Forest landscape restoration through community-based initiatives: A novel way of restoring production landscapes that benefits both society and nature

The local communities of Kubu village began planting trees to restore 30 hectares of unused land at their village in Kotawaringin Barat, Central Kalimantan.

Kalimantan’s degraded landscapes are prone to wildfires that spread haze across Southeast Asia. How can we restore the degraded landscapes to improve the health of natural ecosystems for the benefit of nature and society?

Funded by Unilever, Yayasan Inobu has launched a forest restoration project as part of the Mosaik initiative, which supports sustainable landscapes in Kotawaringin Barat and Seruyan, two palm oil-producing districts in Central Kalimantan. Among the primary aims of the forest restoration program are to increase the forest cover and improve environmental services beneficial for communities such as provisioning food and water, mitigating climate change, and reducing the risks of flooding, landslides, and wildfires.

Restoring 200 hectares of land, this project will find a successful model for community-based restoration which can then be upscaled in the entire district, led directly by local governments involving multiple stakeholders.

Through the program, the residents of the villages gain an understanding of the importance of forest restoration for natural disaster prevention and mitigation. Villages located on the peatland areas have experienced seasonal fires in the dry season, and those situated by the rivers are often flooded for months during the rainy season. Some villages have experienced both of the seasonal natural disasters, such as Tanjung Rangas village in Seruyan. That’s why the villagers are determined to regreen the degraded land or the bare land in the riparian areas.

Moreover, communities plant ecologically and economically valuable tree species, including fruit-bearing and native tree species. These species, along with the areas for restoration, are chosen as part of a participatory process with local communities. Belangeran (Shorea balangeran), jambu-jambu (Syzygium sp.), durian (Durio sp.), cempedak (Artocarpus integer), and jengkol (Archidendron pauciflorum) are among the species to be planted to restore the lands.

Saplings were raised in a nursery bed before being planted in bare land.

Native plants are expected to attract pollinators, such as bees and birds, and support the growth of diverse sources of food. In the long-term, local communities can gain economic benefits by harvesting and selling the fruits from the trees. The direct benefits are expected to prevent the locals from cutting down the trees. When locals join forces to protect the forested areas, it will, in turn, improve other ecosystem services.

The forest restoration project, which takes place in several villages in the two districts, also aims to improve habitat connectivity among the remaining forest patches and facilitate the movement of wild animals, including critically endangered orangutans, from one forest patch to another.

The people of Tanjung Hanau village, located next to an orangutan conservation area in Seruyan, have to live together with the great apes. Planting fruit-bearing trees on critical and unused lands can help increase their habitats as well as provide food for the primates and other wild animals.

In Seruyan, the district-wide restoration program is incorporated in the Regional Medium Term Development Plan (RPJMD) intended to restore 336,000-hectares of land, including more than 15,000 hectares along the riverbanks. The riparian ecosystem restoration will improve the connectivity among peat swamp ecosystems, including Tanjung Puting National Park in the southern part of the district, as well as between forests in the south with the large contiguous lowland forest areas in the north.

A local resident watered saplings for the restoration project in Tanjung Hanau village in Seruyan, Central Kalimantan.

The forest restoration project is just the beginning of a remarkable journey towards sustainability throughout the districts, which will help the local society, support wildlife habitat, and preserve the environment.