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Questions for the Harapan Rainforest Project: Land conflicts, deforestation, funding, and the proposed construction of a coal transportation road

The Harapan Rainforest Project covers an area of 100,000 hectares of lowland forest in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces, Indonesia. That’s about one-fifth of the lowland rainforest remaining in Sumatra. The forest was a state-run logging concession and was logged intensively in the past, but since 2008 it has been managed by Resotrasi Ekosistem Indonesia (PT Reki), as an ecosystem restoration project.

The Harapan Rainforest Project is run by three organisations: Burung Indonesia, BirdLife International, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There’s little doubt that without the conservation project, the forest would have been destroyed. It is an island of forest, surrounded by oil palm plantations.

The forest provides habitat for 1,350 species, 133 of which are threatened globally, including the Sumatran tiger and the Sumatran elephant.

While the project is not a REDD project, a recent press release from the Harapan Rainforest Project states that,

Hutan Harapan also plays an important role as a carbon sink, vital in the climate change agenda, helping Indonesia meet global commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

Land conflicts

The project has been plagued by land conflicts and illegal logging, which the project has been unable to resolve.

Large areas of the forest have been converted to oil palm plantations. The project used to run a blog (now deleted), that reported in 2012 that 17,000 hectares of forest had been cleared.

In February 2019, Mongabay Indonesia reported from Harapan, and included this photograph, taken by Elviza Diana, of oil palm plantations inside the Harapan Rainforest Project area, stretching as far as the eye can see:

In a November 2018 press release, the director of the Harapan Rainforest Project, Lisman Sumardjani, commented that,

“The challenges to the ecological integrity of Hutan Harapan are numerous: forest clearing for oil palm, encroachment, illegal logging and hunting. These challenges are the same as those faced by other important forest areas in Sumatra including several formally protected areas. In a region with great pressure on the environment, our efforts at Hutan Harapan have slowed down the rate of deforestation while simultaneously instituting measures to further protect and enhance the forest ecosystem’s high biodiversity value.”

End of funding?

Harapan’s press release was a response to another article on Mongabay titled, “End of funding dims hopes for a Sumatran forest targeted by palm oil growers”.

Mongabay reported that since 2011, the Danish government had provided US$12.7 million for the Harapan Rainforest Project. But the Danish government funding would run out at the end of 2018.

Rasmus Abildgaard Kristensen, the Danish ambassador to Indonesia, explained to Mongabay that,

“This has to do with the general slowly phasing out [of] Danish development assistance to Indonesia. The traditional development assistance is unfortunately being slowly being phased out, as many other countries are doing. Of course, Indonesia is becoming wealthier and you’re developing. And so at some point in time, [the end of financial assistance] will have to come.”

Kirstensen said no new donors had been found.

In response, in its press release, the Harapan Rainforest Project wrote that,

We have been preparing for the end of funding from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) for some time. Other funding lines are in place and there has been active and sustained engagement with other donors to ensure a smooth transition in funding support. The future funding model is based on a variety of funding streams and the Partnershipis working with key stakeholdersto ensure that Hutan Harapan will continue to be the flagship of ecosystem restoration in Indonesia.

Mongabay also reported on a clash between the indigenous Betin Sembilan who lived in the forest before it became an ecosystem restoration area, and encroachers:

Clashes have broken out between the Batin Sembilan and those they consider encroachers. The most recent incident was on Oct. 15, and involved a group of suspected illegal loggers from the Sungai Bahar settlement armed with bladed weapons.

REKI spokesman Jhoni Rizal says the Sungai Bahar group are known encroachers who have repeatedly been warned and kicked out of the Harapan rainforest. “But they fought back and thus a clash was inevitable that ended up in a brawl,” he said as quoted by local media.

The fight prompted a backlash from the Sungai Bahar residents, hundreds of whom stormed into REKI’s facility, accusing company employees of instigating the clash.

Road to transport coal

The Harapan Rainforest is also threatened by the proposed construction of a road to transport coal. The road is marked red in the satellite image below (from a 31 May 2013 post on the Harapan Rainforest Project blog):

The road would connect a group of large coal mines in South Sumatra to the Bayung Lencir River in Jambi province. The road was first proposed in 2013 by a company called PT Musi Mitra Jaya. The Forestry Ministry turned down that proposal, but the road project was revived in 2017, when another proposal was submitted to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The company behind the latest proposal, PT Marga Bara Jaya, did not reply to recent requests for more information from Tempo.

The road would be a disaster for the Harapan Rainforest. Apart from the deforestation to make way for the road and the disruption and noise caused by the construction, and subsequently the coal trucks, the road would give access to poachers and encroachers.

The Coalition of Civil Society of South Sumatra and Jambi, which includes 36 organisations, rejects the proposed road.

Dicky Kumiawan of KKI Warsi, one of the organisation in the Coalition, commented,

“The concession area is of high biodiversity value and high conservation value due to the presence of the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, Tapir and Sun Bear. Therefore, we reject a mining road cutting across the region.”

The proposal to bulldoze through one of the few remaining areas of lowland rainforest in Sumatra to make way for a road to transport coal is a reflection of the Indonesian government’s failure both to protect the country’s forests and to address climate change.

Questions for the Harapan Rainforest Project

In January 2019, I sent the following questions to Joni Rizal, Communication Manager at Harapan Rainforest Project, and asked for an on the record response. REDD-Monitor looks forward to posting his response when it arrives:

  1. I note that Harapan’s press release in response to the Mongabay article states that, “Other funding lines are in place and there has been active and sustained engagement with other donors to ensure a smooth transition in funding support.” Who are the current funders of the Hutan Harapan project?
  2. Please comment on the 50-square-kilometre oil palm plantation and Islamic boarding school proposed for the eastern part of the Harapan forest, mentioned in the Mongabay article. Are these plans going ahead?
  3. What is the current situation with encroachers in the Harapan forest? Is the Ministry of Forestry taking any action against business people who are encouraging encroachment to establish oil palm plantations?
  4. Could you please describe briefly what happened in October 2018, with the Sungai Bahar group. You were quoted in the local media as saying that “they fought back and thus a clash was inevitable that ended up in a brawl”. What happened exactly and has the situation now been resolved?
  5. What is the latest news on the proposed road to transport coal through the Harapan forest? I know this was an issue six years ago, and that a road was again in mentioned the Harapan newsletter in January 2018.


PHOTO Credit: Burung Indonesia.

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  1. Away back, when the RSPB became justifiably excited about being a main participant in the HARAPAN PROJECT IN SUMATRA, I, being an enthusiastic member and donor, began making monthly contributions to their work. However, as time went on, and the mad rush to strip the world’s rainforests to create palm oil plantations, went out of control, I stopped my support. I gather that the initial enthusiasm by the excellent RSPB workers, began to wane. I now support the SOS Orangutan Sumatra organisation’s work to buy back failed palm oil plantations, and let the forest grow back, to give these Great Apes some place to feel safe. I also donate to various rainforest conservation organisations operating to save areas of high biodiversity, and wildlife transit corridors. There us even a new group formed to save the world’s Swallowtail and Birdwing butterflies, which are under threat due to original forest being replace by palm oil, or just plain human vandalism, destroying habitats with fire or dumping waste. What we have to realise is that there are people in Indonesia, China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma or wherever in Asia, experiencing horror over the juggernaut of forest destruction and the fabulous wildlife dependent upon it. It is with great courage they campaign, as the perpetrators of this inane destruction, have no scruples about having the opposition eradicated by hired thugs, the military or even the police.

    Can we trust our own politicians, companies, investment funds managers or whatever has big influence, in adopting a more ethical stance that would prevent further destruction of the world’s natural environment? In the UK, we have the valiant efforts of Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, wildlife trusts, RSPB, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Size of Wales, Woodland Trust and a host of wildlife and animal welfare groups, fighting to save our UK natural environment. In Scotland, we have a badly managed environment due to various factors, one being one of our two Environment Ministers blocking any progressive conservation or animal welfare move, found to be affecting the entrenched status quo of centuries duration, with regard to land use. We need a new attitude to prevail, or a new breed of politician that fully comprehends the impending situation, and a need for a relevant education programme in our schools on sustainable living. We need for everyone with a garden or piece of land to adapt it for growing food and keeping parts for wild plants that can sustain native insects and bird life. The old regime has to go, and along with it, its abuse of using a large part of upland Britain for shooting purposes. Such cynicism has to go world wide, and the Earth allowed to be in the hands of those who will treasure it, and we can become stewards of it again.