Sustainable growth: fighting deforestation in Indonesia
Deforestation has taken a heavy toll on the Indonesian archipelago, with landslides and deteriorating soil quality heaping hardship on already impoverished communities. But VSO volunteer Jesus “Jess“ Amarilla is bringing vital expertise to bear – educating local people about the importance of responsible forestry and using watershed management techniques from his native Philippines to help rebuild the fragile ecology of Flores.
A history of inadvertent asset stripping
“When I was young our village had plenty of water,” recalls Emanuel Lado. “There were lots of springs. Unfortunately, most of them have dried up.”
Like most inhabitants of Flores, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands of the Indonesian archipelago, Emanuel is a farmer. He has a small rice paddy in the province of Nagekeo and cultivates peanuts, bananas, and potatoes for subsistence. Over the years, many poor farmers have turned to planting subsistence crops rather than tending trees on their land. Today, the hills show signs of erosion, the dam in the lower land is filled with silt, and landslides have become a growing problem.
Seizing the initiative
But it’s not all bad news. “Now we are starting to plant trees back, since Jess came to our village and taught us about natural law,” says Emanuel. “He told us that if we make terraces, we could control erosion. Trees will also hold rainwater, so it will not come down in floods, turning our fertile land into wasted rocks.”
Jesus “Jess” Amarilla is a VSO volunteer at the Agriculture Office of the provincial government in Flores. The 51-year-old is a capacity builder who works closely with Marcelinus Yustinus Depa, nicknamed Nus, from the same department. When Jess arrived, he found Nus struggling to engage local communities with government plans to rehabilitate the environment. Nus says, “At Jess’s suggestion we went back to review these plans with the villagers themselves, which was a success.”
A blueprint for sustainable development
To enable the community to manage watershed sustainability, a forum – FORPELDAS – was set up in 2004 by VSO, regional government, the Department of Agriculture, and local and international NGOs. The forum consists of representatives from 17 villages in Nagekeo, each with its own village-level plan, as well as inter-village plans. “The farmers needed to change drastically,” says Jess. “They had to plant trees in the upland and build terraces with plants instead of stone.”
It is Jess’s keen interest in cultural diversity that drives him to share his skills with others. “I like to compare how we work in the Philippines with the techniques used in other countries,” he says. “For example, in my placement here, we adapted terrace-building techniques used at home with expertise from my counterpart Nus about the methods of Indonesia.”
A longtime farmer, Jess became a VSO volunteer a couple of years ago. “Working for a government organisation can be bureaucratic and Indonesian culture is different to what I’m used to, but we’re seeing results and I’m very content with the way the people in the forum are making a tangible difference.”
Years of overlogging now threaten the livelihoods of local people.
VSO volunteer, Jess Amarilla, is helping educate communities about the importance of responsible forestry.
The FORPELDAS forum is enabling villages in Nagekeo province to share skills and manage resources more sustainably.