“People of the forest” or Orang Rimba living in the lowland forest of Sumatra are one of several examples used by Rainforest Foundation Norway to prove that recognizing the rights of forest peoples is the most efficient way to fight deforestation.
In their report “Rights-based rainforest protection: Why securing the rights of forest peoples is the right way to save the forest” Rainforest Foundation Norway tell the story about how the 1,500 Orang Rimbas living in central Jambo in 1998 was threaten by plans to convert the forest into an industrial timber plantation.
Local Indonesian Conservation Community – WARSI (KKI–WARSI) provided documentation on Orang Rimba’s way of life and their dependence on the forest. Thematic maps were made of vegetation cover, hydrology, resource distribution, demography, extent of deforestation, etc. These were then used to inform key decision makers at all levels of government. The media were invited to Bukit Duabelas, and the Orang Rimba became probably the best-known small ethnic minority in all Indonesia.
Projects to secure the rights of the Orang Rimbas, brings them in contact with the surrounding society.
Warsi succeeded and in August 2000 the government cancelled the plantation license and formally established Bukit Duabelas National Park, with around 600 km2 of lowland rainforest. The decree, issued by the Minister of Forestry, stated that the Orang Rimba were entitled to live in the park in accordance with their traditions.
This was the first time in Indonesia that the presence of forest people was formally acknowledged as legitimate within a conservation area. The fact that a national park had been established to protect the forest habitat of an indigenous population stands as an important milestone for the development of human rights-based, sustainable rainforest management in Indonesia.
Solving conflicts and building support
The national park is surrounded by non-indigenous (‘Malay’) villages and transmigration settlements. At the time the park was declared, these populations were heavily involved in illegal logging in and around the park.
A nationwide crack-down on illegal logging in 2005/2006 staggered illegal logging in the national park itself, but did not solve the underlying problem. Several of the outside communities had come to rely heavily on the income from illegal logging.
A big challenge for ensuring the sustainability of Bukit Duabelas has therefore been to secure support for the national park from the surrounding village communities. WARSI has initiated small-scale development projects and facilitated implementation of government development programmes in some communities.
With support from WARSI, some villages have succeeded in having parts of their lands established as ‘hutan desa’ 31, or village forest, which formally secures their access to forest in the buffer-zone and, it is hoped, reduce pressure on the park.
Village communities surrounding the park have organized themselves into a formal association of park stakeholder villages, facilitated by WARSI.
Dialogue between the village communities and the relevant authorities aimed at reaching agreement on the final park boundaries proved to be a complicated process which took almost ten years. Without the facilitation of the community participation in this process, encroachment into the park would have been a major problem. The work with the village communities surrounding the national park has been of key importance in securing the park and the rights of the Orang Rimba.
Requirements for success
Rainforest Foundation Norway points at two vital conditions for the basis from which deforestation can be reduced: Political will to shape and implement the right forest management policies at the national level in rainforest nations, and an obligation from the international community to support these measures.
They argue that efforts of forest protection will never be successful if they ignore the rights and interests of people living in the world’s forests.
“The mainstream approach to forest conservation has been to exclude people living in the forest from decision making, and in many cases expel them from the forest,” says Lars Løvold, manager at Rainforest Foundation Norway, and continues
“By making human rights the cornerstone of forest management strategies, we can achieve both long term protection of forest and secure the livelihood and development needs of some of the worlds’ most vulnerable peoples.”