Talang Mamak, Groups Win Forest Protection in Sumatra

September 2003

Local communities and organizations in Sumatra recently won a major victory with the cancellation of logging plans in the northwest of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, home to one of the largest areas of remaining lowland forest on the Indonesian island.

The cancellation by the district chief who had already issued tentative permits to private companies capped a six-month effort led by a local foundation with support from CEPF to help the Talang Mamak and other traditional forest-dwelling communities organize against the logging.

"CEPF support provided us with a critical opportunity to act before it was too late," said Mangara Silalahi of the Alam Sumatera Foundation.

The success is an example of how CEPF's strategic approach to build the capacity of civil society at the local level in Sumatra can be a powerful catalyst for conservation that benefits both people and nature.

Bukit Tigapulah National Park is one of Sumatra's prime tiger landscapes. A mountainous plateau stretching across more than 100,000 hectares, the Bukit Tigapuluh ("The Thirty Hills") and its surrounding areas also provide important benefits to the Talang Mamak and other local communities. Known as a hinterland tribe, the Talang Mamak number only about 6,000 and depend on the natural resources found in the park in Riau's Indragiri Hulu regency.

Recent months had seen tentative licenses issued to the companies for logging and timber plantation development of 22,450 hectares in an area that is part of the remaining lowland rain forest that connects Bukit Tigapuluh with the protected forests of Bukit Sosa and Bukit Betabuh. Protected species in this area include Sumatran tiger, tapir and Asian elephant. The targeted area is also located within the forests of the Talang Mamak community, which had not been consulted.

Following a request for assistance by Talang Mamak community leader Patih Laman, CEPF helped bring together the Alam Sumatera Foundation—a nongovernmental organization (NGO) set up jointly by WWF-Indonesia and the Conservation Information Forum (WARSI)—and the community leader in a project to build awareness of the situation and advocate for the permits' cancellation.

The Foundation helped provide the community with an understanding of industrial timber plantations and their impact by arranging study visits for the Talang Mamak and Malay communities to the Sakai tribal areas, where large-scale industrial timber operations are already well established. The result was a joint declaration by the Sakai people and the communities rejecting large-scale timber plantations in their traditional territories.

The project team then facilitated discussions to raise awareness among groups in the Talang Mamak's village about impacts of timber plantations. As part of this effort, the team showed a video recording of the visit to the Sakai areas.

Talang Mamak representatives subsequently attended a special hearing on the plans at the Indragiri Hulu district chief’s office and rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment. Talang Mamak and Malay community representatives, in cooperation with the Alam Sumatera Foundation and support from the local Sialang Foundation, went on to lobby government officials, environmental impact assessment team members and influential individuals at district and provincial levels.

Their efforts, helped by the participation of an NGO network in provincial hearings, gained significant media coverage at both provincial and national levels. Visits set up for the media to the Talang Mamak community received further coverage and helped spread support for the cancellation.

Following these activities, the district chief publicly declared a commitment to cancel the permits and later actually did so. He also suspended operations of an oil palm plantation company reportedly encroaching on Talang Mamak lands and declared that permits of other companies with land development plans affecting the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park buffer zone would be reviewed. He has since cancelled two other tentative permits to log 26,500 hectares.

Throughout the project, the Foundation worked closely with Patih Laman, the leader of the Talang Mamak who has since been awarded the KALPATARU Yearly Environment Award for Environmental Leaders in Indonesia by President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The project is a powerful demonstration of how local communities, working together with local NGOs, can wield enormous influence.

The Foundation is now helping to promote the right of the Talang Mamak to participate fully in managing their forests and lands. It recognizes that one important victory against sustainable logging means only a battle has been won, not the war.

"Our next step as part of a consortium of NGOs will be to enlist community support to protect the forest on very steep hills surrounding Bukit Tigapuluh National Park from destruction through logging by including these areas in the park," Silalahi said. "We hope eventually to combine this with acquisition of an adjacent concession, which also covers part of the Talang Mamak forest, to be managed for multiple uses that cover community needs as well as the needs of elephant for a sanctuary."

Indonesia is at the epicenter of the global deforestation crisis. It lost some 20 million hectares of forest from approximately 1985 to 1997. Since then, experts believe another 5 million hectares or more may have been lost, with rampant logging occurring even in protected areas.

The establishment of district autonomy and the economic crisis in the country have increased forest destruction because district governments are able to issue logging licenses to companies with reference to the urgent need to raise local revenues. In Indragiri Hulu district, at least two other companies still have preliminary licenses for logging or clear felling for timber plantation development.

"This advocacy work was made possible due to strong partnerships between NGOs and community leaders," said Sari Surjadi, CEPF grant manager in Sumatra. "We are pleased to see the government recognize this partnership, fully support this initiative and actually act to cancel these concessions. We hope to see this type of action in other areas of Sumatra to save the remaining forests.