Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
As one of the largest national parks in the world, Mount Leuser National Park is a conglomeration of several smaller nature reserves and forests covering 1,094,692 hectares of land. This land is serving the ecosystem for at least 4 million people residing by and nearby the national park. The park conserves a variety of habitats, including mountainous terrain, swamps, beach forests, lowland rainforest and alpine forest. The variety allows for enormous biodiversity within the park. There are nearly 8,500 plant species and 700 animal species residing in the park, including the critically endangered two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros and the Sumatran orangutan. Like many other national parks, its habitats are threatened by human activities. One of the biggest threats to this particular national park is deforestation, which occurs to make way for agriculture and plantations, the main crops being palm oil and rubber trees. Moreover, there is a lack of understanding of the national park’s policies. Increasing the importance of mitigating these issues is the fact that the Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the last refuges for the Sumatran Orangutan. There are only an estimated less than 7,000 members of this species left in the wild. Some efforts to reduce forest encroachment have been put forward by relevant government agencies since the 1990s. The Indonesian government has allocated US $ 2.5 million to manage the park, but sadly there is little evidence of this impact on the ground. The problems remain unresolved, as many programs were not designed in a holistic way and disregard local communities in the forest management.
When actions have been taken to address the park management problems, it is often only done through a silo approach. Organizations focus either on a particular species without consideration for the people in and around the area, or on particular geographies within the national park, an approach that is favored by most donors. For example, an organization that is working only on Orangutan survival will focus on “rescuing” the Orangutans they found in the villages and taking them to a rehabilitation center that they built. There are many similar activities run by different local citizen sector organizations; however, they are spread across various buffer zone areas, leading to mismatched priorities and an unintegrated approach.
The most serious and most short-sighted consequence of this deforestation problem is the loss of biodiversity as the destruction of tropical forests means the extinction of thousands of species and varieties of plants and animals, many of which have never been catalogued scientifically. The disappearance of the forest is also eroding biodiversity, a precious resource that also serves to sustain the livelihood for many forms of living things. People in small villages surrounding Gunung Leuser National Park often have no alternative livelihood options other than logging (both legal and illegal), poaching, or taking a job on an agricultural plantation. This, in combination with unclear boundaries and terms of public land use, has further exacerbated the problems of deforestation and poverty in Indonesia, even within protected areas such as the Gunung Leuser National Park. Disempowerment of the local community in forest protection and management has contributed to the shrinking forest and biodiversity. Since the local community has been disregarded as decision makers and are often seen as intruders, they do not have a sense of ownership towards protecting the forest.
Sumatran orangutans and other wild animals living in the national park are critically endangered due to ongoing deforestation and degradation of their rainforest habitats. As the rainforest is increasingly converted for cultivation, the frequency of human-wildlife conflict, such as crop raiding, increases. The animals utilize the crops as food resources in communities adjacent to the national park. The traditional park management has failed to address this issue because they only focus on the flora and fauna of the park, not the people living around the area. The business sector has made the conditions even worse. Local palm oil entrepreneurs are trying to make incursions into the park, illegal logging has continued to happen, and trade in exotic animals has increased, threatening not only the wild animals of the park, but also the livelihood of the people living around it.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
While others have focused on creating a silo approach, Panut has been creating broad based partnerships that compliments and builds on limited capabilities of the local park authority. Using a people-centered approach, Panut has shifted park management practices. His partnership with the Mount Leuser National Park on forest restoration inside the park, which is run and managed in coordination with the local community, has become a positive precedence for other park management authorities and civil society organizations to improve their own national park management. With his model, Panut is working with the Ministry of Agriculture on how to upgrade the performance of national parks in Sumatera. In spreading the model, he developed partnerships with citizen base organizations in Malaysia and Thailand for them to be able to build broad base partnerships with the national park authorities.
From Panut’s experience as a researcher in the national park, he realizes that drawing in and creating dynamic opportunities in what is known as “the buffer zone area” for the local people is important. Panut is promoting public awareness to halt deforestation through grassroots educational programs and by empowering local communities living near the last remaining orangutan habitat to work towards a more sustainable future for the forests. He has embarked on bespoke training to build the capacity of local communities to encourage the community to act on behalf of their environment.
Panut has developed early detection systems for resolving conflict before its negative effects can be felt in the national park. For example, he has trained 150 Moslem preachers to use Quranic verses supporting conservation during their religious teachings. Through environmental curriculum development, Panut has partnered with over 300 schools, reaching out to more than 15,000 students and engaging them in conservation camps run by the schools. He has also started joint community ranger and park ranger patrols to secure the vast lands of the national park. With other organizations in North Sumatra, he has set up new regulations on mitigation of human-wildlife conflict. By creating this holistic approach, Panut’s organization (The Orangutan Information Centre -OIC), has gained trust from the Ministry of Forestry, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and local government to work with the communities living by the park.