in Germany, Indonesia

Two contrasting views of the Harapan Rainforest Project, Sumatra, Indonesia

Two contrasting views of the Harapan Rainforest Project, Sumatra, Indonesia“Dieter Hoffmann of Harapan Rainforest knows what a reporter likes to see,” writes Klaus Esterluss of the German TV broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Esterluss visited the Harapan Rainforest Project last year for a report for DW. And what he wanted to see were tiger footprints.

Unfortunately, Hoffmann does not appear to have put DW’s journalist team in touch with the farmers, illegal loggers, land speculators, land rights activists, and indigenous peoples that the project has been in conflict with for the past four years. Instead, DW’s short film is entirely from the perspective of the project proponents. The film makes no mention of the negotiation process that project proponents started in June 2012. Instead the focus is on illegal loggers and Harapan rangers’ and the police’s attempts to arrest them.

Before watching the short video, you should know that Deutsche Welle’s film was sponsored by Germany’s International Climate Initiative (a transcript is below):

In December 2012, around 150 members of SPORC (Satuan Polisi Kehutanan Reaksi Cepat, Forest Police Rapid Response Force), Brimob (Mobile Brigade – an Indonesian National Police special operations unit) and TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, Indonesia’s armed forces) moved in to evict villagers living inside the Harapan project area. A stand-off took place between farmers and officials. Some of the houses were burned.

In January 2013, Dianto Bachriadi of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said,

“There are indications of human rights violations. Some homes were burned, there was loss of property, and bulldozers were used in evictions. As a result, people are experiencing psychological trauma. In any situation, citizens should be guaranteed a quiet life without fear.”

Protecting Sumatra’s biodiversity

Deutsche Welle, posted to YouTube on 28 June 2012

Elva Gemita (protects Sumatran tigers in the Harapan Rainforest): I like being in the forest, in the jungle because it makes me feel free. I like the sounds of the forest, and its peaceful for me. We don’t have much forest left in Sumatra. The wildlife, this is their home, especially for tiger, tiger has become decreased their populations. And this Harapan Rainforest is the hope for them.

Carmen Meyer (Deutsche Welle reporter): What’s home to Elva Gemita is an unusual project for German Dieter Hoffmann, funded by the International Climate Initiative, with his support, they bought this previously logged forest not to continue logging but to restore it to its original condition. 100,000 hectares of rainforest.

Dieter Hoffmann (Harapan Rainforest Project): It’s hard to monitor the area. There are very few roads and in the rainy season, difficult or impossible to drive on. Then, of course, time and again, there’s illegal logging or illegal settlements by people who think the rainforest should be clearcut for palm oil plantations.

Carmen Meyer: Harapan Rainforest does its best to get political support, if necessary from the police, because at present patrolling the area is too dangerous.

The project employs 260 people, 120 of them to drive out on patrols. Barriers on the project’s own roads, put up by illegal settlers. The employers clear the way, despite the threats.

Translator: So what they are saying is, they are here for money, yeah, so don’t disturb them, but don’t follow what the foreign nationals are saying.

Carmen Meyer: Only the local forest police can take serious action, let alone arrest illegal loggers if they are on patrol.

Dieter Hoffmann and the patrol leader of the Harapan Rainforest had their suspicions. Here, everyone’s arrived too late.

Dieter Hoffmann: I mean that’s what the illegal loggers do.

We’ve lost about 25 hundred hectares to illegal logging. That’s an enormous area. And there’s clearly a mafia behind it.

Carmen Meyer: The structures are professional. Valuable tropical trees are being systematically cut down deep in the jungle.

Dieter Hoffmann: They drag them through the forest for kilometres. It’s back-breaking work. They are wrecks by the time they are thirty. Then the masterminds who are waiting at the end of the river with their trucks take the wood and then distribute it all through Indonesia. And the gang-leaders are the ones who make the money.

Carmen Meyer: Right now the mood is especially aggressive. They meet one of their rangers, abducted a few days ago. Two hundred illegal settlers stormed the guard post.

Febrian (Harapan Rainforest Ranger): At first I was very shocked and frightened. They all had knives. They were all very angry. They locked me up in the village.

Elva Gemita: You see that footprint, isn’t that gorgeous? You can just imagine the tiger. What a wonderful the way they walk. Wow.

Carmen Meyer: Elva Gemita has been working hard to protect the rare animals for the past two years. She documents every single sighting.

Elva Gemita: We just saw the tiger footprints walking in front of this cam-trap, so there is a potential that we’ve got the tiger photographed.

Carmen Meyer: It looks like good news. A young female she hasn’t seen for a long time is still alive. She tells us there are only about 250 Sumatran tigers still living in the wild. And that 15 to 20 of them have found refuge in Harapan Rainforest. The tigers and more than 300 bird species are another reason Dieter Hoffmann and everyone here is fighting for every tree.

The project receives €2 million in subsidies a year, but still can’t stop all the destruction.

Dieter Hoffmann: This was one of the best areas in Harapan Rainforest and if this can’t be stopped, where will it end?

Carmen Meyer: Nature and animal protection simply don’t work without support from the local population. The villagers of Sako Suban have lived here peacefully for decades with and from the forest, harvesting rubber, for instance. They ask Hoffmann about jobs and that’s one of the Harapan Rainforest Project’s aims, to integrate local communities. Their own small nursery gives them additional income and supports reforestation.

And this too should help. In the future Dieter Hoffmann and the rangers will be able to see illegal logging from the air and be able to take action sooner.

Dieter Hoffmann: Fantastic! Even an area like this one will at least look like a forest again in ten years.

Carmen Meyer: They’ve reforested 14 hundred hectares so far and they want to make sure Harapan Rainforest continues to provide a habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna.


Leave a Reply

  1. Dear Chris,

    I am delighted that you publicised the wonderful DW film on Harapan Rainforest on your website. This short film was produced in Harapan Rainforest in April 2012 and shows the objectives and importance of the Harapan Rainforest Initiative for threatened wildlife and indigenous people. Whilst such a short film cannot go into all the details, it does provide an insight into the challenges we face.

    The “conflict” that you allege at the end of your article refers to events in December 2012, to which Harapan Rainforest has already responded. At the time of film production, our long-standing efforts to communicate with a section of encroachers had broken down and the Harapan team was already in discussions with government representatives to develop and agree a strategy (see response from ICI programme office of 20 December 2012). Indeed, Mrs Lang visited Harapan Rainforest in February 2012 and provided valuable advice.

    Contrary to your article, the TV crew have indeed met and spoken to groups of local people, the villagers of Sako Suban and Batin Sembilan, as shown in the film. They also heard chainsaws from illegal loggers and saw the devastation that illegal settlement causes both for biodiversity and for the livelihoods of the Batin Sembilan who depend on an intact forest for their survival. Given the increased intimidation of Harapan staff and police by illegal loggers and illegal settlers (including the abduction at knife point of Febrian and others, as shown in the film) we felt it unwise to allow the crew to cross the “boundary” to the conflict zone.

    I find it difficult to understand why you expect me to put a visiting film crew into a potentially dangerous situation. The encroachers and illegal loggers already break the law with impunity, which gives me little confidence that they would respect the safety of visitors to the forest. As they are acting illegally, they are unlikely to be willing to meet me or to be interviewed. Furthermore, you may understand my reluctance to provide a publicity platform for groups who are acting illegally and whose purpose is to wreck Harapan through the planting of oil palm.

    I should point out one inaccuracy in the film: The consortium of Burung Indonesia, the RSPB and BirdLife International didn’t buy this forest. Burung Indonesia, with support from the consortium, worked with the Ministry of Forestry and others to introduce a groundbreaking new type of forest management license for “ecosystem restoration” that prevents the forests on which the Bathin Sembilan and others depend from being cleared for oilpalm or plantations as would have happened otherwise. Harapan Rainforest is the first forest concession under this license, held by a not-for profit company specifically created for this purpose, PT REKI.

    Over the years, particularly when things were difficult, I have often reflected on what would have happened without the Harapan Rainforest Initiative: Asialog would have harvested the most valuable timber until 2011, immigrant farmers and rich speculators would have planted oil palm and by now, the whole forest would have been cleared by one or two large companies and planted with either oil palm or acacia. Another magnificent forest would have quietly disappeared, and with it 20 Sumatran tiger, two of the last remaining herds of elephant in Jambi and countless other endangered and threatened species. Some of the richer immigrant farmers would still be there, but the Batin Sembilan would have lost their homes and livelihoods, some of them would be working as casual labourers, but most would end up displaced. Just another statistic. There wouldn’t have been any mention on REDD Monitor, nor by some of the NGOs who are so keen to promote the deforestation for agriculture. They would have moved to a different project criticising people who try to do the right thing.

    For your information: given the increase in our international work, we have decided to split my department in two, one for global habitats (incl. rainforests), the other for supporting conservation organisations around the world to become strong and independent nature conservation organisations. After much agonising, I have decided to stick with the latter. I am proud that I have contributed in some small way to the conservation of some of the most threatened rainforests, for the wonderful wildlife they support and for the people who depend on their survival. I do hope that those of us who are really concerned about conserving rainforests and their biodiversity and the livelihoods of indigenous people who depend on them will be able to engage and communicate honestly and in a spirit of mutual support and respect.

    Kind regards


    Dr. Dieter A. Hoffmann
    Head of International Country Programmes
    The RSPB