Made Indrawati, who grew up in West Bali National Park, is leading an effort to encourage local people to participate in the management of parks and other protected areas.
The New Idea
Indra, as Made is known, recognizes that villagers who live inside protected areas can help manage these areas while at the same time improving their livelihoods. While a number of conservation efforts are underway to resolve conflicts between local people and park officials, Indra's program is the first natural resource management effort to have sprung from the village level. By joining the efforts of villagers and park officials, Indra replaces adversity with collaboration and secrecy with open dialogue. She also helps the villagers map the park areas, set up clean water systems, and earn money through small-scale agricultural ventures, such as growing elephant grass to feed livestock or weave into mats and handicrafts. To design strategies that will create lasting changes in the way protected areas are used, Indra draws in other groups as well–civil society groups, community leaders, students, and government officials. She reaches the generation coming up through educational materials about the park, which she shares with area schools.
Although Indonesia has set aside large tracts of land as protected areas, conservation efforts aren't keeping pace with destruction. The failure of most conservation efforts to engage villagers who live inside protected areas is a big part of the problem. Insofar as these villagers know the protected areas best, their participation is essential to designing effective management practices for natural areas under threat. Sumber Kelampok village, where Indra grew up, lies in West Bali National Park, an area known for its biodiversity. The problems faced by Sumber Kelampok's more than sixteen hundred inhabitants exemplify those faced by communities living in protected areas throughout Indonesia. Over the past decade, park and local government officials have blamed villagers for deforestation and habitat destruction. In 1991, they protested an attempt to force eviction and were able to hold on to their land. Over time, it became clear that the false accusations were a ploy to make way for a tourist resort. Moreover, research shows that much of the destructive practices–deforestation and poaching, to name two–have been carried out by a handful of corrupt forestry officials. Such conflicts only undermine well-intentioned conservation efforts. They also emphasize the importance of involving villagers in management through participatory approaches so that their concerns are realized.
Indra became involved in village-led conservation in 1991 when park officials started threatening to evict the people in her village from their land. She began to build links with civil society groups, legal aid societies, and student groups. As Indra began representing the villagers in several forums, she learned the how-to's of advocacy and negotiating. It soon became clear that she was able to contribute a true understanding of the local context and the needs of villagers. She led the villagers in staging demonstrations to influence decisions made by the local government officials, the Governor, and the Secretary of State. Land certification was not achieved through these actions, but the community was allowed to remain in the park.
In 1993 Indra brought together members of traditional Hindu and Muslim village organizations in what would become a key part of her strategy. In addition, she has led the effort to help villages secure income through small-scale projects that enhance, rather than compromise, the environment. These include programs of reforestation and irrigation to support farming.
To help the villagers earn more money, Indra has introduced elephant grass as an alternative source of food for cows. She has also helped the women to plant and harvest special grasses to use for weaving mats that they can then sell. She is encouraging them to diversify their products to include bags, placemats, and other goods. Through her links to other organizations, she has engaged Mitra Bali, a successful crafts union, to advise the women in design and distribution. She has also initiated contact with the two hotels in the park in the hope that they will sell the products in their gift shops. With a representative of BirdLife International, Indra is designing an educational program and curriculum for children living near the park.
To produce high-quality materials, she has sought help and training from civil society organizations and from experts in the field. Now, she is seen as being a key strategist for citizen organizations throughout Indonesia who are looking for successful approaches of community-based resource management. Indra hopes to revive traditional systems of environmental management and learn from these practices in designing new solutions. She is keenly aware that Bali is strategic because what happens in Bali has the attention of the world and will reflect back on the struggles of communities in other areas of Indonesia. Until now, Indra has focused on developing and realizing her approach and strategies, but through her links to national forums, she has begun to think on a broader scale.
Indra grew up in a family of Balinese farmers in the village of Sumber Kelampok. Although there was an elementary school in the village, Indra had to bicycle ten kilometers to get to middle and high school. The family's economic circumstances made it impossible for her to move on to university, but this didn't stop Indra from learning and from finding solutions to the problems which she says would not go away by themselves. At thirty, Indra has achieved important status in her community, and village leaders now see her as a link to the outside world.