Masarang Foundation

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Masarang Foundation

Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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In Indonesia, deforestation to feed the destructive oil palm industry has caused severe droughts and devastating fires resulting in the near extinction of local plant and animal life. Dr. Willie Smits is protecting orangutans and their natural habitat through one of the most ambitious reforestation experiments to date: rebuilding a rainforest in Borneo. With his innovation of the "green village box", sustainable sugar palm farming employs the local farmers on rebuilt land, and in turn they guard the forest. To address community and government corruption that threaten his efforts, Smits has begun the work of increasing global awareness and changing both local and international policies.

About Project

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To rebuild orangutan populations, Dr. Smits believes it is crucial to both rebuild their forest habitat, as well as address the social causes of deforestation and orangutan habitat loss by empowering local workers to find alternatives to harvesting forests. Dr. Smits started his efforts with a team of 100 local workers to restore the Samboja Lestari which had been completely devastated by clear cutting. Covering approximately 5,000 acres in Borneo, this healthy man-made rainforest – a first of its kind – is now home to the hundreds of rehabilitated orangutans. In rebuilding these forests, Dr. Smits attempted to recreate the extreme complexity of nature, impacting even the local microclimate. To grow, protect, and preserve the forest land itself, his solution is simple: he offers local migrants free land to plant crops in the forest. In return for both the land and farming income, the villagers must protect the rainforest and the animals that live there. By improving around 3,000 villagers' quality of life and building trust throughout the community, Dr. Smits has provided powerful incentives for both long-term ecological and economic restoration. Key to his model's success is the use of newly developed and sustained rainforest as a new source for fresh water, by both increasing and retaining more rainfall in the area. This is not only improved the protection from forest fires but also a increased the supply of clean drinking water to more than 30,000 people in surrounding cities. Dr. Smits has also created a water supply company with the local government to improve access to clean drinking water, with the profits being used exclusively to sustain the Samboja Lestari rainforest. Dr. Smits' Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation has not only saved hundreds of homeless and mistreated orangutans, it has also provided them a new long-term habitat in the wild. His palm sugar factory has been pledged by the government to be a national project and will be replicated in eight provinces in Indonesia. By providing alternatives and proper incentives for the local community – through the extensive efforts of his Masarang Foundation – he has also achieved both economic and political legitimacy, and has established a model for restoring forest habitats worldwide.