Aerial image of a forested landscape with a looming mountain in the background.
A forest landscape supported through the LESTARI project.

Combating Climate Change with Communities in Papua

By Christine Chumbler

Since 2000, climate-related disasters have affected about 4 billion people, with an estimated cost of more than $2.2 trillion, and could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030. Thinking about the numbers needed to reduce the worst effects of climate change can be daunting. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2030, the world must cut carbon dioxide emissions 45 percent from 2010 levels to keep average temperature rise below 1.5 degree Celsius. In the coming years, global net fossil fuel consumption increases are projected to come from developing nations like Indonesia. To limit the impacts of climate change, all countries must reduce their emissions, and within each country, every community has a part to play.

In Indonesia’s Papua Province, a province on the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago that shares an island with the nation of Papua New Guinea, reducing deforestation is the most effective way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Around 29 million hectares (71.7 million acres) of forest covers 90 percent of the province, but these forests are under threat from illegal logging and conversion to agriculture and palm oil plantations. While traditional management and rights of local communities over Papua’s forest landscapes is formally recognized and guaranteed in the Indonesian constitution, all of Papua’s forests remain under the jurisdiction of both national and provincial governments.

USAID’s LESTARI project (2015 – 2020) worked with the government and communities in Papua, along with Aceh and Central Kalimantan Provinces, to develop, implement, and monitor collaborative management plans for forest management. As a result, at least 7.48 million hectares (18.5 million acres) of primary or secondary forest—an area the size of South Carolina — is now under improved management in the three provinces. This has led to a 41 percent drop in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions across these landscapes. At the same time, more than 41,500 people saw their incomes improve or secured access to land for sustainable uses.


Map of areas supported by the LESTARI project.
Map of LESTARI-supported landscapes in Indonesia.

Different actors have varied priorities regarding natural resources management. This includes the communities who depend on natural resources for survival, and who should be involved in decisions affecting them. However, in Papua, many community forestry schemes where forest use is licensed to communities or individuals have not worked. This is in part because populations are spread out and forest “ownership” is challenging to have recognized by law.

To help address this, USAID LESTARI developed a three-phase approach to enable collaborative forestry management in this context

  1. stakeholder preparation and participatory village-level planning;
  2. implementing conservation and sustainable development; and
  3. forest monitoring.

Central to this approach is a recognition of the role of traditions and customs in communities. USAID chose to strengthen traditions to improve sustainable management and facilitate co-management arrangements between stakeholders that have rights and responsibilities over these natural resources. This approach focuses on using, strengthening, and adapting existing skills and knowledge that have existed for millennia rather than replacing them with entirely new knowledge, resources, and technologies. Aspects of traditional practices that have been integrated into village regulations include the protection of important or sacred places, community clean water sources, sacred animals, and medicinal plants. Traditionally governed selective felling of timber and sustainable harvest of fisheries have also been applied under village regulations through strengthening ancestral ties with nature.


Through LESTARI, USAID focused on a medium-term, village-level planning process, which enabled community members to have a say in how budget allocations from the national government were used to manage local natural resources. For example, since 2017, Bonifasius Jakfu has been the Chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) on Climate Change for Asmat District in southern Papua. The MSF includes representatives from both local government and local communities, and therefore has been an important platform to build dialogue, trust, and collaboration. Under Bonifasius’ direction, the MSF has contributed to village-level policies and plans for mangrove protection and freshwater resource management. “Through this multi-stakeholder forum, we aspire to lift up the voices of traditional communities in managing and protecting their natural resources,” he says.

As a senior member of the Regional Development Planning Agency in Mappi in southern Papua, Della Rumlus is directly involved in planning and budgeting processes for the district. She has been a vocal proponent of revising the existing spatial plan to incorporate stronger protections for culturally and environmentally significant lands, and giving local communities a stronger voice in land use decision making. She has also advocated for government budget allocations to ensure the rules and regulations stipulated in the spatial plan are actually implemented on the ground. “Through our spatial planning process, we hope to improve the management and protection of natural areas in our district valued by traditional communities,” she says.


The second phase of USAID LESTARI’s collaborative forestry management approach is implementation, the day-to-day activities related to forest and natural resource conservation and sustainable use. Management is collaborative; stakeholders negotiate an equitable distribution of management functions, roles, and responsibilities for a given area and its resources. This is achieved through development of village regulations and village enterprise units.

For instance, the forests in and around Cyclops Nature Reserve in the north directly provide the freshwater supply for the large downstream communities in Jayapura, Papua’s capital and largest city. USAID and local residents developed use regulations so that communities can protect the forests while still being able to earn an income from the resources. In exchange for permission to conduct vanilla cultivation in the buffer zone area around the reserve, Yustinus Taime and his vanilla farmers group have committed to ensuring no cultivation occurs within the protected area boundary. They also routinely patrol the area to mitigate encroachment and other illegal activities. Yustinus eagerly shares this initiative with members of his clan, hoping to recruit them while spreading awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture and ecosystem conservation. “The responsibility of a farmer is not just to manage crops, but also to preserve the surrounding ecosystem,” he says.


A serious looking man poses for the camera.
Oktavianus Waka serves as a LESTARI field facilitator in the Mimika District on the southern coast of Papua.

As a field facilitator with a local NGO, Oktavianus Waka works on the frontlines of mangrove conservation in Mimika District on the southern coast of Papua. The district’s intact mangroves are among the most biodiverse and carbon-rich wetlands in the world and are valued greatly by local traditional communities. Oktavianus works directly with three tribal villages that are home to members of the Kamoro Tribe, building relationships and gaining trust. This has allowed him to work collaboratively with community leaders to develop village-level policies that protect natural resources and ensure they are managed sustainably. Oktavianus feels grateful for this opportunity to learn, put his knowledge into action, and make a positive impact. “Protecting mangrove forests means preserving the way of life for the Kamoro people,” he says.


The final phase of USAID LESTARI’s approach is monitoring, largely done by local communities. Traditional forest management systems usually already have monitoring systems in place that informally involve local communities. Participatory monitoring and evaluation of forest management is a powerful tool for increasing forest protection efforts in line with local customary values and can facilitate immediate management changes in response to new threats.

USAID helped form local community forest protection teams, which serve as the eyes and ears of authorities charged with forest management. For instance, Samuel Betaubun Apoka first became involved in conservation activities after taking part in participatory mapping activities, which opened his eyes to the importance of officially documenting important cultural and environmental areas valued by his community in Mimika District. He then helped to found the Mame Airafua Kampung Nayaro forest patrol group, which works under the guidance of the Mimika District Forestry Branch to conduct routine forest patrols. “This land is our home. We chop sago palms in the forest, hunt wild boar, and fish in the river. If we don’t protect our forests, who will? It is our duty to protect them for the sake of our children and grandchildren,” he says.

When these teams discover issues such as small-scale encroachment into protected areas, they are often able to resolve them locally. They refer larger-scale issues such as illegal logging to government authorities. Local resident David Done had seen the destruction from some of these larger-scale issues, many stemming from migrant communities new to the area, in his home near the forests of Cyclops Nature Reserve. When given the opportunity to join the Papua Nature Conservation Agency as a community-based patrol member, David enthusiastically agreed. He feels proud in doing his part to help secure these important forests for the benefit of current and future generations. “I have always been interested in promoting nature conservation, but now that I am directly involved in patrols, I feel even more confident and empowered to spread this message with others in my community,” he says.

Spreading this message and empowering individuals are effective methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Policies that emphasize the needs, rights, and knowledge of traditional communities also have a role to play. Over the next five years, USAID will continue to limit the impacts of climate change through the $33 million Sustainable Environmental Governance Across Regions (SEGAR) project, a successor to LESTARI. Through SEGAR, USAID will support Indonesian communities, businesses, and the government to strike a better balance between economic growth and the conservation of its invaluable forests and peatlands. This will bring an additional 7 million hectares (17.3 million acres) of tropical forests and peatlands under improved management, to the benefit of local communities, the economy, and the climate.

Strategic Objective
Biodiversity, Coastal, Conflict and Governance, Forestry, Land Use, Monitoring and Evaluation, Resilience, Sustainable Landscapes, Water and Sanitation

Christine Chumbler

Christine Chumbler is a communications professional with more than 20 years experience in writing, editing, and publications design. She has expertise in every stage of publication production, from concept and writing to editing, design, and printing. In the mid-1990s, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This experience led to a career using her writing and editorial skills with international development and foreign policy organizations, many of which worked to directly support USAID’s efforts. She has worked in a freelance capacity full-time since May 2016. Chumbler has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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