My names Michael Perry, I have been back and forward to Indonesia for 3 years, working in the furniture industry. Here’s a story of a grassroots NGO I’m associated with called Trees4Trees™ who work with communities to provide sustainable livelihoods while fighting deforestation one tree at a time.
Having worked with furniture and homewares from Indonesia for over 10 years, the question of where and how materials are obtained is one I have found hard to ignore. The sad thing is that I would always be fed the same stories about where materials come from, some true and some false. It wasn’t until I spent 12 months in Central Java overseeing a furniture factory that I began to understand the situation more clearly. It is often poverty and lack of alternative livelihoods that are pushing people to log illegally. Also, there are so many transactions from when a tree is cut, to where it ends up, that the chain of custody often gets lost, unless it is meticulously tracked. It became obvious to me there is one way to stop illegal logging and deforestation, and that is to make it profitable and rewarding for the people at the grassroots of the logging industry. So when I learned of the Trees4Trees™ program I was intrigued to find out more, and jumped at the chance to tag along on a field trip to meet the people making it happen. In a nut shell:
Trees4Trees™ is a non-profit foundation established in Indonesia by responsible furniture manufacturers and their customers worldwide. Trees4Trees™ empowers local communities through partnership reforestation initiatives and related education programs. By increasing the area of community planted and owned forests, livelihood assets are created, the negative effects of deforestation are reduced and the environment is renewed.
Here is a glance of a day I spent with the people at Trees4Trees™.
“TREES 4 TREES” FIEED TRIP – PATI, CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA 29TH JANUARY 2010
I set off from the Trees4Trees™ office early on Friday morning to Rondvue in Pati with Pak Mun Hagi, the T4T planning coordinator and Pak Andik a T4T field coordinator. After collecting the guys around 9am we set out to the village of Baqeng to meet the leader of the farmer group Pak Ismartono. The village and surrounding area of Baqeng is famous for the cultivation of the “Bali orange”, an oversized fruit that tastes like a mixture of a grapefruit and orange, as well as an abundance of coffee. One of my first questions for my guides was regarding the attitude towards the Trees4Trees™ program in their region. I was pleased to learn that moral for the program is high. In fact this particular village has 300 farmers and 100 farmers have become involved.
I was happily greeted by one of the farmers Pak Sondong at his house in Baqeng and shortly after joined by a keen group of young farmers dressed in their fresh white polo shirts. The local farmers are obviously very enthusiastic about the T4T program and were happy to have the opportunity to meet a “bule” (foreigner).
When a farmer registers his land with T4T, Pak Andi and Pak Ismartono collect data and tag every tree over 20cm in diameter on the land, regardless of its species. The size, species and GPS coordinates will be sent via email to Pak Mun and uploaded to the T4T website. There are many positive repercussions of accurately collecting this data. For instance, once the land has been surveyed information will be given back to the owner who then has an accurate record of his assets, and can calculate the yield before brokering a deal to sell the wood from his land. More importantly wood will have a complete chain of custody, proving it is legal.
After a short interval of coffee and Bali orange the men left for their customary Friday prayer, which gave me the opportunity to stroll the deserted village, only to find the smiling faces of mothers and children. This is by no means a rich area on an economical scale, but if you look deeper you will find richness on many other scales. When the men returned we set off up the mountain to check on the progress of newly planted Sengon trees. This is a rural area set amongst mountain valleys, and farmed of coffee and rice. Sengon does not compete with coffee or rice plantations for the nutrience in the soil. The Sengon tree spreads a thin canopy leaving plenty of light for the crop below. As the increased survival rate indicates, carefully planning and matching of species with available land is the way forward, and this is what is happening. Although Sengon is of lower value than teak or mahogany, it is faster growing so it reaches a speedier yield for the famer, without affecting their primary source of income. It is support and counseling like this that will ultimately prove the successes of the program.
Pak Andi works closely with the farmers to educate them about what species will grow best on their land and has a wealth of knowledge about this area, for his age he is punching well above his weight and earning respect from the villagers and farmers. Pak Andik has dedicated his life to the cause moving into the village to better understand the situation, and giving more accurate readings for the T4T inventory and digital mapping system.
After checking the progress of the newly planted trees we ventured up the mountain by foot as access via car is no longer possible. Climbing the mountain through coffee and rice fields we reach the summit to investigate another patch of T4T registered land. At this point I take a minute to reflect where I am, at the peak of a mountain in Central Java waist deep in a rice field, peering through the treetops across a deep valley green. Literally every mature tree is handled and recorded by T4T. Seeing first-hand how in-depth the process is offered me complete satisfaction.
People work hard in this region and industry. They travel long distances to work by foot, truck or motorbike, spending a lifetime working with their hands for the smallest income in order to feed their children. The sad thing is in the western world (for the most part) people working in the logging industry receive a bad rap due to previous wrong do-ers and ineffective programs. Hopefully this will change. With the hard work and dedication of guys like Pak Mun and Pak Andik at Trees4Trees I can see hope.
Trees4Trees is a nonprofit foundation. The only reason there are not more farmers enrolled with T4T is, funding. So I don’t feel so bad urging you to contribute. I don’t mean by opening your wallet and emptying your cash, because even in the western world dollars are still hard to find. But I can ask you to question your local retailer next time you’re in a furniture store selling Indonesian products, have they heard of Trees4Trees? If you do find a store involved, make sure to return or support them with the knowledge that your purchase is contributing to a great cause.
There are now approximately 10,000 Javanese farmers registered with Trees4Trees and with over 400,000 trees planted to date. For people farming in regional communities this is an opportunity to create change. Not only to change the direction of our climate or reduce deforestation but also to become a part of a chain, starting at the roots of a problem and benefiting every link along the way, securing all our futures.
Note: I do not work for Trees4Trees. I am an ambassador for Trees4Trees and am deeply committed to their values and vision. Any opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect those of my employers or clients.