Logging, poaching and plantation agriculture are tearing at the green heart of Indonesia’s tropical archipelago. Even inside National Parks, where virgin rainforest should flourish, wild are animals are wrenched into the illegal pet trade. Faced with higher living costs for education, motorbikes and electricity, local and indigenous people who live in some of Indonesia’s last wildernesses are increasingly forced to cut, traffic and sell their natural wealth.
The problem is that when children grow up watching this, they begin to accept it as the norm.
Reckless logging on a hillside, inside the Kerinci Seblat National Park.
A slow loris saved from the illegal pet trade.
Due to these issues, we are here to make people care, and to learn to protect their environment, through education-based conservation in mega biodiversity hotspots. Education is an often undervalued approach to conservation, because it provides few immediate and concrete successes. However, as Pungky told mongabay.com in an article back in January 2017, “If the local society is not educated, we can give any amount of money to save a rainforest, and conservation won’t go anywhere. Conservation and education must go hand-in-hand.”
As simple as it may appear, educating school children can be one of the cheapest and most sustainable ways to mobilise whole communities into the protection of the natural world.
Building on the work done with Pungky’s previous NGO Animals Indonesia, our education programme is broken down into six core topics: Tropical Rainforest Ecosystem Function, River Ecosystem Function, Plant and Animal Function and their relationship with all living things, Endangered and Protected Species in Sumatra, Human-Wildlife Conflict and its solutions, as well as how we can care for the environment and Avoid Natural Disasters. We use the two methods of Indoor and Outdoor Education in order to give the children a balanced and comprehensive perspective, and to avoid feelings of boredom associated with monotonous classroom learning.
Conducting an outdoor class with indigenous children in the Kerinci Seblat National Park border zone.
Before we can begin our programme, we will always give a pre-test in order to assess the depth of students’ knowledge about the environment. We also give a test at the end of each topic to assess how well they understand the core concepts we have been teaching. When the programme finishes we will then give a post-test with the same questions as the pre-test, and compare the development of each child.
As mentioned previously, education is a long process and has many parameters at play. However, we often receive stories from students about how they removed a snake that slithered into their home by using a broom rather than killing it, or they released an animal captured on their family plantation, or that they have stopped killing small animals for fun. (Read more success stories here.)
We are currently active in two locations: the Kerinci Seblat National Park border zone (one school, located inside the park itself), and the Gumai Tebing Tinggi Nature Reserve (five schools). From January 2018 until June 2018 Pungky will alternate between the two areas, spending three weeks in Gumai and one week in the Kerinci Seblat National Park.
A map of the Gumai Tebing Tinggi Nature Reserve, near Palembang in South Sumatra.
Our programme is supported by the Biodiversity and Conservation Agency of South Sumatra, who help with our Flora Conservation Act and also granted Pungky with a permit for the education programme. Pungky is protected by law and registered as a Local Conservationist in the province of South Sumatra. In every village where we work, we have received permission for the Village Chief and also the local heads of schools. Pungky has also been named as an ambassador by Australian NGO WildArk Conservation Australia. You can read their interview with him here.
Our intended impacts are twofold:
- Ecological Impact: We hope to decrease deforestation and poaching activities inside of protected areas, allowing the land to recover and flourish. By educating local children about the importance of these last remaining rainforests as water-sponges, sources of food, and shields against natural disasters, we hope that this will happen as soon as possible. We hope to eventually to engage the whole village in reforestation activities once relationships are built up and support secured.
- Social Impact: Certain people’s livelihoods currently depend on the logging and cultivation of protected forests. Conservation cannot happen without benefitting such stake holders. We hope that our education programme will encourage local people to engage in work that does not threaten some of region’s last rainforests, and we hope to aid them in sourcing alternative livelihoods.
Alongside our current education programme, our plans for the next five years areas follows:
- Create a fixed syllabus that can easily be adopted by the education authorities across the province of South Sumatra, and encourage its adoption in all schools under its jurisdiction. Ideally, we will also begin training primary school teachers about environmental education.
- In collaboration with the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Agency of South Sumatra, we hope to establish a pilot reforestation project. This will begin in March 2018, and 300 hectares of degraded land inside the Gumai Tebing Tinggi Nature Reserve are earmarked for restoration.
- Encourage local villagers to plant native hard wood and native fruit trees (rattan, rose wood, jackfruit, sugar palm, betel nut, durian, and more) that can bring economic benefit through sustainable cultivation. This will allow the ecosystem function of border zones to flourish, and local people may reap these benefits whilst also gaining an income.
- Create an opportunity for eco-tourism in protected areas, which will both support local economies and—therefore—long-term conservation. We will work in cooperation with Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Agency of South Sumatra to train local people to become effective guides, and allow them to take tourists inside protected forests.
- Secure long-term support and funding for our Education Programme, our Mobile Library Project and our Flora Conservation Act, as well as for reforestation initiatives, livelihoods initiatives, and for local forest rangers who do not get enough resources for their vital work.
Finally, why did we set this up? It is not easy to work in conservation in Indonesia. When working for his previous NGO in South Sumatra, Pungky was paid an average of $192 a month, which wasn’t enough for his food, accommodation, equipment, travel, and family emergency expenses. After the programme ended, Pungky decided to establish his own project building on previous knowledge and successes. With help from environmental journalist Joshua James Parfitt, The Jungle Library Project started a fundraising campaign in late 2017, which will see the programme through for the first six months of 2018.
We are standing and fighting for nature, and it is all thanks to the support of so many people from around the world—be they friends, families, colleagues or the government.