‘Social forestry protects forests and supports livelihoods in Sumatra’

From 2001 to 2022, Indonesia lost 29 million hectares of primary forest, 18% of its total forest cover [1]Global Forest Watch (2023). Social forestry can play an important role in the protection of forests, by offering a sustainable alternative to logging and involving communities in the management of the forest. In West Sumatra, KKI Warsi is working with 35 social forestry groups that were able to increase the forest area of 58,865 hectares in 2022 to 60,442 hectares in 2023.

Romi Febriandi, head of the government of the village of Sirukam (the Wali), speaks with IUCN NL about the importance of social forestry for protecting their forest and maintaining the community’s livelihood.

‘The forests are extremely important to sustaining livelihoods here’, Febriandi explains. ‘90% of the population of Sirukam depend on rice fields for their livelihoods, and the rice fields need water. A healthy forest regulates year-round availability of water. This is why it is so important to protect the forests: it means protecting life. People in Sirukam want to contribute to the climate through protecting the village forest.’

Before the introduction of social forestry, it was illegal for the community to access the forest because its formal status was ‘protected area’. However protection was not really effective. With the permit for social forestry, the community can sustainably manage the land and benefit from the forest.

Sirukam and KKI Warsi

KKI Warsi first visited the village of Sirukam in 2011. KKI Warsi is an Indonesian civil society organisation focused on community based conservation. KKI Warsi currently works together with IUCN NL on the projects Strengthen the Roots and Forests for a Just Future. In 2024, a new project will start, called ‘CSOs Standing Shoulder to Shoulder in Defence of forest’.

‘Warsi conducted an assessment of the villages in West Sumatra that lived near the forest and Sirukam was one of them,’ Febriandi explains. ‘The first thing KKI Warsi did was conduct a meeting with all the stakeholders and explain the concept of social forestry and the best practices of social forestry in other villages. We had to build an understanding between the community and KKI Warsi, and identify what the priorities for action were. The first thing on the agenda was getting a permit for social forestry from the Ministry of Environment & Forestry, which happened in 2014, and from the province governor in 2016. So, it took five years to get a complete permit. This would not have been possible without the help of KKI Warsi, because the process of getting a permit is extremely complicated and inaccessible.’

Romi Febriandi, Wali of Sirukam

Social forestry in Sirukam

KKI Warsi supported the Sirukam government in creating a village forest management group (VFMG) to manage the forest. The VFMG is under the authority of the village government, and together they manage and protect the forest. The VFMG established four community enterprise groups: coffee, honey, ecotourism and compost. Through agroforestry, coffee and honey can be safely harvested without deforestation. The compost is used for organic rice cultivation, and ecotourism provides jobs for our young people. By introducing these alternative sustainable livelihoods, the need for logging is removed. Through its forest guards, the VFMG also does monitoring and evaluation of the forests, and reports illegal activities to the village government and the district Forest Management Unit.

The impact of social forestry

The social forestry programme is a success, Febriandi says. ‘The awareness of some people in the village regarding the importance of the forest has increased enormously. Before, some of them cut trees without any regard to the ecosystem or its biodiversity and the importance of the forest for our community and for irrigation of their rice fields. Protection of the forest wasn’t on their mind. But through socialisation and meetings about the social forestry programme they have become more aware and sensible about their interactions with the forest.’

‘What has changed is the focus of the VFMG. Before the establishment of the four community enterprise groups, the VFMG focused on forest patrols to track and catch perpetrators of illegal logging, poaching or mining. Now the VFMG is also focusing on reducing the underlying poverty by introducing sustainable livelihoods options and supporting alternative sources of income. So, the approach became more holistic and as a result more effective.’

The future of social forestry in Sirukam

Febriandi hopes that protecting the forest can provide perspective for the young people in Sirukam. ‘More and more, young people are staying here instead of moving to the city and are making a living through the forest. Most of the people in the forest management and enterprise groups are actually young people from the community. This shows how valuable protecting the forest is, maybe even more so for younger generations.’

Febriandi has great aspirations for the village enterprises. ‘In the future, we would like to innovate the activities under social forestry, to create more activities that are beneficial to household economies. Regarding the activities that we are doing currently, I hope to expand them and make them more efficient. This way, social forestry can continue to support our community and future generations of our community.’

Forests for a Just Future programme

IUCN NL contributes to more sustainable and inclusive management of tropical forests that supports climate mitigation and adaptation, human rights, and the livelihoods of local communities. This is done through the Forests for a Just Future programme, together with civil society organisations like KKI Warsi that is working with 35 communities in West Sumatra.

Strengthen the Roots project

With the Strengthen the Roots project, IUCN NL and Wilde Ganzen support small community organisations in Bolivia, Ghana and Indonesia that stand up for nature in and around their communities, enabling them to mobilize local support for their work. In Indonesia we are strengthening the capacity of 11 community based organisations in West Sumatra that are working with KKI Warsi in the context of sustainable forest management.

More information

Evelien van den Broek
Senior Expert Environmental Justice