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Green jobs in Indonesia

Creating sustainable livelihoods while saving a precious eco-system

The ILO is working with local communities on the Indonesian island of Borneo on a green jobs programme that is helping to rehabilitate a partly-destroyed peat swamp forest.

Feature | 29 May 2013
CENTRAL KALIMANTAN, Indonesia (ILO News) – Villagers living in one of Indonesia’s most environmentally-precious regions have for years faced a stark choice – cutting down trees to sustain their livelihoods or preserving their forests.

“We understand that deforestation leads to massive fires and floods, but logging was our primary source of income, so we didn’t have any choice,” explains Ardianto, who lives in the small rural village of Pilang, Central Kalimantan Province, on the island of Borneo.

His village is in Central Kalimantan – home to swathes of peat swamp forests, which are part of a unique ecological system that has taken thousands of years to grow.

Environmental disaster

In 1996, the government of President Suharto – who ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years – cleared 1.4 million hectares of the peat land to make way for irrigated rice production and moved in farming populations from other parts of Indonesia. This Mega Rice Project soon proved to be a major social, economic and environmental disaster.

Four thousand kilometres of drainage and irrigation channels were dug as part of the project, which drained water from the peat and inadvertently created an infrastructure for illegal loggers. A combination of the dry peat igniting during the hot seasons and farmers slashing and burning to clear their land, led to huge fires that destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of vegetation. The destruction of the peat forest polluted rivers with sulphuric acid and released millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The project was eventually abandoned by the government.

“After the Mega Rice Project, fires have broken out almost every year. People continued to illegally log the forest and this made the situation even worse. Now villagers try to replant the deforested areas with rubber trees. But the fire burns the new trees!,” says Ardianto.

In conjunction with government efforts to rehabilitate and reforest the area that had been given over to the Mega Rice Project, the ILO in Indonesia has developed a pilot project named “Green Livelihood Access for Central Kalimantan’s Inclusive Environmental Response to Climate Change” (GLACIER).

“This 12-month programme targets five villages and aims to invest in environmental infrastructure, including a fire prevention facility,” explains project coordinator, Emma Allen.

“This approach, by helping to find local answers to local needs through community participation, optimizes the use of local resources, such as labour, materials, skills and traditional knowledge for the creation of green jobs.”

Community participation

Local farmers are trained in how to rehabilitate the peat land, with new species being replanted in degraded land. The project also works with communities and local authorities on creating sustainable livelihoods.

“Around 50 per cent of the area in Pulang Pisau district is affected by the Mega Rice Project of the Suharto era,” said the Deputy head of Pulang Pisau, Didik Parwoto, at one of the project’s community consultation meetings. “Now these places are vulnerable to fire. I welcome the support of the project in this area and the close coordination with related institutions at district level.”

After a series of community planning meetings that began in November 2012, a new bridge and motorbike trail will be built using durable, environmentally-friendly materials.

All construction works will be carried out by the community members themselves, using community contracting.

"With the new bridge and road, rubber farmers will be able to go to the field with ease and children can go to their school. This will
change our lives a lot,” Ardianto says.

In the coming months, plantations for agro-forestry and a fire prevention infrastructure – including artesian wells, water pumps and hoses – will also be built.

Skills and entrepreneurship training for agro-forestry will also take place.

Local government officers, indigenous community organizations and employers’ and workers’ organizations will continue to support the project implementation through coordination meetings.

By recognizing the value of such traditional knowledge, the project reflects the principles outlined in the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal People’ Convention, 1989, (No 169).

“This project is one of the many field programmes from the ILO focussing on green jobs and sustainable development,” says Kees Van Der Ree, the ILO green jobs programme coordinator.

“It provides a good example of what can be done at a time when delegates from around the world discuss for the first time at the International Labour Conference, how to provide the best answers in terms of employment, when confronted with environmental challenges that can often be turned into opportunities for more decent work.”

Sustainable development, decent work and green jobs will be discussed in committee at the forthcoming International Labour Conference, June 5-20.