Planting 100,000 trees for a greener future in Indonesia

This project funded by the Australian Government through

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Empowering communities to change their landscape

Enough food for everyone, and a green village full of trees – that’s the vision Village Leader Martinez from Indonesia has for his community.

However, Martinez lives in a region where forest covers only 6-10 per cent of the land. Historical forest exploitation and destructive farming practices such as slash and burn agriculture and over-grazing contributed to making the landscape barren and degraded. In the warmer months water is scarce, limiting the range of crops farmers can grow. Altogether, it is becoming more and more difficult for communities to produce enough food to keep their children healthy.

World Vision, with support and funding from the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), started a project to help farmers change their landscape. It included mobilizing the community to plant more than 100,000 trees in community plots, house compounds and school yards and regenerate over 1,000,000 trees through the practice of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

In the Indonesian environment, increasing tree density helps replenish groundwater and restore soil fertility. Other activities designed to improve food security, nutrition and access to education include raised bed farming, vegetable growing and a savings scheme.

At the core, the project was about empowering communities to protect their natural resources and use them more wisely. It wasn't always easy. Some community members didn't see the point in planting trees that were likely to die or would at least take a few years to grow big enough to be profitable, or in regenerating indigenous trees. There was a lack of community understanding about how improving the local environment would make a difference in the long term.

Still, many community members did get involved and as the benefits became clearer soon more people began to enthusiastically embrace the project activities. 1,680 community members and nine local schools contributed to planting trees and 966 people were involved with learning and implementing FMNR in their villages.

Left: Local children were involved in planting tree saplings and learning how to protect their local environment. Right: Community members constructed fences to protect the tree plots from grazing animals and field burning. Photos by Anne Crawford, World Vision

Challenges and solutions

Over the four years, the community faced a number of challenges. Water scarcity led to almost half of the tree seedlings dying, and others were lost to fire and cattle grazing.

The project looked for ways to resolve this; community leaders introduced regulations to prohibit cattle grazing and field burning within the planting sites, with strict penalties. Community education sessions were held about why field burning is harmful and community members joined together to build fences to protect their trees from cattle. To combat the water scarcity, the project taught farmers about 'in batron' irrigation, which uses upturned water bottles in the ground to provide regular water supply to plants. It requires few resources from the farmers, and is more suited to the dry landscape.

Towards the end of the project in 2015, wilt disease caused by bacterial infection killed a number of teak trees. The farmers and project facilitators had limited knowledge about disease management, so they enlisted the help of East Sumba’s Department of Agriculture to provide education sessions which 480 people participated in.

Seeing the difference

Despite these problems, the project saw a lot of success in just four years. For farmer Keba, it helped him return to growing rice for his family.

"It had been three years since we could plant rice, because there was not enough water to irrigate the field," he says. He and a group of other farmers started planting trees and practicing FMNR on a stretch of community farm land. After three years the space was transformed into a green and shady area. The trees helped replenish groundwater and organic matter from fallen leaves increased soil fertility. As a result, the community was able to transform one hectare of their restored land into a rice field to feed their families.

An important aspect of the project was that men and women could participate and be treated equally. Women were involved in every activity, working hand in hand with men to plant and maintain trees, contribute to discussions and make decisions.

Mother of six Naomi says the most noticeable change from the project is that “the spring has more water, as it is near the community plot and there are more trees. The spring never runs dry now. Even though you cart water truck loads away, there is still more water."

For Febrianti, the 60 trees she and her husband have planted are a sign of hope for their son’s future. As well as increasing tree coverage in the community, mahogany and teak trees provide a savings bank for the future when the quality timber can be sold or used to build houses. Febrianti's son Bonifasius is just a few months old, but she hopes that one day "he can get a better education and go to University."

Schools benefited from the increased shade and cooler environment that the trees created, and students became interested in caring for the environment, planting trees and watching them grow. Soil fertility improved in many tree and FMNR demonstration plots, leading to less damage from erosion, fewer landslides and a better farming environment. Children will continue to be active participants of the project into the future through awareness raising activities in schools and children’s groups.

Left: Febrianti with her son Bonifasius. Right: Mother of six Naomi, with some of her fresh produce. Photos by Kate Clark, World Vision

Looking forward

Village leader Martinez planted 1000 trees himself. He knows that while there are challenges and lots of work still to do, his vision for his community is closer to coming true.

"Our community is finally motivated to do this work, though sometimes when we plant 10, only five survive. But we understand because land is so difficult, it does not discourage us. Because we understand all the benefits of the program, we welcome World Vision."

World Vision, DFAT and most importantly the community themselves have been encouraged by the success of the project to date, the lessons that have been learned and the enthusiasm in the community to continue what has been started. As a result, the Australian Government has provided additional funding for the project to expand the number of trees planted and areas in which FMNR is practised. A further critical goal of the next phase will be to support farmers to grow marketable crops such as ginger, garlic and cashews, in the rehabilitated land and to link them to local markets to increase their income.

It is very encouraging to see how far the community has come in this project, but just as important that we stay committed. The landscape in this part of East Sumba was very degraded and the natural conditions are harsh - reforestation and regeneration will take time. However, the first shoots of growth, through FMNR and high-value timber, have been really successful. I am particularly impressed by the learning and innovation approach in this project. Not everything has worked, however the community and World Vision have adapted in response. We have taken on new partners such as the World Agroforestry Centre and Lutheran World Relief to provide expert support, for example in timber husbandry, new marketable crops and links to the private sector. Just as importantly, the Australian Government has remained committed to the project and supported our focus on innovation and economic development. I feel we are at a tipping point for major change.

Shannon Ryan, World Vision Australia's Manager of Food Security and Natural Resources

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Photo by Anne Crawford, World Vision