Regenerating Rainforests

by Health in Harmony
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Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
Regenerating Rainforests
ASRI staff replanting at the Reforestation site
ASRI staff replanting at the Reforestation site
Every year, staff and community members at Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) celebrate Green Day. It's not only an opportunity to plant trees, but also to strengthen relationships among ASRI staff, the community they serve, and the local government. This year, Green Day participants helped plant trees in a special zone of Gunung Palung National Park, an area called Rantau Panjang.

The site at Rantau Panjang is actually being converted from gardens and farm land back into rain forest.  The land had been logged and farmed with traditional "slash and burn" techniques -- which, in addition to being dangerous and unsustainable, removes valuable forest cover from the area, destroys habitat for orangutans and other fauna, and leaves the degraded area more prone to flooding.  ASRI staff are working with farmers in the community to rehabilitate this area by planting native trees that yield fruit or legumes -- that way, they can re-grow the rainforest while also making money.

As part of ASRI's Forest to Garden program, the community came together to plant tropical fruit trees (such as rambutan, mango, cempedak, jenkol, and jackfruit) and a variety of other species at the Rantau Panjang site. In five years, these trees will be bearing fruit and ready for harvest. By planting valuable crops that also contribute to the rain forest, ASRI is helping communities rehabilitate the forest and put a stop to clearing for new fields.  This will lead to long term improvement for the ecosystem as a whole, such as decreased erosion, increased natural carbon capture, and less flooding.

Green Day 2018 brought together donors, ASRI staff, representatives from the community, local business people, officials from Gunung Palung and nearby villages, as well as guests. Thank you to everyone who attended and helped out!

The health of humans and the health of the environment are inextricably intertwined. if both are not healthy, neither can be
- Dr. Kinari Webb

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Kebun Keluarga (Kitchen Gardens) is one of ASRI's conservation programs, focusing on alternative livelihood development. This program works with women who live around Gunung Palung National Park, teaching them how to cultivate the small plots of land they manage next to their homes.

In 2017, there are already 60 housewives who have become part of the program. Among them are women from the villages of Belerang, Tanjung Gunung, and Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga.

In October, the ASRI staff was very happy to visit several members of Kebun Keluarga in Tanjung Gunung.

We traveled 15 km from ASRI and were met with rows of greenery inside the black polybags lined up neatly in the front yard of the homes.

The first house we visited was the home of Mrs. Wina, who has been part of the program since 2016. The various kinds of plants in her garden include mustard greens, white turmeric, scallions, and chili. Her family consumes most of the produce grown in garden, while the rest is sold to their neighbors.

Next, we met with Mrs. Kimah and Nurhayati. They sell produce from their garden to the Palung Market four times a month. With the profit they earn, they have increased their overall family income, and are purchasing items like snacks for their children and additional kitchen supplies.

"The money from selling produce from garden can help support us - surely I can help my husband! Women should be able to support themselves and be independent," said Mrs. Kimah when we visited her house.

Another woman we met was Mrs. Nurhayati, who said of the program, "I've gained more experience and knowledge. Now I  know how to manage manure properly and how to care for my crops naturally. "

The program has grown considerably since it began. When the program started, ASRI provided them with seeds for mustard greens, kale, chili and eggplant. Now for other seeds, they go to their friends in the program or buy them using the group's earnings.

Last but not least, ASRI also provides training to the women. So far, many of them have been trained on how to make organic fertilizer, how to take of their gardens, and how to manage their finances.

"I hope that this program will not only teach these women how to manage household gardens, but will also help them manage their household finances." said Fitri Suryani, facilitator of the program.

We hope that through this program, we can help increase household income and so that community members no longer need to turn to logging to support their families.

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Since 2007, Health In Harmony and our partner Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) have reduced illegal logging (by 89% as of 2017), achieved important health outcomes (such as reducing infant mortality rate), and helped lift families living around Gunung Palung National Park (GPNP) out of poverty. We’ve done this by using radical listening to facilitate community-designed solutions to the integrated problems that people face. Could the same approach work in other parts of the world?

To answer this question, in 2018 we aim to launch operations in other high-value ecosystems where people’s quest for health and well-being drives ecosystem degradation. This is what was occurring in Borneo, where villagers were harvesting and selling trees in order to pay for their health care. And it’s what we see happening all over the world.

Health In Harmony scouting teams have already conducted field assessments in the Philippines and in other parts of Indonesia, in order to determine the best context for us to open new programs. In October, we conducted needs and feasibility assessments in and around Manombo Reserve, located in southeastern Madagascar. I was thrilled to be part of this trip, having been Health In Harmony’s Executive Director for just under 9 months, to see Radical Listening in action, and get a better sense of the type of places our unique way of working may bring real value.

Why scout Madagascar?

We do extensive background research before entering a country. Some of the main factors we consider before doing an on-the-ground scouting trip are conservation value and the health and well-being barriers people face. We also consider factors such as partnership potential, safety and security, and impact potential.

Conservation value:

The distinct ecosystems and extraordinary wildlife of Madagascar have evolved in isolation for 160 million years since its split from the African continent. Approximately 95% of Madagascar’s reptiles, 89% of its plant life, and 92% of its mammals (including more than 100 lemur species) exist nowhere else on Earth. Lemurs and many of Madagascar’s biological wonders are in danger of extinction due to habitat destruction mostly caused by slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging, and poaching for bushmeat. Some 90% of the island’s primary rain forest has already been cleared, causing lemurs to be one of the most threatened group of mammals on earth (1).

Manombo Reserve is one of the last coastal rain forests remaining in Madagascar. It is habitat for eight lemur species, including five listed as endangered. This vital rain forest is disappearing rapidly due in part to unsustainable farming and livelihood practices. Conservation experts, including Dr. Patricia Wright – the world’s pre-eminent lemur biologist – fear that Manombo forest and its lemur populations could disappear entirely without a simultaneous focus on human development and conservation (2).

Health and well-being:

Madagascar’s public health context is equally dire. Diseases eradicated elsewhere, such as the plague, kill dozens of Malagasy people every year. In fact, the most severe outbreak of pneumonic plague in recent history happened just this Fall in Madagascar. Humanitarian crises – including acute malnutrition and famine due to food shortages – rarely gain international attention, yet are an ever-present threat. Nearly half of Malagasy children under the age of five are stunted (low height for age), which is an issue of food scarcity, clean water, and sanitation habits. Childhood stunting rates increase to more than 60% in remote areas, such as the ones we visited.

Protecting forests and elevating people out of poverty are enormously challenging feats in Madagascar due to a perfect storm of factors, including the fragility of democracy. The latest coup d’etat – in 2009 – wrought intense economic damage from which the country is still reeling. Approximately 90% percent of the population lives under $2 a day.

Scouting trip approach

We conducted the assessment with several goals in mind. First, we aimed to gain more insight into the political and development context. We also set out to build relationships and trust with the national authorities and other key stakeholders. Most importantly, we wanted to begin radical listening exercises with communities around Manombo Reserve, to understand the people’s challenges and what they thought might be potential solutions.

Led by Kari Malen (International Program Director) and Amy Krzyzek (International Partnerships Manager), HIH conducted radical listening exercises with nine communities bordering Manombo Reserve. The groups that welcomed us ranged in size from 20 to 70 people. In these meetings, we asked them how they could live more in balance with the forests of Manombo Reserve. Dr. Kinari Webb, our Founder, often remarks how quickly the villages around GPNP in Borneo came to consensus about the solutions to their challenges. Incredibly, this was also our experience in Madagascar; each community told us, in their own words, a similar if not identical narrative.

What we learned

First, food is a critical need. These communities currently do not have enough to eat and their long term food security is looking bleak. Many people are already turning to emergency coping strategies, such as, as well as foraging or hunting for food inside Manombo Reserve. Many people talked about harvesting wild potatoes from the reserve; even though they know they have little nutritional value.

Second, villagers around Manombo Reserve were nearly unanimous in telling us that seasonal hunger gaps (‘lean’ seasons) are exacerbated by the changing weather and destructive natural disasters. They know about – and want – fast-growing varieties of rice, but it would require training to cultivate them and money to buy the expensive seeds. If they’re to ever get ahead of the hunger curve, they recognize the need to learn growing techniques adapted to fluctuating growing seasons.

Lastly, there was a consensus that health care access and quality is insufficient.Transportation to health care facilities is expensive and unreliable. A mother carrying her sick baby can walk hours to a main road for a bus to the nearest clinic, only to find each passing vehicle already full. This means walking to a clinic is sometimes the only option, and that can take hours. With fields to work and mouths to feed, mothers are put in the impossible position of spending money they don’t have to find a doctor for a sick child, at the expense of tending to the needs of the rest of her family – or not going at all.

The lack of willingness to make the journey also stems in part from an uncertainty regarding the quality of care available. Rural doctors and nurses – few and far between because they are irregularly paid by the government – often flee rural clinics for urban centers. Health care itself is ostensibly free, but the cost of inpatient stays, drugs, and corruption make the reality very different. The collateral costs of health care are often more than a family can bear.

For the children in these communities, their malaria, diarrheal diseases, neonatal complications, and acute respiratory infections – the biggest causes of infant mortality – usually go untended until it’s a medical emergency, and then it’s often too late. A lack of access to basic health care in these remote, rural areas means many children never receive routine immunizations, increasing their vulnerability to malnutrition and infection from tetanus, measles, and tuberculosis.

The people we met were impoverished by any standard. Basic needs were unmet at a level I’d only ever witnessed inside conflict zones – in places like the Kivus or Central African Republic. I had the sense in rural Madagascar that natural disasters rob people of life and dignity the way violence does in conflict-prone parts of the world. The threat of drought, cyclones, and flooding – on top of their terrible impoverishment – jeopardizes their survival.

The greatest dilemma assessment teams face is managing expectations. We question people about intimate details of their lives, and – although we do so sensitively – we know that we may never be able to take action. Many of the communities we met had seen numerous organizations come and go. Without getting their hopes up about our return – they were hopeful. One villager told us many organizations had come to his village to ask about their needs and the challenges they face. And then, he added: “But you are the first one that’s ever asked us what we think the solutions are.”

 

What's next?

I left Madagascar feeling the immensity of needs people have inside the communities we visited. And ultimately, I felt determined. It’s time for a different approach to the preservation of life on earth, one that regards human well-being and conservation of our natural world as one and the same.

So what comes next? Currently, we are in the process of comparing and contrasting the multiple field sites we have assessed. It is critical to find sites that share certain contextual elements, in order to robustly test and compare the effectiveness of our intervention model across sites.

We are also actively seeking funds from various donors for a multi-year intervention at one of these replication locations – which is, of course, the key enabler – and aim to come to a decision in early 2018.

Thank you for following and supporting our site visits; please stay tuned for more updates. Expanding our program sites to bring forest preservation, poverty reduction, and improved health and well-being to people in other countries will be a challenging journey. My greatest desire is that our entire community of supporters around the world joins us on this journey, and helps spread the word about Health In Harmony’s important work in your own networks.

 

1. Hannah L, Rakotosamimanana B, Ganzhorn J, Mittermeier R, Olivier S, Iyer L, Rajaobelina S and Hough J, Andrianialisoa F, Bowels I and Tilkin G (1998). Participatory planning, scientific priorities, and landscape conservation in Madagascar; Environmental Conservation 25 (1): 30–36.

2. We send huge gratitude to Dr. Patricia Wright and Maya Moore, Chief Technical Advisor at Centre ValBio (CVB)who were both instrumental in the planning and execution of our assessment. Dr. Wright is a world-renowned primatologist, professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University and founder of Centre ValBio (CVB), a research station located inside Ranomafana National Park. Dr. Wright was the driving force behind the creation of Ranomafana National Park, a 106,000-acre World Heritage Site in southeastern Madagascar, home to many endangered species, including some 15 species of lemurs. We are grateful for her eagerness to support Health In Harmony.

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Gunung Palung National Park
Gunung Palung National Park

This past February I had my first opportunity to visit our partner ASRI and colleagues. I’d like to tell you about one new and particularly innovative initiative I saw called the Garden to Forest program. It’s illustrative of how we approach the conjoined challenges of human development and conservation of our natural world.

The Garden to Forest program is a reforestation initiative that provides economic incentives and technical support for slash-and-burn farmers to help them transition to sustainable agroforestry. The program is an enormous opportunity for rapid reforestation and biodiversity enrichment.

ASRI negotiates agreements between owners of ‘illegal’ gardens (small farms) and the National Park administration. I say ‘illegal’ because the gardens are technically inside the boundaries of Gunung Palung National Park (GPNP). Farmers commit not to clear additional land, in exchange for legal rights to harvest non-timber forest products. ASRI also provides materials and helps farmers re-plant their gardens with native tree seedlings, some of which produce marketable fruit or other products farmers can sell.

Our planting target of 1,000 seedlings per hectare of garden will ultimately establish a closed canopy. A percentage of the seedlings are fast-growing nitrogen-fixing legumes, producing beans that farmers can sell and orangutans and other wildlife can eat. The majority of the seedlings are a mix of 15 to 30 native hardwood species, some of which will also produce valuable non-timber products like fruits. Although we don’t completely return gardens to natural forested conditions, this method improves farmers’ livelihoods, limits rainforest loss, and restores native canopy cover for orangutans, sun bears, clouded leopards, hornbills, and thousands of other species.

When talking with the farmers and the ASRI staff, I could see the impact of our respectful, radical listening. ASRI started with a pilot project in one of the villages where active slash-and-burn practice is common inside the Park. They held a series of community meetings and secured the participation of 28 farmers managing 14 hectares of illegal gardens. Then they negotiated a contract between farmers, the Park administration, and ASRI. Thanks to our generous donors, we were able to provide funds to help each farmer establish a native tree nursery on their land, which ASRI stocks with seedlings. We also build farmers’ business management mindedness so they can effectively access markets with their products.

We are now scaling the program to multiple villages. We are in the process of securing the seedlings and obtaining planting permits from GPNP. Next, we will help the farmers transplant seedlings from the nurseries to their gardens during the planting season – November to December 2017. We will monitor seedling growth and survival and assess the economic success and needs of the farmers. I look forward to sharing photos and stories as those gardens slowly but surely transform into forest canopy – forest that supports the livelihood of the farmers and preserves GPNP’s biodiversity.

The Garden to Forest program differs from intensive reforestation techniques in its ease of scalability (farmers learn to do the work themselves), its relatively low costs, and community engagement opportunities. It’s the kind of win-win-win (farmer, ecosystem, park administration) solutions that are not rocket science, that are distinctly possible, that help script a hopeful narrative to supplant so much of the pessimism and dystopia clouding social and political efforts to preserve our planet.

I’m grateful to each of you for making win-win solutions possible, for doing your part to protect our planet, and for championing the narrative of hope – even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

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Health In Harmony’s mission and that of their Indonesian partner, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), is a difficult one—stopping forest loss in western Borneo, a region with one of the world’s highest deforestation rates (check out Part I for an introduction to the problem). As planetary health professionals, we seek solutions that address the underlying social conditions that lead to forest loss. But those social factors are complicated, involving issues like government policy, population growth, poverty, indigenous rights, gender equality, and education. Tackling such a complex problem requires comprehensive and flexible solutions and more than a bit of creativity.

Focusing on the area around Gunung Palung National Park, ASRI uses a 5-pronged approach that combats deforestation on multiple fronts.

1. Monitor: To understand the problem and inform our actions, we first gauge the extent of forest loss and its causes. We make regular visits to communities that border the park to check for evidence of deforestation, like farm clearings, logging roads, and sawmills. We also cultivate a network of locally recruited forest guardians who update us about forest clearing activities and conditions in their neighborhoods. We back up these efforts by using satellite images to measure forest loss in each village and throughout the park. Finally, we survey households across the region to learn about changing social and economic conditions. Combining all these methods—site visits, local partners, satellite imagery, and surveys—gives us a complete picture of where the damage is being done and why.

 

2. Provide healthcare: ASRI’s defining innovation is to reduce deforestation by providing healthcare to communities. When we began working here a decade ago, medical expenses were one of the main pressures driving communities to log within the national park. The only hospitals were expensive and far away. In a medical emergency, families were driven to poach timber to cover the costs of travel and treatment. Today we operate a nearby clinic that meets the health needs of local communities, reducing the costs of treatment and the pressure to log. In addition to providing low-cost healthcare to anyone who needs it, we give additional discounts of up to 70% to villages that work with us to stop illegal logging. Our aim is to turn the financial incentive on its head—instead of logging to pay for medical treatment, communities can now save money by giving up logging altogether.

 

3. Find alternative livelihoods: Many people who clear forests do so because they lack access to more sustainable jobs. We respond to this need through programs that provide training, assistance, and money to people who want to switch careers. Through our organic farming program, for example, we train former loggers and other community members to make a living without clearing forests or using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, our kitchen gardens program empowers housewives to better feed their families and earn extra income by growing organic produce. Our newest initiative, the chainsaw buyback entrepreneurship program, targets logging couples who want to start their own businesses. We buy their chainsaws, develop business plans for both husband and wife, and provide no-interest funds to get their business ideas off the ground. With just a small investment, several loggers and their wives have already become café or restaurant owners, farmers, barbers, and traders. All these programs operate on the idea that slowing deforestation is sometimes as easy as giving people a choice.

Our chainsaw buyback entrepreneurship program gets chainsaws out of the forest by helping logging couples become small business owners instead.

4. Educate: Perhaps the most impactful action we can take in the long term is to teach future generations to value the natural world. Few adults in our area have access to higher education, and many have not progressed beyond primary school. Education gaps translate into poor economic opportunities and reduced environmental awareness, driving people to clear forest to make a living. We fill these gaps by operating conservation education programs tailored to all ages. Our clinic patients watch videos about forest conservation in the waiting room, posters in the clinic hallways highlight local biodiversity, and we visit rural communities to teach families about the links between human and environmental health. We also partner with primary schools to teach a three-month environmental education curriculum, the ASRI Kids course, which includes field trips to the national park. Our newest education initiative, ASRI Teens, provides advanced learning and volunteer opportunities for middle and high school students. Finally, every year we provide paid conservation internships to local university students. Taken together, our education programs increase environmental awareness and improve economic opportunities for the communities who have the most to lose from deforestation.

Our ASRI Teens program connects middle and high school students to volunteer opportunities, like planting rainforest seedlings for reforestation projects.

5. Restore: Protecting Borneo’s remaining forests is critical, but the long term survival of the island’s landscapes depends on also restoring areas that are already degraded. Most of the forests where we work, including 20% of the national park, have been cleared by farmers and loggers, and the remaining forests survive only as isolated islands. We enlarge and reconnect these fragments by reforesting degraded lands in the national park. By replanting areas with native rainforest trees and protecting them from wildfires, we restore critical habitats and reconnect populations of orangutans and other native species. We supplement this with our garden to forest program, which helps communities that farm inside the national park to switch from intensive farming to sustainable agroforestry. We provide supplies, training, and money to farmers who want to replace their crops with native trees that provide marketable fruits, building materials, and other products. The goal is to eventually restore the entire park to native forest and ensure that nearby communities are invested in its protection. Our reforestation programs are thus the most ambitious and farsighted actions we take, aiming not just to halt but actually to reverse forest loss decades and centuries into the future.

Our reforestation programs work to restore areas of the park that have been cleared by loggers and farmers.

Complete restoration takes generations, but even just a few years of effort makes a huge difference.

All of our solutions have one thing in common—they are tailored to the needs of communities who live near the park. By listening to people whose fates are tied to the landscapes we want to protect, we can design solutions that benefit both humans and the rest of nature.

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Organization Information

Health in Harmony

Location: Portland, OR - USA
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Twitter: @HIHngo
Project Leader:
Devika Agge
Portland, Oregon United States
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