Youngsters working in KHJL Teak nursery. South Konawe District, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo Tim Lewis.
In a crowded office shaded from the stifling midday sun the local heads of community organisations sit around a long table. There is very little space, they sit pressed shoulder to shoulder or stand along the walls, while others peer in from the doorway. Despite the humidity, the room is a bubble of chatter and laughter. There is a palpable sense of confidence amongst these men and women, a feeling of communal strength and unity. One of the group bangs his fist on the table and exclaims ‘Tabang satu tanam sepuluh (for every tree cut down, we plant ten)!’ There is a chorus of approval from those around him.
In the rich agricultural land of Konawe Selatan district that surrounds the port of Kendari in South East Sulawesi there is a remarkable success story which could spread to other areas of Indonesia. Koperasi Hutan Jaya Lestari (KHJL) is a co-operative for managing sustainable teak forests and the first co-operative in Indonesia to be awarded Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the sustainability of the timber they produce. FSC is an organisation which sets international standards for forest management. Its aims are to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. In developing countries, FSC-certified forestry has the potential to reduce rural poverty and curb illegal logging. In the last decade, organisations ranging from giant multinational corporations to small local communities, managing in total nearly 100 million hectares of forest in 77 countries have been awarded FSC certificates. As of October 2007, KHJL was the only certified co-operative producer of teak in Indonesia.
Abdul Harris Tamburaka, chairman of KHJL, South Konawe District, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo Tim Lewis.
“…the benefit of FSC certification is that the people are more aware about forest management. They receive free teak seeds, and they know how to plant seedlings. They also understand their roles in the co-operative and the benefits they get from it – especially the benefits of annual dividend payments. The price we get for timber increases because of the co-operative; members can now re-build their houses, and there is better schooling for their children. We can show the government that illegal logging can be stopped. By 2015 we hope there will be no more poor people in Konawe Selatan…” Abdul Harris Tamburaka, chairman of KHJL
Teak is a much sought after tropical hardwood. Famous for its durability it is used for many purposes. But teak has one unrivalled quality which makes it uniquely different from other species. Due to an unusually high oil-content, its wood is naturally water-repellant; it neither rots nor causes rust when in contact with metal, thus making it the timber of choice for the manufacture of out-door furniture, flooring and boat decking.
In 2003 the local people in Konawe Selatan started to plan logging of their teak plantations, all of which are in privately-owned small holdings. A total of nearly 200 farmers from 46 villages joined the co-operative. Together with a local NGO, the South Sulawesi Forest Network Institution (Jaringan Untuk Hutan or JAUH), KHJL invited FSC to begin certification of their plantations and, in May 2005, KHJL were finally awarded their certificate. Before certification KHJL members could only sell their teak at low prices – sometimes less than 50% of its true value. Now, with increasing importance in international tropical wood and furniture markets given to certified evidence of sustainability and traceability, the teak sold by Konawe Selatan communities commands premiums high enough to sustain them economically.
In previous years, illegal logging had all but decimated the forests throughout the region. This deforestation was, by and large, the result of vague and incoherent forest use policies and laws – a situation was exploited by corrupt forestry officials, often supported by the police and the military. Logging permits were handed out which generally contravened the regulations, did little to conserve the forests and added to the dubious reputation of Indonesian timber. One of the victories which came with KHJL’s FSC certification was the empowerment of the local community to protect and manage their own forests. Now the teak trees that grow in the fields and gardens of Konawe Selatan district not only provide villagers with a substantial improvement in income; they also serve as a model to persuade nearby communities to stop illegal logging.
Abdul Maal, local KHJL member with family and children, South Konawe District, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo Tim Lewis.
Abdul Maal is a good example of how KHJL is improving the lives of villagers. A member of the co-operative since 2003, Abdul has started his own small business enterprise. An accomplished and skillful carpenter, he uses the off-cuts from the teak plantations to build furniture which is then sold locally to the inhabitants of Kendari. Trying to reach the front door of his house is much like beginning an assault course, you have to navigate your way through stacked teak doors, chairs, benches, panelling and wardrobes that fill his front garden. He stands with his hands on his hips and smiles at the fruits of his labour. This enterprise has allowed him to prosper, but to Abdul, as with the other villagers in the district, the real story of their success is aimed at the future: making certain the younger generation understands the importance of their teak plantations.
“…by protecting their environment, the children can benefit from the teak. In future, the next generation can have better living conditions and can pay for their education. It won’t be a problem for them…” Abdul Maal, local KHJL member and owner of furniture small enterprise.
Since KHJL’s FSC certification, other communities have organised themselves. They have applied for small grants, formed their own local initiatives and joined KHJL. Solidarity has made them more confident in applying for use of the land. For the first time these communities – previously some of the poorest in Indonesia – are planning for the future. A secure and sustainable livelihood means many things to these villagers: better schooling, better access to health and a better rural economy. This is only a small beginning, but an encouraging one.
KHJL member harvesting teak, South Konawe District, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo Tim Lewis.
Written by Tim Lewis.