Mon, 29 Dec 2003

One tiny step forward in conservation effort

Reed Merrill, Contributor, Jakarta

Indonesia is known around the world for its rich and beautiful natural heritage. And, sadly, the country is also known for the rapid degradation of this natural heritage.

Since the beginning of the multidimensional political and economic crisis that started in 1997, the rate of environmental damage has sky-rocketed.

All too regularly, we here new stories about the atrocities of illegal logging, floods and landslides linked to environmental degradation, and the trade in endangered animals, either for pets or for food.

Especially as Indonesia sorts out the rules of the game for an ambitious decentralization program, and while laws and polices are enforced in an unclear and inequitable manner, trends of environmental degradation are expected to continue.

Real progress in sustainable natural resources management and nature conservation rests on a more stable political and policy environment. Things are more stable today than a few years ago. Hopefully this trend will pick-up momentum after the 2004 elections.

Fifth World Parks Congress

2003 was an important year for conservation, both for Indonesia and around the world. The year was marked by the Fifth World Parks Congress, held in September, in Durban, South Africa.

This once-in-a-decade event brought together 3,600 conservationists from around the world to assess trends and plan for the future of effective protected areas management. The main message of the congress was the need for protected areas to provide benefits beyond boundaries.

This was an important message for the fifty-plus Indonesian delegates to the Congress. Conservationists know that it is not enough to lock away protected areas, and to manage them in isolation of broader development initiatives and community aspirations.

In Indonesia, with the increasing power of local government, their primary focus on economic development, and increasing threats to Protected Areas, it has become clear that the last hope for conservation rests in balancing conservation and development. In Indonesia, conservation can only be effective if it provides benefits beyond park boundaries.

Collaborative management

The conservation movement in Indonesia has recognized the importance of providing benefits beyond boundaries for a number of years. To achieve this, there has been a growing trend toward collaborative management. Collaborative management provides an integrated approach to conservation of protected areas.

Management is not kept in the hands of a single government agency. Rather, on a site-specific basis, park management identifies and then facilitates partnerships with a range of park stakeholders.

Stakeholders can be local government agencies, NGOs, community organizations, universities and the private sector. While they vary from park to park, stakeholders share an interest in the conservation management of a protected area as well as a degree of capacity to contribute toward this.

Over the past few years, international and national NGOs, as well as a number of donor projects, have worked with the Ministry of Forestry and local stakeholders to develop effective field initiatives in collaborative management.

From Bali Barat to Bunaken, and from Kayan Mentarang to Komodo, a suite of site-specific collaborative management initiatives have blossomed.

With the demonstrated success of collaborative management, 2003 provided a benchmark in providing policy support for this new conservation paradigm. With a policy shift from closed access to regulated open access, the Ministry of Forestry instructed all national park managers to establish collaborative management forums.

This is a crucial step towards providing benefits beyond boundaries, as this policy integrates conservation of parks in the broader context of regional development.

Local protected areas

2003 also saw the emergence of locally-designated protected areas. From Aru to Derawan, a number of regents from across the country are exploring ways to gazette local protected areas in order to boost tourism opportunities or protect important areas of locally-significant natural heritage.

Again, we see the theme of benefits beyond boundaries. While there is a diversity in the kinds of protected areas being designated at the local level, they share a key objective: conserving a park so the broader economic benefits can be enjoyed by the public.

The country currently lacks a clear policy framework to support the designation and management of locally-gazetted protected areas. But with increased demand by local government agencies, and with the support of local conservation community, it is likely that this movement will increase pace in coming years.

Marine protected areas networks

Indonesia's conservation movement also made significant strides in marine protected areas (MPA) management in 2003.

Again, this is driven by the clear link between economic benefits with effective conservation management. Driven by decreased fish catch and the recognition of the need to enhance the livelihoods of those living in coastal communities, progress has been made to strengthen an integrated MPA system.

A national-level working group of government officials, with NGO and donor project technical support, is working on a state of the art MPA system and strategy for Indonesia. For the first time, a network that integrates large, nationally-managed MPAs with small, locally-managed MPAs is being established.

With the commitment of local communities, local governments and national government agencies, this MPA network can demonstrate to Indonesia and the world that MPA conservation can result in increased economic development.

Looking ahead

Tragically, 2003 brought witness to the price of ignoring conservation. On Nov. 2, some 239 people lost their lives and hundreds more were made homeless when floods devastated Bahorok town, Langkat regency, in Gunung Leuser National Park. While we still try to understand the cause of this disaster, it acts as a wake-up call to all of us.

Our long-term well-being hinges on balancing sustainable use of natural resources with conservation of our protected areas. Especially sad is that this disaster happened within a National Park. This tragedy must act as a wake-up call to all of us, and drive us to more effectively integrate economic development with conservation of our natural heritage.

Positively, 2003 closed with global recognition of Indonesia's efforts to balance conservation and economic development. In December, British Airways announced that Bunaken National Park won the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow award.

Selected as grand prize winner from more than seventy entries from around the world, the Tourism for Tomorrow award recognizes Bunaken's success in integrating conservation of the park with improving local livelihoods and contributing to the local economy.

Significantly, Bunaken won this global award by demonstrating to the world that conservation can produce benefits beyond boundaries.

Conservation is and will remain a challenge in Indonesia. Its success is crucial to the long-term sustainable growth of the country. This requires mainstreaming of conservation into development planning.

It also requires a stable political and policy field from which to grow. A new conservation paradigm has emerged. Let's hope we still have time to make it work.

The author is an advisor to the USAID's Natural Resources Management Project Protected Areas & Agriculture