The Forest Scribe

Local Wisdom Only, Not Enough to Conserve Forests

talkshow about conservation of forests and indigenous people.
Jarot Winarno, Sintang District Chief (L), Bandi Apay Janggut, head of Rumah Panjang Dusun Sungai Utik (M) and Kristiana Banang, member of Iban Sungai Utik community (R), discussed conservation and protection of indigenous forest.

Although local wisdom could help ensure the survival and conservation of natural forests, it alone would not suffice unless the local government’s backs it too, at the very least by recognizing indigenous rights to their forest, a talk show organized by UN Development Program, (UNDP) showed.

The Iban Sungai Ukit community in West Kalimantan, is the recipient of the 2019 equator Prize that recognizes outstanding local and indigenous community leadership efforts to reduce poverty, protect nature and strengthen resilience in the face of climate change. Its leader, Bandi, who is also respectfully known in his community as Apay Janggut, is the engine behind these community’s efforts and he said that his community’s efforts still lacked an important supporting factor.

“The problem faced by the Sungsi Utik Iban (Dayak ethnic) community, is that there is no government recognition,” Bandi, who spoke in his dialect, said through a translator, fellow community member, Kristiana Banang told a talk show here organized by the UNDP as part of its SDGs series.

Bandi heads the 216 meter-long traditional Dayak Longhouse, that shelters 81 families or some 270 souls, that stands in the hamlet of Sungai Itik, in the village of Batu Lintang in the Kapuas Hulu District of West Kalimantan.

“We the Iban tribe, gathered everyone in the Ruai (hall). Old and young, men and women, and I asked them how could we save our forest as we must maintain our forests.They answered that they would follow whatever Apay Janggut decided,” Bandi said.

He said that conserving his community’s “Customary Forest,” was important to the community’s livelihood and survival. Since the 1980s, the community has been actively preventing and thwarting efforts to buy their areas by timber, palm oil and mining companies.

“The Forest is our Father, the Land our mother and the River our blood,” Bandi said. His community also derived their sources of livelihood from the forests, mostly non-wood forest products such a food, medicinal plants.

Although the community has been actively conserving their forest of some 10,000 hectares, including 6,000 hectares of conservation forests, for decades, and despites of the fact that the district already had a regional regulation issued in 2018 that recognizes and protect customary indigenous communities, it still has not received a legal recognition for their forest as a customary forest, sometimes also known as indigenous forest.

“We need that for certainty,” he said through Banang at the margin of the talk show referring to the much-needed government recognition of the right for the community to sustainably manage their forest.

With a Customary Forest Recognition, the community can obtain protection from environmental destruction and pollution, manage and utilize the forest according to local wisdom, use local knowledge in making use of genetic resources, use forest products, wood or non-wood and its ecosystem services. If the community sold the wood, they could obtain wood legality documents.

Belinda Arunarwati Margono, Director of Forest Resources Inventory and Monitoring, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, speaking at the same occasion, said that so far, the ministry of environment and forestry has issued 65 legal customary forest recognitions covering a total of 35,150 hectares in Sumatra, Java, Bali, a and Kalimantan.

Under community rules for forest conservation which Bandi said had been agreed by all villagers, trees of only certain dimensions could be felled and each tree felled had to be replaced by planting two seedlings. Felling of tree was only for domestic needs such as for building houses and could not be felled to sell as timber. Each family are also limited to two trees only.

The 6,000-hectare conservation forest where no tree felling was allowed, included the community’s sacred areas, mostly where tombs of ancestors were located. The remaining areas were reserved for the community’s food needs, with the crop cultivation done according to the traditional rotation system.

At the start of their efforts, the Sungai Utik community took the initiative of mapping their own forest to set up clear boundaries. To fund the efforts, each family contributed rice, he said. They split into four groups and invited representatives from neighbouring village to together set the border between their territories, Bandi said.

“So, everything is based on agreements,” Bandi said.

The neighbouring district of Sintang already has a regional regulation issued in 2015 on the recognition and protection of customary communities and institutions.

Sintang District Chief Jarot, Winarno who was also at the talk show, said that religions ordered us to leave specific affairs to the related experts to deal with and added that in the case of forest conservation, the communities living in and of the forests were the experts.

“They live with the belief that the forest is their father, the land is their mother and the water is their blood. They live with the forest, and they also live from the products of the forests,” he said.

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