities and landholders, paid for by companies wanting to offset their carbon emissions.

But Copenhagen was a disaster, leaving little hope for any global carbon framework anytime soon, while the weak U.S. Climate Change bill looks like it won’t be up for debate this year.  The carbon markets are in disarray.

Meanwhile, climate science itself is embroiled in controversy over seemingly not very much and last year’s financial markets meltdown has made investors innovation adverse.

When one of our carbon champions returned last week from a tour of the U.S. seemingly distraught over the state of the markets, we knew that was at least not an immediate answer to funding conservation, despite the abundance of REDD carbon projects dotting Southeast Asia!

But what are the solutions? What can possibly compete with the huge profits from logging virgin forests?

For two years, we have been working with Oxford-educated biologist, Dr. Lynn Clayton, who for the past two decades has courageously worked to protect the 62,000-hectares Nantu forest in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Working with a small team, Dr. Clayton has done an excellent and recognized job keeping hunters from the region’s many endemic species such as the babirusa and anoa, which are described  in Alfred Russell Wallace’s 19th century tome, the Malay Archipelago, which chronicles the naturalist’s journeys in the unique region.

Under consideration has been an off-shore trust fund that would generate resources to support the conservation effort at Nantu and at the same time help promote alternative livelihoods for local communities, which are vital to any such effort.

But trust funds, which involve sizable up front chunks of cash, have fallen out of favour in the rush to carbon thus raising those sorts of resources (we estimate that US$5 million in a loan or donations would help secure Nantu) has proven difficult.

With carbon less certain than ever, the other alternative has been to generate business models around Nantu that potentially could generate funding for conservation as well as support local livelihoods.

Once again, however, the sticking point seems to be the feasibility studies and business planning that involve significant upfront costs with uncertain returns. What are interesting conservation finance models, perhaps from other regions, that are working?