New Indonesia climate fund backs Indigenous forest guardians

View of a coffee plant in the social forestry area of the Kamojang Block, Bukit Rakutak, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, Indonesia, planted using an agroforestry system,  May 5 2023

View of a coffee plant in the social forestry area of the Kamojang Block, Bukit Rakutak, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, Indonesia, planted using an agroforestry system, May 5 2023. The agroforestry system is believed to be a solution between economic and ecological interests. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Asad Asnawi

What’s the context?

The Nusantara Fund aims to provide millions of dollars directly to Indigenous and local communities in Indonesia to improve livelihoods and tackle climate change and nature loss

  • Indonesia's first direct fund for Indigenous groups launched
  • Rural communities threatened by agriculture, mining expansion
  • Fund aims to attract $20 million in investments over five years

BANDUNG, Indonesia/KUALA LUMPUR - Asep Rohimat beamed with excitement as he sprinkled a bucket of dried coffee-bean skins over a vegetable patch and a row of coffee trees thriving on his small farm high up in the forest-rich hills of Indonesia's West Java province.

The 30-year-old farmer from Ibun village, about 200km (124 miles) from the capital Jakarta, is part of an initiative that helps communities conserve forests and restore degraded land.

It has enabled him to use new organic fertilisers, boost yields and get the best prices for his arabica coffee beans.

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Asked if he still throws away farm waste like the coffee husks, Asep said with a laugh: "Not anymore - it can be used as fertiliser. It's more economical."

"It's also good for the soil because the soil here is sandy," he added.

The project to assist farmers like Asep and a further seven villages in the area is backed by the $3-million Nusantara Fund, launched this week as Indonesia's first direct climate finance scheme for Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Indonesia is one of the world's 17 "megadiverse" countries, home to its third-largest tropical forests and also its biggest palm-oil producer, a commodity blamed by many environmentalists for high deforestation rates.

Those "megadiverse" nations have been identified as the richest in species by conservationists, who say protecting their natural areas will be vital to meeting international goals to keep global warming in check and halt biodiversity loss.

Destroying rainforests is a major threat to climate action, as trees absorb about a third of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions produced worldwide, but release carbon back into the air when they rot or are burned.

Helped by the Nusantara Fund, Ibun village now has coffee-bean storage and processing facilities, and has taken control of areas that were once state-owned, barren and prone to wildfires.

Managed by the local community, the land is rejuvenated and bursting with wildlife, coffee trees, chillies and tomatoes.

Young farmers managing social forestry in the Kamojang Bukit Rakutak Block, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, West Java, Indonesia, May 5, 2023. Most of them are former immigrants and factory workers

Young farmers managing social forestry in the Kamojang Bukit Rakutak Block, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, West Java, Indonesia, May 5, 2023. Most of them are former immigrants and factory workers. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Asad Asnawi

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"Previously this land was just weeds - nothing could be planted ... We are also more enthusiastic about caring for and protecting the forest," said Amir Rohimat, head of the local group helping farmers like Asep.

It is one of 30 groups dotted across the country, including Indigenous and other traditional communities, that have received funding during the Nusantara Fund's pilot phase.

Biodiversity to benifit

The fund - which is backed by the Ford Foundation, Packard Foundation and other international philanthropic donors, as well as three major Indonesian NGOs - aims to boost money flowing directly to Indigenous peoples and local communities.

They are key guardians of forests and other ecosystems, with about 80% of the world's biodiversity under their protection, said Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general of fund partner AMAN, an alliance representing some 20 million Indigenous Indonesians.

Despite this, global support for Indigenous and community-led activities was less than $270 million last year - and only 16% of that goes straight to groups on the ground, she added.

The new Indonesian fund aims to attract a total of $20 million in investments from donors over the first five years, which will be channelled to Indigenous peoples and local communities across the archipelago.

It offers a breakthrough opportunity for them to gain direct access to finance without using intermediaries, said Sombolinggi, an Indigenous Toraja, adding she hopes it will boost their effectiveness in halting deforestation and fighting climate change.

The fund is part of a wider "Forest Tenure Pledge" agreed at the COP26 climate summit in late 2021, which seeks to raise $1.7 billion to help Indigenous peoples and communities protect forests around the world.

Priorities for the Nusantara Fund include mapping Indigenous lands, registering and recognising land ownership rights, restoring degraded areas, fostering economic development based on sustainable use of natural resources, and education.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said in a statement issued during the fund's launch in Jakarta that by investing in it and placing grassroots leaders at the centre of climate solutions, "we can mitigate the climate and biodiversity crises that touch us all".

Mining, farming threats

Activists say the role of rural communities in safeguarding tropical forests is at growing risk as many remote regions are threatened by agricultural expansion and mining of minerals, increasingly used in renewable energy technologies.

"Indonesia is no exception," said Zenzi Suhadi, executive director of WALHI, the country's largest environmental group and a partner in the new fund.

"Worldwide, Indigenous and local communities lack the legal protections they need to stop the fragmentation of lands that would be so much more sustainably productive if community land rights were recognised and enforced by governments."

Undang Syaharuddin showing dried coffee at the KUPS Sauyunan production house, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, West Java, Indonesia, May 5, 2023

Undang Syaharuddin showing dried coffee at the KUPS Sauyunan production house, Ibun Village, Bandung Regency, West Java, Indonesia, May 5, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Asad Asnawi

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The new fund's independence from governments should give it the agility to provide rapid finance to diverse groups, including Indigenous peoples, communities and local NGOs, said David Ganz, executive director of RECOFTC (The Centre for People and Forests), which works across Asia.

While there is a proliferation of global funds dedicated to supporting forest-rich countries, most are managed by European and North American bodies, he added, describing the development of national funds for environmental protection as "empowering".

But, he added, Nusantara and similar funds will face challenges in directing finance to groups whose claims to land are unclear or disputed, in places where not all Indigenous peoples and their territories are recognised by the state.

In addition, flows of finance need to be "open and transparent" to benefit forest-dependent communities, who need clear and fair systems to share the gains, he said.

"As we have seen in the past, because of corruption or wastefulness, very little funding gets to the field," he added.

(Reporting by Asad Asnawi in Indonesia and Michael Taylor in Malaysia; Editing by Megan Rowling)


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Tags

  • Adaptation
  • Government aid
  • Agriculture and farming
  • Forests
  • Biodiversity
  • Indigenous communities
  • Climate solutions

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