Cruising through the waters near Laman Satong in West Kalimantan. Koen Kusters

Without forest, no water, no Dayak

Conserving a village forest in West Kalimantan

After having received a village forest permit, the village of Laman Satong in West Kalimantan can now earn money from its forest by selling carbon credits. However, the money should not be the main reason for protecting the forest, according to one of the village’s customary elders. 


The village of Laman Satong lies at the foot of two forested hills in the southern part of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The villagers – mostly Indigenous Dayak people – use the edges of the forest to collect rubber, fruits and vegetables. However, the forest is formally located on state land, and in the mid-2000s, the government was exploring possibilities to lease out the area to an oil palm company. The community was at risk of losing its forest.

But in 2011, the tables turned. With the help of several NGOs, Laman Satong successfully applied for a village forest permit, giving them the legal right to use and manage 1,070 hectares of forest. It also ensured that the government would not be allowed to lease out the forest to a private company. Laman Satong was among the first communities in Indonesia to receive this type of permit, which lasts for a period of 35 years.

Yohanes Terang, a respected Dayak elder, was actively involved in the permit application process, and he has been one of the village’s most vocal proponents of the village forest ever since. “I realized that nature can become angry,” he says, when asked why he supported the application. “If we lose our forest, the spirits will disagree, and this will lead to disasters. Having a legal basis will help us to protect our forest.”



As part of the village forest application process, the community had to establish a village forest committee (Lembaga Pengelola Hutan Desa, or LPHD in short), which is responsible for managing the village forest and developing income-earning opportunities. The committee mobilized other community members around several activities, including the sale of tree seedlings, the sale of water from a spring inside the forest, and a carbon credit scheme. The revenues were used to finance related activities such as forest patrols, as well as to support the poor and elderly in the community.

The carbon payment scheme was developed with the assistance of the Plan Vivo Foundation and Fauna & Flora International (FFI). After a successful pilot year, financed by the Walt Disney Company, the village signed a four-year contract with a Dutch development organization. Things looked bright.

A Dayak youth in Laman Satong. Koen Kusters


But it has not gone smoothly since, explains Tito Indrawan of FFI.  The community would only receive carbon credits if they could prove that they had maintained the core 400 hectares of the village forest. They couldn’t.

For two years in a row, farmers had opened parts of the village forest to cultivate rice or oil palm. As a result, payments were stalled. Only after the farmers were allocated lands outside of the village forest could the LPHD start restoring the opened parts, and only then were the carbon payments resumed.

This shows that maintaining the forest is not an easy task, even with a village forest permit. “The population is growing, so people are looking for land,” says Indrawan, who was born in Jakarta but has lived in this part of West Kalimantan for most of his life. “Moreover, some people don’t fully support the village forest. They don’t see the benefits, and they don’t feel involved.”

Blasius Kanoi is one of those people. He is an Adat elder, just like Yohanes Terang, but their ideas about the benefits of the village forest permit differ like day and night. In fact, Kanoi was one of the farmers who opened lands within the village forest. “These lands are mine,” he says, barely hiding his anger. “I have many hectares of rubber trees in the village forest, all of which I planted myself.”

“I want to know: why is it forbidden to cut my own trees when I need money? In the past, I was a nomad. I would travel and open forest lands wherever I wanted. Now I am restricted, and I object.”

Although the boundaries of the village forest were established in a participatory process with the villagers, Kanoi says he was never consulted. “They failed to involve everyone,” he says.

Yohanes Terang, a Dayak elder in the village. Koen Kusters


Despite the hard work and good intentions, efforts to fully involve all community members in decisions regarding the village forest may not have been adequate. These are extremely complex processes, stresses Tito Indrawan of FFI. For example, a member of the management committee may have to tell fellow villagers that they need to change their behavior to comply with regulations. In a small community like Laman Satong, these are sensitive issues that might be difficult to discuss. Still, to Indrawan, better communication is the only way to address the lingering discontent among some community members.

He also believes that community members are more likely to support the village forest when they experience direct benefits themselves. This makes it particularly important that the management committee further develops its business activities. They could invest parts of its revenues in developing other businesses, such as trading fruits from the forest. As soon as villagers see and receive concrete benefits, they will be more likely to accept the restrictions that come with the village forest permit, Indrawan believes.

Local women pick vegetables. Irpan Lamago, Tropenbos Indonesia


For the carbon scheme, the future looks promising. A private actor is about to commit to a ten-year carbon contract with the community. “If this money is invested wisely, it will help to convince skeptical villagers,” says Indrawan.

“However, a carbon scheme might never be as profitable as converting the forest to oil palm,” he admits. “To make sure that the village forest is protected, we need to stress additional values, such as clean water, fresh air, food, and biodiversity.” In addition, Indrawan stresses that the village forest is managed by and for the collective, which means that part of the money that it generates will be used to support community members who are in need, such as the disabled and elderly.

Yohanes Terang agrees: “Of course the income is important,” he says. “But to me, it’s ultimately not about money. It’s about our future.”

As a Dayak elder, how is Terang going to convince the skeptical fellow villagers? “The main argument is simple,” he says, pointing to the village forest that is located on the hill behind his house. “These trees hold the water with their roots. If this forest were gone, we would not have clean water throughout the year, and the people would suffer.”

“There is plenty of proof. Go to the areas that do not have any forest; they do not have any water. I say to people: Without forest, no water, no Dayak.”

Indonesia’s social forestry program

The village forest permit in Laman Satong was a precursor of an ambitious program launched in 2014 to distribute 12.7 million hectares of forest lands located inside the state forest zone to local communities, under various ‘social forestry’ permits. According to the Social Forestry office of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, at the beginning of 2019, around 2.5 million hectares of land had been titled under the social forestry program, of which 1.28 million hectares were allocated as Village Forests.

This story also appeared on Tropenbos International, as part of its series on forest tenure. This series will be continue to be co-published on Landscape News in the lead-up to the 2019 Global Landscapes Forum Bonn, 22-23 June, highlighting the forum’s theme of rights.



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