Visiting the village of Halaban in the Gunung Leuser National Park, our specialist interest group witnessed the reversal of illegal oil palm plantation back into native rainforest.
The Sumatran Orang-utan Society (appropriately acronymed: SOS) together with their Indonesian partner organization, the Orangutan Information Centre, have been working in this area since 2008, repairing damage done to 500 hectares of protected forests from illegal oil palm development within the national park.Once the palm oil company had been informed the development encroached illegally into the national park and were persuaded to abandon the area, the remaining oil palms led to social conflict, as people came in to the forest to harvest the valuable fresh fruit bunches. SOS and OIC started by engaging the local community, before clearing the illegally planted oil palm.
Learning by doing, applying solutions found by trial and error, they are now planting a wide variety of fast growing native pioneer species, which then shade and protect the equally diverse selection of native canopy species as they develop. They reached the milestone of planting the millionth tree in July 2013.
The project directly benefits the local community through employment and a return of vital ecological services, and they have become guardians of the forests, protecting this corner of the national park from any further encroachment. The restored land is becoming a thriving young forest, providing crucial habitat to a variety of wildlife, including critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and Sumatran elephants.
The children clearly enjoyed playing in the forest more than the boring oil palm plantation adjoining too! A ray of hope for future generations?