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On the 5th of May 2024, we held a field school on forest, carbon , and governance of the Bujang Raba village forest. We were joined by Emmy Primadona and Famila Juniarti from KKI Warsi, who approached forest carbon activities from traditional, cultural, and financial narratives. The Field School, held in Laman Panjang village, Jambi province, was attended by 24 participants from the forest village communities and forest patrols of Buat, Laman Panjang, Lubuk Beringin, Senamat Ulu, and Sungai Telang villages. We engaged them in discussions about their understanding of a forest, their evaluation of the present forest and speculation about the future forest, and how a carbon project influences their forest activities. The participants, divided into groups based on their villages, provided unique insights in their responses.

Laman Panjang

Theme 1: What is a Forest?

Under the theme 'What is a Forest? ', we fostered an interactive environment by asking each group to arrange two sets of puzzles (see Fig 1). The images were carefully chosen to elicit the participants’ views on what defines a forest. After successfully solving the puzzles, we asked each group to share their views of a forest and a non-forest and to identify their main characteristics.

A forest and a non-forest

Fig 1. The two pictures start the discussion “What makes a forest a non/forest?”. The above text says, “a forest that has been transformed into a plantation by the community.” The below text says, “a natural forest that human mischievous hands have not touched.”

The participants came up with forest characteristics such as:

  • High tree density
  • Consisting of large-diameter trees
  • High biodiversity
  • Located far from the settlement area
  • Natural, free from human activity
  • It cannot be used for plantation

Descriptions that came up for non-forest characteristics include:

  • Low tree density
  • Consisting of small-diameter trees
  • Monoculture plantations such as coffee, rubber, and durian
  • Located in the utilisation zone
  • It has been infringed upon by human

These descriptions suggest a tension in the relationship between the forest and humans, as suggested by Fig 2, where human activities make a forest a non-forest. To strengthen this argument, the participants characterised a forest as being far from their settlement and a non-forest as being in the utilisation zone close to where they live.

A picture of a forest and a non-forest

Fig 2. A picture of a forest (above) and a non-forest (below).

When we asked the community why it is important to protect the forest, they described it as an oxygen producer, a source for water , a place for eco-tourism, a home for diverse flora and fauna, and a source of medicinal plants. These answers suggest that the community participants recognised a forest as a multiplicity of relations that turn it into more than just a commodity. This relational multiplicity also came to expression when we asked them about what threatens their forests. A village group responded that illegal mining activities in the village’s river posed a threat to their forests.

Bathin III Ulu

Theme 2: The Present and Future Forests

For this theme, we asked each group to make two drawings: one about their views on the present forest and the other about how it will be in a decade. In describing the conditions of their forests, each group identified the forest as divided into two zones: protection and utilisation. Group I described that the forest in the protection zone has decreased due to landslides, whereas the forest in the utilisation zone has not been fully utilised. They also highlighted how they had not optimised the non-timber forest product production due to the long distance between where they live and the forest area where they could harvest the non-timber products. When discussing the future forest, Group I expected the protected zone to remain intact since they would most likely use the utilisation zone that is currently still undeveloped.

Group II highlighted the activities that they undertook to monitor the forest. They have finished installing the boundary markers around the village forest area and described how the forest enabled them to gather medicinal herbs and get clean water. However, the group representative expressed his concern regarding the discontinuity of the carbon fund to forest protection activities: “What we are afraid of is the regulation change. That's been our concern for several years. Now, the villagers asked us why there is no longer basic food distribution during the fasting month (Ramadhan) since it is no longer permitted by the government. That's the regulation change. So, people's desire to sincerely protect the forest is reducing because they don't get any benefits from what they do.” All village households received the basic food distribution through the carbon fund during Ramadhan.

In addition to the carbon fund, Group III highlighted financial pressure as the challenge in forest protection. The representative of Group III described that “As the population increases, the utilisation zone decreases. The current focus of the economy is palm oil. If the community's economy remains unchanged, trees will likely be cut down. As for river flows and watersheds, these remain stable in the protection zone, but areas around residential zones are prone to flooding. This is due to reduced water absorption. Hence, the village will be susceptible to flooding in the next ten years because of its proximity to the river. This is something we need to prepare for.”

Group IV gave contrasting descriptions of the present and future forests. While the group representative mentioned the possibility of deforestation due to illegal mining activities, they expected their future forest to remain intact (see Fig 1).

The present and future forests

Fig 1. The present and future forests of Group IV.

Group V described their present forest as consisting of large-diameter trees with high biodiversity and density. This positive condition allowed the villagers to develop eco-tourism for valley hiking and waterfall visits. However, the group representative highlighted that their village was under an environmental threat due to illegal mining activities in their river. The group predicted their future forest would be deforested due to illegal logging (Fig 2).

The present and future forests of Group V

Fig 2. The present forest (left) and the future forest (right).

Bathin III Ulu

Theme 3: How Does a Carbon Project Shape Forest Activities?

This theme focuses on forest activities that emerged from the carbon project. The groups were asked to prepare a poster with photos, cards, and drawings about their carbon activities. This led to discussions around what types of information are generated through different forest patrol activities, how traditional values shape who was being included in protecting the forest, and what objects are considered valuable to report. When discussing the carbon project, participants were mainly focused on activities to protect the village forest. The protection activities include identifying the protection and utilisation areas within the village forest, translating these areas into monitoring points in Avenza, a mapping application, and installing signboards in locations pointed by the application.

A participant presents their forest carbon activities

Fig 1 A participant explains the steps of forest patrol.

Group I highlighted how the forest patrols and the forest village management unit included villagers in the discussion on determining the protection and utilisation areas. After agreeing on the areas, the forest patrols and members of the village forest management unit went to the forest to install the signboards. Their journey to the forest started with a ceremonial activity directed by the village head. This was followed by entering the forest and building a temporary camp near where they needed to install the signboards. During the forest patrol, they noted the coordinates generated from the GPS and how they fit the Avenza map (Fig 1). Group II added that apart from recording the coordinates of the signboard locations, they also logged coordinates where they found rare species and areas with tourism potential. Besides including the village apparatus, Group III mentioned that in their activities, they also involved the village elders who have knowledge about the forest. Support also came by allocating part of the village budget for health insurance for the forest patrol.

Carbon forest activities

Fig 2. A participant showing how they measure a leaf and a tree diameter.

Apart from installing signboards and documenting species, Group IV mentioned that they started to measure tree diameter for the Tree Adoption program (Fig 2). For this program, the village forest management unit and forest patrols identified potential trees for the adoption scheme. These trees are then recorded on the pohonasuh.org website, allowing the public to adopt them.

A participant presents their forest carbon activities

Fig 3. A participant explains their findings from the forest patrol.

In their presentation, Group V echoed other groups in terms of having ceremonial activities before entering the forest (Fig 3). In addition to using a measuring tape, they also used a pencil to show the size of a tiger’s footprint. They added that they found Shorea sp. (locally known as Meranti) nursery, which naturally regenerated from seeds that fell and germinated in situ. Group V pointed out that this natural nursery can be used for reforestation . Additionally, they expressed the challenges they face during the forest patrols, where they have to deal with difficult terrain.

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