New Zealand Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

New Zealand helps rural Indonesians and protects one of the world’s largest tropical rainforests

Farming on abandoned and degraded land is helping improve the livelihoods of local communities

New Zealand development aid is helping improve the lives of thousands of Indonesians living in Aceh at the same time as protecting the ecosystem of one of the largest tropical rainforests left in the world. Known as the Leuser Ecosystem, the rainforest is home to many endangered species including tigers and elephants native to Sumatra.

The region has had its civil conflicts and upheavals in the past, but its people are putting the troubled times behind them and are looking forward while preserving the rainforest, their main water source, said Rachmi Anindita, development programme coordinator at the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta.

The rainforest covers some two million hectares, and some four million people rely on the water that flows from the ecosystem for their economic survival.

“Unfortunately the area has been under threat from illegal logging, palm oil plantation, expansion of road networks, and the movement of people into the area to live,” said Ms Anindita.

New Zealand became involved in a project to help protect the ecosystem, particularly its water catchment areas, in 2008 working with the Leuser International Foundation (LIF), a local non-government organisation, set up in 1994. New Zealand has channelled NZ$2.5million into the region over a three year period, she said.

“The project encourages local governments to plan and develop good environmental policies, as well as providing guidance on where community settlements should be, and where parks and green belts could be established. It encourages the community to replant degraded forests, and manage and take care of these areas themselves.”

Another important element of the project is helping local communities to improve their income and livelihood through agro-forestry. The project demonstrates how integrating agriculture, farming, and the raising of trees provide fuel, and food, or shelter for animals and crops, can benefit everyone, as well as protecting the rainforest, said Ms Anindita.

“Planting trees, or their seeds, back into abandoned, degraded, or deforested land helps prevent erosion, and shields the land from flooding and landslides.

The project provides micro loans to local communities, particularly for women, to start up or develop their own businesses such as growing small crops like chilies, sewing, or raising chickens to sell at the local market. Working rather like a small bank, the micro loans allow access of funds from 500,000 rupiah up to two million per individual.

Helping women in small businesses is a priority and in turn this is returning once barren, deforested land to productive use, and providing income to families, said Ms Anindita

“Communities are now benefiting from the extra income their crops and businesses are generating. These communities are very appreciative, committed and enthusiastic about the project.”
“They now have their own crops, and have organised themselves into groups to manage these crops on what was previously degraded or abandoned land.”

“Diversification is helping improve livelihoods, as well as protecting this very important ecosystem from further destruction – new life has been given to abandoned and degraded land,” she said.

Technical expertise and advice on cash management, home economics, along with crop management know-how, is provided by staff from LIF.

New Zealand wanted to help the region with its economic and environmental recovery, said New Zealand Aid Development Counsellor in Jakarta, Kirk Yates.

“We wanted to remain in the region after helping with the reconstruction of Aceh following the 2004 tsunami, and by supporting this project we are assisting the growth and recovery of local communities, as well as ensuring the protection of this vital natural resource”.

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