Protection of trees leads to 40 percent rise in rice yield

By protecting the trees in an Indonesian nature reserve, community forest guards have helped improve the local water supply. This enables the villagers to operate a small hydropower plant. Moreover, the improved irrigation has led to a 40 percent rise in rice yield.

Header photo: A small hydropower plant can now operate year-round © Evelien van den Broek


The people living in the villages around the Mount Simpang nature reserve in West Java mainly earn their living by rice farming. Because this does not provide an adequate income, the local people ignore the reserve’s regulations and engage in illegal logging, hunting and gathering wood. These activities have led to a negative spiral: illegal logging has affected the water supply to the rice farms, which has led to harvesting problems in the dry season. In addition, more and more wild animals have disappeared from the area.


YPAL, IUCN NL’s local partner organization, brought together the inhabitants of five villages surrounding the Mount Simpang region. Together they drafted local regulations on land management and ecosystem conservation, which were formalised by the village authorities. A community task force of volunteer forest guards was established to oversee the implementation of the village regulation, which means the reserve is now protected. Some local farmers received training in sustainable rice cultivation practices without chemicals and pesticides. In addition, about 200,000 fast-growing tree species were planted in and around the villages for wood production.


The implementation of the village regulation, the so-called Raksabumi, has proven to be an effective instrument for combating illegal hunting and logging. In the first year of operation, its volunteer forest guards were able to prevent the use of chainsaws in 61 instances in the nature reserve. The recovery of the rainforest has reversed the drop in the river’s water level. More trees mean a better soil structure. And because the soil retains more water, the farmers can now irrigate their fields sufficiently, also during the dry season. This, in combination with a new sustainable farming method, has led to a 40 percent rise in rice yield.

The river has restored to such a level that a small hydropower plant can operate, providing the villagers with power all year round. Electric machines are used by the farmers to grind the cassava to flour, from which cookies are made that are sold on the local market. A part of this extra income is invested in the construction of more small hydropower plants.

Besides the local people, the protection of the nature reserve has also proven to be beneficial for wild animals. Since the project started, gibbons have returned to the area and the Javan eagle has been spotted sailing in the sky once again.

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Evelien van den Broek
Senior Expert Environmental Justice