KETAMBE ECOTOURISM INITIATIVE

Supporting Sumatran communities with the protection of their rainforest ecosystem

KREDI is a grassroots programme to promote the protection of Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) and their rainforest ecosystem, working with communities living next to the Gunung Leuser National Park in the Ketambe region of Sumatra.  We believe that the fate of Sumatra’s forests is largely in the hands of the local people. KREDI aims to support and inspire them to become guardians of the Leuser forests, protecting this invaluable ecosystem whilst also prospering through the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

In the past 25 years, 48% of forests in Sumatra have been lost, with devastating consequences for biodiversity. This project will promote the value of forests amongst the community in Ketambe, next to the Gunung Leuser National Park, by supporting efforts to slow deforestation and restoring degraded land. We will build organic tree nurseries, plant indigenous seedlings to restore damaged habitat within the National Park, and provide training on agroforestry, organic farming, tree nursery management and ecotourism development for local people. By supporting and inspiring the community at Ketambe to become guardians of the Leuser forests, they will become part of a wider network of “conservation villages”, which together reinforce the protection of this invaluable ecosystem whilst also prospering through the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

Encroachment into protected areas in Sumatra has been exacerbated by poor coordination between government and communities, a lack of understanding of the value of ecological services provided by rainforest ecosystems, and limited sustainable livelihood options. This project will use a holistic approach to tackle all of these factors, and address the sense of disempowerment felt by local people regarding the fate of the forests, through direct involvement in grassroots conservation action. The project has social as well as environmental benefits, offering local people a means of supporting their families whilst preserving and restoring the forest.  

In addition to thousands of species of flora and fauna, around four million people living in Sumatra depend on the Leuser forests for vital ecological services. As well as supplying food, fresh water, fuel and natural medicines, the forests are also crucial for soil fertility, flood control, and the prevention of fires and soil erosion. The UN declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity and 2011 the International Year of Forests. This project bridges both themes, catalyzing action to protect critical forest ecosystems by using the orangutan as a flagship species.

The communities of Ketambe have welcomed the opportunity to develop sustainable livelihoods, and our team has been undertaking focus group discussions to enable local people to express their views about the programme, the environment, and their role in its conservation. Informal lectures are also being held by project staff to improve community knowledge about the value of forests. Before we began the project, 14% of villagers surveyed stated that they saw no direct benefits from the park’s continued conservation and 8% stated that the government provided them with no incentives to protect the park, and conversely, no disincentives to encroaching into it.  It also became apparent that a large number of local people didn’t know where the boundaries of the protected area are, so we established a participatory mapping task force to clearly mark the border of the national park.

With support from APE over the next year we will train the community with the skills needed to manage and implement true, sustainable ecotourism, and we will establish tree nurseries to support the restoration of national park forests which have been damaged by illegal encroachment. The KREDI will promote conservation amongst communities living adjacent to areas of high biodiversity, helping them protect and improve their livelihoods and, in the process, safeguard an ecosystem of vital importance in the global fight against climate change.

Reforestation

A field survey was conducted to establish the true scale of encroachment into the national park.  We found that more than 56,000 hectares of protected forests have been damaged through Illegal land clearings and planted gardens.  In addition, ten illegal roads, each approximately 4 km in length, have been found inside the national park, with each large enough to accommodate motorbike and 4WD vehicle travel.  These illegal roads enable increased access to the interior of the park and have inevitably led to increased levels of illegal logging, hunting, and agriculture.

During a multi-stakeholder programme workshop the Deputy Head of Aceh Tenggara Parliament implored the local people to take action to protect their rainforests from further illegal activities. Aceh Tenggara is known to be highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as flash floods, which have destroyed approximately 1,500 hectares of local agricultural lands in the past, and are linked to illegal encroachment and deforestation.

Local government and local community members decided that Ketambe should become a pilot forest restoration site for Aceh province, and together we reviewed current drivers of deforestation, and explored new initiatives that could reverse the damage already done.  The heads of Ketambe and Aunan villages have both committed to donating the use of their own private land for tree nursery centres to support the forest restoration work, of which construction has already begun.

Ecotourism development

The groundwork for the development of ecotourism in the Ketambe area has been going well. We have undertaken interviews with tourism guides, the guide association, the heads of Ketambe village, and the district Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in order to ascertain the current status of ecotourism initiatives, and discuss future plans for the growth and development of this industry. There has been a drastic decline in visitors to the area since civil conflict between the Aceh province and the national government broke out in 1997.  Although the conflict was formally settled in 2004, there are still only around 20-30 international tourists to the area per month, around 10 times fewer than before the conflict. Activities currently offered to tourists are limited to rafting in the Alas river and trekking in the national park, often in search the area’s famed orangutan population.  With the rich cultural heritage of the Gayo and Alas people, we feel there is potential for increasing the range of tourism opportunities and attractions.  For example, visitors seeking a cultural experience could attend the unique Saman, an annual two-day cultural event of the Gayo people, consisting of traditional dances and ceremonies.  

The Orangutan Information Centre conducts community-led conservation in Sumatra. We promote forest restoration and conservation amongst communities living adjacent to areas of high biodiversity. This helps such communities protect and improve their livelihoods and environment and, in the process, safeguards ecosystems of vital importance in the global fight against climate change. Support from APE will help us to empower the people of Sumatra to become guardians of the forests, and continue our work on the frontline of conservation in Sumatra. This project will benefit not only the endemic wildlife and local people, but also the global community.

Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founding Director, Orangutan Information Centre

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