By Cassie Freund, GPOCP Program Director
Finding steady work and earning enough income to support a family remains a very real challenge to many of the communities living around Gunung Palung. Most adults are under-educated and there are very few employment options for them in the villages. It is no surprise, then, that people turn to environmentally destructive livelihoods, such as illegal logging and harvesting wildlife, to make ends meet. In 2009 GPOCP established our Sustainable Livelihoods Program to address this issue, and for the past six years we have been working closely with communities and local government to help people adopt “forest-friendly” livelihood options, thus reducing their dependence on economic activities that exploit the environment. Our current program consists of three strategies: 1) Supporting our Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) artisan groups; 2) Helping farmers adopt organic methods and increase the efficiency of their existing land; and 3) Teaching community groups to set up aquaculture (fish farming) in their villages.
2015 was a stellar year for our NTFP artisan groups. We started the year with four groups, representing four different buffer zone villages, and ended it with five! The new group, which consists mainly of young people, formed entirely organically and without any impetus from GPOCP. This is an encouraging example of community conservation in action and shows that our methods are replicable. Another success story from 2015 is that of Ibu Vina, a local woman from Sejahtera village and member of the new artisan group. She previously earned income from harvesting rocks and sand from inside of the National Park to sell to construction companies. However, she has now completely stopped that work and dedicates her time to weaving jewelry and tikar mats from readily available forest materials. This year our artisans sold 949 products, earning about $4,000 total, a significant increase from 2014’s sales. They have also been formally recognized as community leaders by the local government, and in March they will sign a formal, public commitment to conserve and protect Gunung Palung National Park.
Our organic farming work remains focused on Pampang Harapan village, where our Bentangor Environmental Education Center is based. The majority of Pampang citizens are farmers, and they traditionally have cleared land inside of the Park. We continue to work with them to show them methods and ways to take advantage of the land they already have. In 2016 we aim to integrate the livelihoods work into our Customary Forest Initiative, and as a trial run we held an organic agriculture training in Padu Banjar village earlier this year, which was a huge hit. Participants learned to make organic compost and pesticides from household materials and kitchen waste, and it was so well received that we have now integrated this into our routine activities. In the coming months we aim to train four more villages on these methods.
Finally, this year we initiated aquaculture/fish farming products in the local villages of Pampang and Tanjung Gunung. Creating fish ponds requires relatively little input, just a few tarps and fish food, and has thus proven a productive livelihood method. Our initial group of five trainees has already completed their first harvest of 100 fish each, and they plan to use the income from that to purchase 200 fry (baby fish), thus continuing the cycle. They have also reported that some of their neighbors are now interested in learning how to start their own fish farming business! We are optimistic that aquaculture will be a popular livelihood activity, and because fish is a staple of the Indonesian diet, there is consistent demand for the product. This is important because in the past with other livelihood options, for example selling NTFP products, finding easily accessible markets has been a challenge.
It was a busy and exciting 2015 for GPOCP’s Sustainable Livelihoods team, and we’re looking forward to seeing what successes this year brings. A huge thank you to all of the donors that have and continue to sponsor this work! By finding forest-friendly livelihood options for local communities, we can protect the wild orangutans of Gunung Palung National Park in 2016 and beyond.