The biodiversity-rich coastal peat swamp forest of Tripa in Aceh, Indonesia is quickly shrinking as a result of conversion into oil palm plantations. At risk is Tripa’s rich variety of unique biodiversity, including one of the planet’s most densely populated orangutan habitats. The loss of peat swamp forest also affects Tripa’s local communities, threatening their food security and fresh water supply. The conversion of peat swamp forest also has global ramifications, with the potential to release 30 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere between 2008 and 2038.
With a grant from the Biodiversity and Agricultural Commodities Program
, supported by the International Finance Corporation and Global Environment Facility, PanEco Foundation supported local communities and governments to protect Tripa’s peat swamp forest. In 2009, PanEco engaged communities through an awareness campaign to explain the value of conserving biodiversity in Tripa, as well as to highlight the area’s importance to local livelihoods, as a source of food and water, and reducing the threat of coastal flooding. By engaging the local community, PanEco broadened support for biodiversity conservation efforts, which encouraged local governments to take action. It raised awareness through mobile education and outreach units, in-school training, and talks led by religious leaders during Ramadan celebrations at local mosques. The campaign, which focused on orangutan conservation and demonstrated the link between an environmentally healthy Tripa and sustainable local development, reached more than 2,700 people in 30 villages.
Local communities became involved in the campaign by erecting billboards at village entrances and lobbying local government. In June 2010, 21 villages in and around Tripa signed a petition that was sent to 30 institutions, including the district and provincial governments and the president of Indonesia. The petition encouraged the provincial government to preserve and improve ecological conditions of the remaining 20,000 hectares of Tripa’s peat swamp forest, define Tripa as a protected area, review palm oil concessions within the peat swamp forest, transfer management of Tripa’s land management for conservation to district governments, preserve and improve conditions of coastal areas, and require that a 1-kilometer riparian zone buffer be maintained. Community representatives delivered the petition to the vice-governor in Banda Aceh, who welcomed the initiative.
The Aceh government included Tripa in its 2010 Spatial Plan presented to the Ministry of Forestry. Through identification of high conservation value areas, among others, spatial plans can be a powerful land use planning tool, enabling policy-makers to designate land that is appropriate and inappropriate for oil palm development. The implications of the petition and spatial plan are far-reaching. Clearing of Tripa’s biodiversity-rich peat swampland for palm oil plantations has slowed dramatically and, in some instances, has been halted within existing palm oil concessions. The Aceh government also decided to undertake a legal review of each concession. Since the advocacy campaign, local communities have become invested in actively conserving the peat swamp forest and are working with the provincial government to develop a land use management plan that conserves the unique biodiversity of Tripa and promotes sustainable local livelihoods.