This month at Health In Harmony is dedicated to Forest Guardians, respected members of their local communities who represent powerful bridges helping villagers to improve their health and livelihoods and protect their watershed. Inaugurated with a prestigious Whitley Conservation Award, Forest Guardians are the connectors between ASRI and communities around the park, helping to mutually identify and create livelihoods that promote conservation of Gunung Palung. To date, over 330 villagers in 20 communities have, as a result of working with Forest Guardians and ASRI, developed organic farming initiatives that have decreased illegal logging in the park, boosted local incomes, and improved household nutrition.
With these successes, Forest Guardians are still working feverishly - illegal logging has recently reached into core areas of Gunung Palung National Park, including the Cabang Panti Research Site, previously a safe haven for orangutans and also the origin of the Sungei Air Putih and Sungei Air Merah, rivers that provide much of the water for Ketapang District.
Coordinated by ASRI staff member Hen, Forest Guardians meet regularly in regional groups of 3-8 and as an entire group three times a year to share information and coordinate activities. Forest Guardians also coordinate with Agus Supianto, ASRI’s illegal logging monitor, and together they patrol the park looking at sites for wood collection, and whether trails are active.
The Forest Guardians have shown enormous potential to turn illegal logging around and in those accomplishments shines great hope. The 5-year survey clearly reflects the benefits of a Forest Guardian encounter: active loggers declined by 68% and of those loggers that quit logging, nearly all had encountered a Forest Guardian and 52% chose to become organic farmers. Today, the majority of previous loggers who are now farming full-time say that they have vastly increased yields with much less input costs. In fact, one previous logger shared that he used to get one poor crop of rice per year but is now getting three crops and his yearly income is much higher. As the success of these methods (compost, natural pesticides, crop rotation, vegetable farming, agro-forestry and fish farming) is spreading, more and more villages are keen to have training.
The Forest Guardians are crucial links to the communities to encourage conservation-promoting alternative livelihoods and explain about access to affordable, high-quality healthcare for villagers at the ASRI clinic where they can pay with non-cash options and get extra discounts if their village stops logging. In the year ahead, Forest Guardians will work with and facilitate organic farm trainings for another ~125 participants bringing the grand total to nearly 450 new organic farmers who will be able to enjoy affordable access to high quality health care without logging! This is the face of change, one logger, one Forest Guardian, one family at a time. How will you help change the world?