Islands of hope in a sea of deforestation: Norway supports environmental protection in East Kalimantan

On 29 September – 2 October, Embassy staff visited environmental projects in East Kalimantan province together with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia. Norway has supported WWF’s work in the two eastern districts Kutai Barat and Mahakam Ulu for the last six years.

WWF supports many activities in both Kutai Barat and Mahakam Ulu. On the way to Sendawar – the district capital of Kutai Barat, the delegation stopped at Resak Elementary School. This school have cooperated with WWF for quite some time. Upon arrival, the Embassy staff was welcomed by the principal, the chair of the parents’ committee and students. They had already prepared trees that were to be planted by the entrance at the schoolyard. This school applies action learning in their work with its students. This is an approach where students are encouraged to solve problems taking action and reflecting upon the results. In Resak Elementary School, this included a school garden where the students were responsible for growing and harvesting vegetables and herbs. They produced their own organic fertilizers and the newest addition to the green schoolyard was a model swamp area where the students could closely assess this type of ecosystem. One of the main reasons for the school’s success has been its close interaction with parents. Through a dedicated committee, parents have been able to actively engage with the school and help develop the many green attributes of the schoolyard that facilitates action learning. Given the students’ academic results, it will be interesting to follow the development of this learning technique in Indonesia.

During the trip, the Embassy staff also met with the timber company Ratah Timber. The company has had a concession in Kutai Barat since the 1970s and have worked with WWF for four years to obtain FSC certification. To get a FSC certificate, the company has to comply with a set of criteria regarding social and environmental sustainability of its timber-production. Reduced impact logging is an example of one such criteria. The FSC certification is the insurance for the buyers that the timber has been harvested in a sustainable way. Due to the help from WWF, Ratah Timber received their FSC certification in 2013.

While visiting the two districts, the embassy had the chance to meet with the vice bupati of Kutai Barat and the bupati of the new district Mahakam Ulu, as well as other governmental staff. They talked about their visions for their districts and concerns they had regarding fighting forest fires, resource exploitation and infrastructure development. Given their remote location, infrastructure is a key concern for both districts, but needs to be developed in a way that does not destroy vulnerable ecological areas. Parts of Mahakam Ulu is inside the Heart of Borneo Territory.

Finally, the Embassy staff had the chance to travel by boat up the Mahakam river to visit a village - Batu Majang and meet the people there. It was valuable to hear from the villagers about their community forest; way of life; and how they foresee the future of their village.