Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI)

Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) is Health In Harmony’s pilot program, an Indonesian non-profit started with the help of Indonesian dentist, Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggu, and Dr. Antonia Gorog. The Indonesian name of the organization means “healthy nature everlasting,” and the acronym, ASRI, means, “harmoniously balanced.”

ASRI began in West Kalimantan, Indonesia -- on the island of Borneo -- where poor health and grinding poverty were forcing villagers to engage in illegal logging in Gunung Palung National Park, home to 10% of the world’s remaining Bornean orangutans.

To understand what community members needed to stop logging, we engaged in more than 400 hours of community meetings using radical listening with the communities surrounding the Park. Villagers unanimously agreed that they could stop logging if they had access to high-quality, affordable health care and training in sustainable agriculture.

Focusing on the area around Gunung Palung National Park, ASRI uses a 5-pronged approach that combats deforestation on multiple fronts:

1. Monitor

To understand the problem and inform our actions, they first gauge the extent of forest loss and its causes. The conservation team makes regular visits to communities that border the park to check for evidence of deforestation, like farm clearings, logging roads, and sawmills. They also cultivate a network of locally recruited Forest Guardians who update the conservation team about forest clearing activities and conditions in their neighborhoods. They back up these efforts using satellite images to measure forest loss in each village and throughout the park. Finally, they survey households across the region to learn about changing social and economic conditions.

2. Provide health care

ASRI’s defining innovation is to reduce deforestation by providing healthcare to communities. Today, they operate a nearby clinic that meets the health needs of local communities, reducing the costs of treatment and the pressure to log. In addition to providing low-cost healthcare to anyone who needs it, they give additional discounts of up to 70% to villages that work with us to stop illegal logging. Our aim is to turn the financial incentive on its head—instead of logging to pay for medical treatment, communities can now save money by giving up logging altogether.

3. Find alternative livelihoods

Many people who clear forests do so because they lack access to more sustainable jobs. ASRI provides training, assistance, and money to people who want to switch careers. Through their organic farming program, for example, they train former loggers and other community members to make a living without clearing forests or using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Other alternative livelihood programs include Goats for Widows, kitchen gardens, and Chainsaw Buyback. All these programs operate on the idea that slowing deforestation is sometimes as easy as giving people a choice.

4. Educate

Few adults in the area have access to higher education, and many have not progressed beyond primary school. Education gaps translate into poor economic opportunities and reduced environmental awareness, driving people to clear forest to make a living. ASRI fills these gaps by operating conservation education programs tailored to all ages. Hospital patients watch videos about forest conservation in the waiting room, posters in the clinic hallways highlight local biodiversity, and they visit rural communities to teach families about the links between human and environmental health. They also partner with primary schools to teach a three-month environmental education curriculum, the ASRI Kids course, which includes field trips to the national park.

5. Restore

Protecting Borneo’s remaining forests is critical, but the long term survival of the island’s landscapes depends on also restoring areas that are already degraded. Most of the forests where we work have been cleared by farmers and loggers, and the remaining forests survive only as isolated islands. ASRI reconnects these fragments by reforesting degraded lands in the national park. By replanting areas with native rain forest trees and protecting them from wildfires, they restore critical habitats and reconnect populations of orangutans and other native species. The goal is to eventually restore the entire park to native forest and ensure that nearby communities are invested in its protection.

After five years of community-designed health care and conservation programs implemented by our Indonesian partner, ASRI, we observed a 68% drop in logging households from an estimated 1,350 to just 450. Today, only 180 individual loggers remain. Meanwhile, as of 2012, 52% of previous loggers were farming, all health indicators improved, and average income increased.

*Photo credit: Michelle Bussard, Chelsea Call, Bryan Watt, Nicholas Salazar