Sugianur: Planting Trees to Protect His Village

Tree cover loss is a pressing issue that we need to tackle with urgency. Smallholders in Central Kalimantan are planting trees to restore vacant land in their villages.

Residents of Bahaur village in Seruyan District, Central Kalimantan, are now planting trees to restore vacant lots full of invasive weed, cogongrass, as an attempt to prevent forest fires.

This effort, which began in 2020 with support from Yayasan Inobu, is led by a four-member restoration team that will mobilize villagers to take part in the tree-planting project. Most of the villagers work as oil palm farmers, both independent smallholders who manage their own plantations and plasma farmers who partner up with palm oil companies.

The community-led restoration program seeks to encourage the society to actively participate throughout the project, including the site preparation, tree planting, and monitoring stages.

In the past two decades, there have been several wildfires around Bahaur village — most recently in 2018.

These blazes were fueled by various factors. Among them is the dry climate. Moreover, in the past, the local community used to clear the land with fires. The friction of dry branches and leaves during drought increases the risk of wildfires in the region.

However, local residents are trying to address this issue by planting trees and restoring degraded landscapes. The trees can help fight climate change by capturing carbon and reducing the risk of forest fires, especially during long dry seasons.

“The community needs to be aware of the fires,” said Sugianur, who heads the restoration team and is also a member of the Village Consultative Body.

The trees planted include belangeran, wild rambutan, rose apple, dogfruit, durian, sengon and sugar palm. The locals also grow bananas among other tree species.

These trees offer various benefits and economic values. The fast-growing sengon trees are lush with foliage, which can be used as cattle feed. Meanwhile, villagers can also harvest and sell the fruits, such as dogfruits and bananas, which can also be consumed by orangutans that stop by to eat some of the fruits.

In addition, as part of the restoration activities, residents also received various lessons such as spatial planning and the development of agro-tourism businesses.

“We’re always very excited about planting trees,” said Sugianur, who is also a farmer from the Hindu Keharingan Dayak sub-ethnic group. “The tree-planting contributes to the improvement of the local creative economy.”

Like most oil palm farmers, many smallholders in Bahaur village have other sources of income, such from fishing in the Seruyan river or cultivating horticultural crops like ginger, chilies, and vegetables in their gardens. Now, the restoration program offers another opportunity of livelihood diversification for the locals.

“Some residents allow their land to be used for this program, meaning that they can harvest the crops, such as rambutan, cempedak, and durian,” Sugianur said.

Sugianur hoped the tree-planting project would last long into the future. The restoration initiatives, using an approach of carbon sequestration by fruit and hardwood trees in productive land, can strategically encourage communities to protect the newly planted forests.

“This program should not end in the middle of the progress, hopefully this program can last long enough to help the local creative economy,” Sugianur said. “Thus, we can continue to protect the trees and conserve nature.”