in Indonesia

Response from Harapan Rainforest Project: “The SPI settlement is deep inside Harapan, on a scale large enough to compromise the ecological integrity of the forest”

Response from Harapan

The Harapan Rainforest Project has featured several times on REDD-Monitor. Since COP14 in Poznań, La Via Campesina has criticised the Harapan project because of the impacts of the project on local farmers.

On 27 March 2012, REDD-Monitor interviewed Tejo Pramono of La Via Campesina, and Elisha Kartini of SPI, the Indonesian Farmers Union. The Harapan Rainforest Project was among the issues discussed. Ten days after the interviewed was posted, REDD-Monitor received an email from the Harapan Rainforest Project in response to the interview.

Harapan’s response is posted here in full with photographs (click on the images below for larger versions).*

Date: 5 April 2012 18:30
Subject: SPI interview regarding Harapan Rainforest and REDD+

Harapan Rainforest conserves about 20 per cent of the last Sundaic forest on Sumatra’s dry lowlands, one of the most biodiverse and threatened habitats on Earth. Not only is it unique in its importance for species such as the critically-endangered Sumatran tiger (holding perhaps more than five per cent of the remaining wild population) and other threatened species, but it is home to one of the most marginalised peoples in Indonesia, the Bathin Sembilan.

The Bathin Sembilan have been living in and around Harapan for centuries, depending on it for their survival. They are being squeezed out of existence by oil palm and timber plantations, and by speculators and so-called small farmers who consider the forest has no value and can be destroyed for short-term profit. We believe this is not acceptable. Furthermore, there are millions of hectares of forest under threat from conversion to large scale plantations. The Harapan model gives a viable alternative to conserve these forests and the people, animals and plants that depend on them. We are proud that we can help lead the way.

The attached satellite image sequence for 2011 and the accompanying photographs show that, contrary to the assertions of Tejo and Alisha, the SPI settlement is deep inside Harapan, on a scale large enough to compromise the ecological integrity of the forest, and the ability of the forest-dependent Bathin Sembilan to continue their traditional forest-based livelihood. It makes us wonder how much Tejo and Alisha actually know about what is really going on at Harapan, and whether they are receiving accurate information from their Jambi colleagues.

Landsat images at Harapan also indicate that large-scale forest destruction by encroachers in the northeastern part of Harapan Rainforest took place after 2006. Prior to 2005 there were no settlements in the concession, save for the Bathin Sembilan. About 9,000 ha of forest were partially cleared between 2005-2008 and approximately 4,000ha has been cleared between 2009-2011.

2002 February 2011
June 2011 November 2011

There is also a strong indication of a formal link between large-scale, organised illegal logging as a precursor to settlement by SPI members. By illegal logging we mean felling trees specifically for their commercial sale offsite, rather than small-scale felling for the construction of dwellings on site. Many of the tributaries of the Lalan River within the SPI encroachment area were full of log rafts awaiting the rainy season in the second half of 2011. In one location alone there was 700 cubic metres of timber measured.

Contrary to the claims made by SPI in your interview, surveys in the encroached areas of Harapan between May and December 2011 indicate that less than 8% of encroachers plant rubber, compared to nearly 60% who plant oil palm. Only 12% plant rice, and then for a limited period until the oil palms and rubber trees close canopy. Rice is only planted over a limited area. Satellite images indicate that it covers less than one per cent of cleared areas. Up to a third of cleared lands appear to never be planted most likely because it was cleared to establish a land claim with a view to land speculation.

As few as one in twenty of settlers within Harapan have cleared two hectares or less. More than 60% have cleared 25 hectares or more. It is not possible for plots of that size to be managed by a single person or family– they will need labourers to manage the crops. Some of these larger areas extend up to 300ha. One of them includes an oil palm nursery that itself extended to two hectares.

According to surveys between May and December 2011, settlers who recently arrived from Java and Lampung make up over half the encroachers. Where there is representation from what could be considered “local” ethnic groups – Bathin Sembilan, Melayu Jambi and Melayu Palembang – they make up a low proportion. Surveys indicate 10%, a figure that drops to less than 3% if that is limited to the Bathin Sembilan people considered indigenous to this forest.

Where communities work together with Harapan Rainforest they can feel real benefits. For example, there are four tree nurseries operated by communities local to Harapan. They get training and materials support in establishing the nursery and then collect seeds from the forest to be grown on in the nursery and then sold to the project.

We welcome and support the presence of the Bathin Sembilan communities in Harapan. They can access healthcare and schooling. They also take part in participatory mapping to define their traditional use areas within Harapan, and are supported to get higher prices for the non-timber forest products they collect – honey, rattan and damar Meranti.

There are over 260 employees at Harapan. The vast majority of these staff are from local communities.

Elisha says the letter of January 2012 was the first invitation to sit down and talk. In fact, on June 26 2011, the vice chair of the national SPI Council, Julian Junaidi “Polong” visited Harapan, along with Roni, SPI’s head of research and development. They travelled with Harapan staff to the encroached area. They saw evidence of illegal logging and forest clearance by SPI members. They met Marhadi, a member of an SPI settlement scheme, on the area he had cleared inside Harapan. Marhadi said settlers from various parts of Indonesia are gathered in organised units given divisions of forest to clear. Notes from the discussions with Polong during the visit, and after discussing with Marhadi, show that he believes the encroached areas should be returned to natural forest and settlers removed, for these reasons:

  1. SPI’s vision is of land-reform as part of a formal process together with government, which is not what is happening at Harapan.
  2. SPI’s model of land reform is for farmers to be working with blocks of land of around two hectares per family, with land reform for local people. Again, he saw that this was not the case at Harapan.
  3. Crops should not contravene national legislation. The use of oil palm within Harapan does just that.

So, SPI, at the highest level, has been involved in reviewing this encroachment and was NOT supportive. The invitation to SPI to discuss and make further site visits to see actual field conditions remains open.

The importance of forest for providing environmental services and sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor is widely accepted. At Harapan, a forest that five years ago was intact (though partially degraded) and supporting sustainable livelihoods for the Bathin Sembilan is now being rapidly cleared by SPI settlers planting oil palm for speculation. Contrary to the assertions in the interview, SPI is reducing livelihood options for the indigenous forest communities and removing the social safety net that the forest gives them.

As with every other forest-focussed social development or conservation effort in Indonesia, and across the tropics, Harapan is following developments with REDD+ very seriously, and REDD was considered part of the Harapan business model from early on. If developed and implemented with full environmental and social safeguards, and in a national REDD+ framework that defines equitable income distribution from REDD+, it could provide some of the funds needed to protect important habitat like this, and the livelihoods of those that depend on it. Harapan is NOT a pilot REDD+ project and does not yet have a PDD, but will move towards developing one over the next couple of years. We hope lessons learned will be able to feed into the development of a rigorous REDD+ system for Indonesia that delivers real and measurable climate benefits and equitable benefits for project proponents (to enable them to conserve the forest) and local communities.

* The delay in posting this response was due to a misunderstanding. After receiving the email I wrote to Harapan requesting permission to post the email on REDD-Monitor. Harapan did not reply until 29 April 2012, when Kim Worm Sorensen posted a comment on REDD-Monitor asking why Harapan’s response had not been posted yet and requesting that it be posted in full.

[^^ Back to text]

Leave a Reply

  1. It is at this time vitally important that any form of international support in lieu of Harapan be instigated. The whole philosophy of the intitiative at Harapan and all local community stakeholders must be protected insupperably along with the biodiversity and wildlife values which are incalculable for Sumatra.

  2. Thank you for posting the response from Harapan. This provides balanced information. I have a high expectation from Harapan to show a real conservation effort. Government of Indonesia and environmental NGOs, nationally and locally, should help Harapan to create its success.

  3. Every single part of Harapan Rainforest already was commercially logged under concession licenses, probably beyond industry standards in Indonesia, and many parts subsequently fell prone to illegal timber extraction. The obviously small diameters of recently cut logs as seen on one of the posted images, gives a pretty good idea of the general stature of the surviving stands. Calling this a forest is an insult to the grandeur of primary Sundaic lowland forests. In addition, significant tracts have been reduced to mere scrub by forest fires. There are no significant, if any, surviving stands of primary forest at Harapan Rainforest. At the landscape level, Harapan Rainforest is a forest fragment, completely surrounded by settlements and plantations, and effectively isolated from any other primary forest areas that could reasonably serve as sources of faunal re-invasion and recruitment. A huge amount of scientific literature covering the time lag between deforestation or forest degradation and faunal extinctions, indicates that faunal extinctions most probably cannot be avoided at Harapan Rainforest, even if forests would be allowed to reach full maturity again. So even without the continuous and very significant land clearance that occurs at Harapan Rainforest (apparently affecting 13,000 Ha during 2006-2011), some of the area’s wildlife probably was doomed from the project’s very onset. Given this signifcant and apparently ungovernable land clearance and the associated carbon emission, it is entirely incomprehensible to me that Harapan Rainforest would even openly consider pursuing accreditation under REDD.

  4. The Harapan Project is mentioned in an article written last year by Siti Maimunah, the national coordinator of the Civil Society Forum for Climate Justice:

    In November 2010, security personnel from PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (REKI), a company that is developing a REDD pilot project in Jambi, detained four people from a hamlet in Bungku, Batanghari. One of them, 32-year-old Mohamad Yusuf bin Somad, was seriously beaten. PT REKI’s ‘restoration’ projects extend over some 100,000 hectares of forests degraded by past logging operations. In the same area, farmers from the village of Penerokan insist that PT REKI is destroying their gardens, spawning conflict in the name of REDD.

  5. Unless the forests are valued more as a living and diverse ecological and social system for indigenous local communities then the forests here and across the world will be extirpated.

    This has to be realised sooner rather than later.

  6. It is stated that “there are over 260 employees at Harapan Rainforest”, and that “the vast majority of these staff are from local communities”. It would probably be enlightening to know exactly how many jobs (and at which level), indeed go to the so marginalised Bathin Sembilan people. This would provide a useful insight into the important matter whether Harapan Rainforest truly is enhancing social, economical and political development of the Bathin Sembilan, or merely is rubber-stamping them.

  7. Dewi: Over a third of the forest within Harapan is high quality secondary forest and all the species of the original forest are still there, and it hasviable populations of both the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger and Sumatran elephant. It has undeniably a very high conservation value.

    A narrow focus on the quality of the forest also denies the undeniable importance of this piece of forest for the indigenous Bathin Sembilan people. Without it, there will simply be no other areas where they can continue their traditional, forest-based livelihoods.

    Sadly though, SPI and the illegal loggers are targeting precisely the best forest at Harapan – from a biodiversity and forest livelihoods point of view. Many logs are over a meter in diameter, and in any case log size is an irrelevant measure of biodiversity and local livelihood value.

    It is possibly correct that certain species will become locally extinct at Harapan, but by allowing continued degradation and clearing for illegal oil palm establishment it is a certainty. Work already underway is seeking to create a network of cross-landscape corridors of natural habitat that would connect restoration areas like Hutan Harapan with national parks and other protected areas. This would potentially draw in both community-managed lands and commercial concessions, and would create the habitat connectivity needed to avoid faunal extinctions at a regional level.

    Following decades of commercial logging in Indonesia’s forests (and most other tropical forest countries) “degraded forest” is all there is outside national parks. Any future efforts to protect natural forests for sustainable livelihoods for local people, for biodiversity and even for their carbon value, are going to have to work with forests that are degraded in one way or another. Working with primary or virgin forests is simply not a luxury we have any more. One of Harapan’s primary goals as a long-term programme, is to become a knowledge centre for tropical rainforest restoration. For that reason, it is a site that is typical of the state of the Sumatran forests today – fragmented, degraded and being encroached upon. Another key part of the development of Hutan Harapan was the creation of the Ecosystem Restoration legislation in 2004 which allows production forest to be managed for restoration, rather than continued logging or being cleared for industrial tree or crop plantations. In that way it offers hope for around 30 million hectares of degraded forest in production concessions, currently under threat from reclassification and clearance.

    Hutan Harapan is leading the way in seeking an alternative way to protect Indonesia’s forests for both biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods for indigenous people. As a representative of the Climate and Land Use Alliance said following a visit to Hutan Harapan: “Harapan is too important to fail”.

    And as for the Bathin Sembilan, we worked with many of them especially in education and economic activities such as community nursery activities that involved many households. We would welcome and be very happy to show you how women of this tribe work together on the women only community nursery to add more income for their families. We also buy honey directly from them with reasonable price and help their business thrive by selling honey to the market. By the way, we took 10 families (with total 42 family members) refugees who ran away from a palm oil plantation company after being chased away by the security hired by this company. Some of them are returning to their home in the company’s palm oil concession now after their conflict abated.

    And to Chris: Thanks for this addition to the discussion about Hutan Harapan on REDD Monitor, and the opportunity it gives to clarify the situation with Mohamad Yusup.

    Contrary to the impression given by putting Mohamad’s photo next to this story, his appearance is not due to any alleged violence, at least on the part of Harapan Rainforest staff. His appearance is exactly the same in photographs and video that pre-date the article by more than a year. We do not know why he looks like that.

    Mohamad Yusup did indeed lodge a complaint with Bajubang police in September 2010 about an alleged beating. He said it took place following an incident in which a member of Hutan Harapan’s fire-fighting team was kidnapped while tackling an out-of-contol fire set by encroachers to clear forest for oil palms. The staff member was held overnight by a gang including Mohamad Yusup. Mohamad Yusup went to the police at the instigation of Batanghari Regional Legislative Council (DPRD) member Jhon Kennedy (sic).

    Due to lack of evidence to support the claims of being beaten, the police declined to send a case to the public prosecutor for delegation to the court. One person (not Mohamad Yusup) received a prison sentence for the kidnap of the Hutan Harapan fire-fighter.

    To be fair, the same activists who keep highlighting this issue should take notes that it is our staff who are being chased in our own forest concession and it is our asset that is being burned and leave us with traumatized staffs and hundreds of million rupiahs loss. And those culprits are still out there, expanding their illegal annexation by cutting more trees and threatening our staffs who are guarding our posts deep inside the forest. We wonder why are those activists silent on this matter. To read how much property damage and life threatening actions that have been done to us lately, see Harapan Rainforest’s blog:

    The police also reviewed satellite images dating to 2002 which show that the first 20 ha were cleared in that area (Simpang Koni) in 2005 after which it was abandoned for several years and cleared again in 2009 and 2010. The police visited the site and confirmed that two hectares had been planted with rice, among the oil palms and that it had been harvested, as agreed between Hutan Harapan and the encroachers.. The rest of the area, 110 hectares, was largely planted with oil palm with some rubber or had been left as bare land.

    There were no burned huts and no destroyed gardens. The police were satisfied and requested Hutan Harapan to replant the area with native forest trees.

    -HRF Management-