• 08/11/23

The Long Way to Embrace Loggers on Pulau Hanaut

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Recently, three chainsaws were handed over to the RMU team by three villagers in the Pulau Hanaut sub-district. This may seem a simple act, but it is actually an extraordinary one, as it marks an important moment for both parties. It reiterates the owner's commitment to stop the illegal logging/cutting down of trees and switch to other occupations that are harmless to nature.

Eradicating illegal logging by villagers around the Katingan Mentaya project ecosystem restoration area is not easy. Many of these loggers/illegal loggers inherited their occupations from their parents, an occupation that has been passed down for generations. Most of them do so solely to meet household needs, with earnings that are generally disproportionate to the risks they face and the time they spend traveling in and out of the forest. Even though they are aware of the lurking risks, including having to deal with the authorities if they get caught, it is not easy to ask them to do something else. One of the reasons is that they think there is no other job that they are able to do which generates the money they require for household needs as quickly.

One of the main tasks of the RMU team in the field is to stop illegal logging practices, and this requires a comprehensive strategy and the right approach. The Deputy Head of the Pulau Hanaut Zone, Donnal Setiawan, shared with the editorial staff of Kisah KaTaNya what they have been doing to deal with the issue of illegal logging in their area. Here's a snippet:

How big is the illegal logging problem on Pulau Hanaut?

The practice of illegal logging carried out by villagers is a problem RMU has faced since its establishment, not only in Pulau Hanaut but in all of its working areas. In Pulau Hanaut, as well as in other zones, there are villages where the entire population works as illegal loggers and has been doing so for decades across generations. They sold the wood they cut down in order to meet household needs. Some of them also work as farmers, while others are 100% dependent on logging.

Some of these loggers actually know that their activities are prohibited by the government. However, they still do it because they need the money, and they think that there is no other job that they can do that can make the money they require meet household needs as quickly.

Up to now, we have identified around 50 residents on Pulau Hanaut who work as loggers. We are taking an individual and continuous approach to them, with the aim that they will stop logging and switch to other professions that can provide a more sustainable income. Some of them have already changed their occupation and are committed to not undertake logging any longer.

 

What is the strategy for approaching loggers on Pulau Hanaut?

Dealing with the problem of illegal logging requires a holistic and integrated approach; it cannot be a partial act. There are three aspects in our strategy: area protection, social, and assistance. Satiruk Village is one of the areas where these three aspects are carried out thoroughly as part of our intervention.

In the aspect of area protection, we carry out regular monitoring in the forest to identify logging activities. We have also succeeded in cutting off the transportation routes of logging products. To transport wood, residents use waterways through special canals known as tatah in the local language. Tatah is owned by one of the villagers, a well-known former logger. Gradually, our staff made an approach to him to open up his insights about the negative impacts of logging activities in terms of the legal risks and forest sustainability. The patience of our staff is paying off. The resident agreed to our proposal to close his tatah. As an alternative income, we facilitated the resident to start a family business in the form of a barbershop, in line with the capabilities of the residents' sons. The business turned out to be quite successful because there were no other barbershops in the village.

On the social aspect, we conduct data collection and profiling of loggers, including their income prior to program intervention, identify potential alternative businesses/occupations for each logger according to their profile, and identify the capital they need to start their business. This process is crucial and requires patience. In the beginning, the residents would generally be suspicious because they saw us as a threat that would take away their livelihoods. Our staff had to take a personal approach and build good relationships with them, but this cannot be done in a hurry. This kind of approach can take years before trust is finally built. Over time, we slowly remind them that logging is an illegal and high-risk activity and will also take away the future of the forest, which is their home and source of life for their children and grandchildren. Then we discuss the business alternatives that they could do and the steps that need to be taken to make it happen. Our capital assistance is non-cash – it can be in the form of seeds or goods for production - and we require residents to contribute at least 50% of the total capital needed to ensure their commitment.

After residents leave their old profession and start a new business, we arrive at the mentoring stage. This is also crucial. We never guarantee that their new venture will be an immediate success, but we do promise that we will provide assistance. This is important because starting a new business is not easy, and help will be needed. We don't want residents who have agreed to leave the logger profession to eventually return to logging because they feel their efforts are fruitless. With continuous assistance, this risk can be minimized.

By implementing these three aspects, as we did in the Satiruk Village, we have succeeded in supporting loggers to switch occupations and survive. Some have turned into coconut sugar producers, chicken breeders, and artisans, while some have started farming with the concept of no burning and no chemicals.

 

Farming or animal husbandry is an occupation with a non-instant income. How can they survive while waiting for their efforts to bear fruit?

As a transition, after they stop logging, they are generally involved in the Fire Preparedness Team – a community-based land and forest fires anticipation and handling group formed by the RMU and the residents. Thus, we hope that they will still be able to meet the needs of their families until their new business bear’s fruit.

 

What was the biggest challenge the RMU team faced in addressing this issue?

Building trust is the most important thing. We cannot come to the community and immediately ask them to stop logging. Only after that trust has been established can we begin to discuss an alternative future.

Another challenge is ensuring these new businesses can run and produce better results. We cannot deny that there were former loggers who eventually return to cutting the forest again because they felt that their new business was not successful. This is where the challenge lies. How we can identify businesses that really fit the profile of every resident, ensure their commitment, and provide assistance until the business can run independently? From each case, there is something we can learn for future improvements.

The road to embracing illegal loggers is a long, winding road and requires approaches, there are no shortcuts, and it must be lived with dedication and heart. I am very proud and appreciate the commitment of the Pulau Hanaut zone team in this regard.

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