Teaming up with the people who make Gula Gula a success

Paul Burgers / 7 min read

After working for years in agroforestry, both in Africa and Asia, we have seen that all too often, a project is a lonely phenomenon. We however believe that no project should be an an island. Project practices must relate in an integrated manner to long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability.

After working for years in agroforestry, both in Africa and Asia, we have seen that all too often, a project is a lonely phenomenon. We however believe that no project should be an an island. Project practices must relate in an integrated manner to long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability.

During our initial start in 2008, we got support from our former colleagues of the World Agroforestry Centre in Bogor. A stakeholder analysis showed that the local specific village organisation of the West Sumatra Minangkabau was most important to team up with. This included the village head, the local villagers and the village Adat council. The Adat council, an indigenous organisation at village level, acts for the prosperity of the village, is elected by the villagers, and up until today remains an important council in conflict resolution in general and in land disputes in particular. The Department of Forestry was considered another important partner. They expressed interest in collaborating and learning from what appeared to be the first real carbon project in Indonesia, solely uses carbon offsetting payments without any donor funding.

Public participation is rooted in the traditional values of the matrilineal Minangkabau community. Traditionally, permission must be sought for any planned activity in the nagari (village). There is a special term for this: muryawah (negotiation). Planned activities or projects can be implemented, but only through public participation, and only after reaching the phase of mufakat; public village consensus, which includes the opinion of women. Their opinion is essential in the matrilineal Minangkabau society.

CO2 Operate has blended this local consensus building with the concept of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). FPIC is a bottom-up, participatory and meaningful consultation process to give the village community the right to give or withhold their consent and change the proposed activities to fit their own realities and resources. During various village meetings, this process resulted in some groups to withdraw, as they did not believe in the benefits it could bring. However, a group of 40 farmers, the Adat council, the village head and the local forestry officials all expressed their interest in teaming up with CO2 Operate on this new and performance-based forest-carbon project.

"Collaboration with local Indonesian partners and stakeholders since the beginning creates shared value and is crucial for sustainability."

Together with the participants we established farmer groups to become our partners. They were coordinated by the local leaders, in line with the Adat hierarchical system. However, this strong chieftaincy caused group members to be reluctant to speak out about their ideas and concerns about the performance of the project. This also strongly decreased participants’ motivation. Farmer group members began to protest against the strong chieftaincy, resulting not only in the forced resignation of the Wali Nagar (the village head) as project coordinator, but also leading him to resign from his position as head of the village. Apparently, they were not working for the overall prosperity of the village, and seemed to frustrate rather than support the rehabilitation efforts. The village elite, including Adat leaders, were also told by the farmer participants to resign from the project. The indigenous legal provisions under the Village Adat council conflicted with the performance-based legal provisions in the VCM contract. The farmer-participants requested for a new, more open and direct partnership between CO2 Operate and the farmer groups only. The new Wali Nagari and the Village Adat Council were taken out of the contract as direct partners, but stayed involved as they would be given a role in conflict resolution. This levelled the playing field. New farmer groups were setup with more horizontal social relations. This very interesting process of democratization also increased the effective participation within and between farmer groups. Following this process, we supported the new farmer groups (kelompok) to apply for a formal status (cooperative), building on our relationships with the local government agencies. These new ways of setting up farmer groups and the more supervisory roles of the Adat leaders and village head remain a crucial and highly effective type of organisation in all new restoration efforts. Last year, we requested a student from our Belgian partner, the University of Leuven, to evaluate the program, as part of her MSc study. One of the points raised by the respondents was the fact that according to the villagers the program had increased collaboration and social cohesion among villagers.

Getting science involved

In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) approached us for becoming their Indonesian partner for field testing Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) as a way to restore forest cover in the landscape. ANR is an ecological, simple and cheap option to speed up the natural regeneration of a forest. We collaborated for two years with them to field test ANR, together with the farmers. It has proven to be a very effective and efficient simple methodology, as only a wooden plank is needed to press the weeds and Imperata grasses so that existing wildlings and small trees in the field can grow. The participating farmers during the testing phase were all very excited about the effectiveness of this simple technology. Ever since, we continue to train new participants in ANR to kickstart the restoration of degraded land.

Partnering with knowledge institutions is another pillar in our partnership. In addition to collaborating with Universities in Europe, our main science partners are in Indonesia, and West Sumatra in particular. Our main partner is STKIP, a higher education college for future teachers. Many students and staff regularly collaborates with us in our field work. In exchange we usually give guest lectures whenever we are in West Sumatra. Providing experience and knowledge to these future teachers on issues related to climate change, forests and biodiversity is especially important, because after graduation they will start teaching the next generation of kids. For more scientific work we collaborate with Andalas University, Padang. The soil science department usually does carbon soil analyses for our carbon project, whenever we conduct carbon assessments in the field for our carbon certification. The Biology department supports us by doing biodiversity assessments in our sites to see the changes in biodiversity over the years. Whenever we need specific expertise, we can easily tap into the opportunities from both Andalas and STKIP. The accelerating effect of partnerships like these are extremely valuable.

 

No need for the cultural apparatus of governments

In addition to the local forestry offices, who support us and the project participants with knowledge and expertise in relation to tree nurseries and tree planting, the local nursery from Forestry, BPDAS, supports the programme with seedlings. Usually, after making a contract, farmers express their interest in specific trees. With this wishlist we visit the BPDAS nursery and make arrangements to obtain the seedlings from them for free. Our participants in the program find this very valuable, firstly because the obvious of getting seedlings for free, but even more important: they would never have been able to contact these government offices for support.

 

And now we are here

With over a decade of experience in landscape restoration, in 2012 we were able to collaborate with the FAO on field testing the concept of Assisted Natural Regeneration. We weren’t sure what to expect especially since we were the first company to develop real participatory restoration in which the local community takes the driver seat. Their questions actually helped us gain more confidence in the work we were about to do. an effort that required us to change our approach and work with nature, rather than against nature. Together with FAO, we launched a successful pilot in two districts in West Sumatra, and farmers also showed great interest in this low cost, ecologically sound and easy to apply technology to kickstart restoration of (food) forest landscapes.

We find it important that local partners take an important part in moving the programme forward. We have built a number of partnerships within Indonesia to ensure that what we do is firmly rooted in the local policy and knowledge context.

After working for years in agroforestry, both in Africa and Asia, we have seen that all too often, a project is a lonely phenomenon. We however believe that no project should be an an island. Project practices must relate in an integrated manner to long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability. Collaboration with local Indonesian partners and stakeholders since the beginning creates shared value and is crucial for sustainability. We have spent a lot of effort in strengthening our relationships and collaboration with local partners over the years.