The pillaging of Indonesia’s forests has been called one of the biggest environmental crimes in recent history. It is estimated that in the 1980s and 1990s, Indonesia lost 1.5 million hectares of forest each year due to rampant, illegal logging. Large-scale forest destruction resulted in serious loss of biodiversity, displacement of indigenous populations, and disasters like landslides and floods. Its impact went much further: deforestation made Indonesia the third largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world. A problem of such epic proportions demands the response of governments, international bodies, and the broad population. But the response can also begin with the actions of individuals.
AMBROSIUS RUWINDRIJARTO, born in Central Java to a father who was a teacher-farmer and a mother who until now practices organic farming, grew up to enjoy and value his natural environment. As a student in Bogor Agricultural University, his passion for forest trekking and mountaineering led him and five schoolmates to bond with forest dwellers, and organize Telapak for small projects in wildlife protection and village self-help. But things turned much more serious and complex when the group started to confront the issue of illegal logging.
In 1999, partnering with the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which specializes in the investigation of environmental crimes, Telapak began undercover investigations of Indonesia’s logging concessions. Tracking the timber trade from source to market, the Telapak-EIA investigations uncovered the illicit, transnational operations of timber bosses, brokers, and smugglers, in cases involving billions of dollars and the trade in endangered hardwood species. This was dangerous work, as RUWI would personally experience when he and an EIA representative were forcibly detained in the premises of a timber company in central Kalimantan, physically assaulted, threatened with death, and pursued by a mob even after they had found refuge in a local police station. They were flown to safety under armed escort only after local and foreign authorities intervened. But this did not stop Telapak and EIA.
Their exposes on the how and who’s who in illegal logging and smuggling sparked public indignation and heightened pressures on Indonesia and other governments to tighten and enforce regulations on timber production and trade. Telapak went on to participate in framing laws and regulations on forest management and timber legality verification, and was part of negotiations for an Indonesia-EU treaty on the handling of the illegal timber trade. RUWI and his co-founders in Telapak did not only oppose and expose; they also proposed principled but pragmatic solutions. Telapak promoted sustainable, community-based logging and has created community logging cooperatives that legally and sustainably manage forests in more than 200,000 hectares of forest land, using an approach that does not only conserve forest wealth but also benefits the local communities instead of a few well-connected concessionaires and unscrupulous traders.
This approach echoes what RUWI developed from his four-year immersion in two coastal communities in Bali. Working directly with the fishers and villagers, RUWI and his Telapak colleagues led the destructive fishing reform by creating viable programs which reconciled conservation, coral reef restoration, and economic improvement. These villages have now become the model for other fishing villages in community-managed marine resource management.
After more than ten years, Telapak has grown into a 247-member organization engaged in social forestry, marine conservation, and indigenous people’s rights. It has initiated community logging cooperatives and social enterprises engaged in the ecologically-friendly production and marketing of forestry, fishery, and agricultural products. Its programs have had an impact in many of the thirty-three provinces of Indonesia.
This expansion owes in large part to RUWI’s leadership as Telapak’s executive director, and then its president. Pragmatic, hands-on, and action-oriented, he has infused the organization with his zeal and optimism. Even in the dark days of the anti-logging campaign, he would insist, “We are trying to find a hope, some light. We have to work hard to make it happen.”
In electing AMBROSIUS RUWINDRIJARTO to receive the 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his sustained advocacy for community-based natural resource management in Indonesia, leading bold campaigns to stop illegal forest exploitation, as well as fresh social enterprise initiatives that engage the forest communities as their full partners.
This response is dedicated to all fellow members of society and friends for their sustained advocacy against ecological and humanity crimes, and their initiatives and leadership for a better world.
For EIA, Telapak and Samdhana, my organizations.
As with everything in life, there are two sides of our work that is recognized by you all tonight, oppose-expose-bad news, while also propose-create-produce-rejoice-good news.
On one side, we have good news that we now have working models of Indigenous Peoples and forest peoples who organize themselves into cooperatives that manage the forests and their livelihoods sustainably and financially profitably. They are the Koperasi Hutan Jaya Lestari in Southeast Sulawesi, Koperasi Wana Lestari Menoreh in Jogjakarta, and Koperasi Giri Mukti Wana Tirta in Lampung, to name the few pioneers. We have Les and Serangan coastal communities who are pioneers in quitting cyanide fishing and coral mining and became sustainable fishers and coral reef advocates.
But we are living in a world where Indigenous Peoples and their forests are in ever greater threat of destruction. Even as I am standing here before you people call me and report that their forest is being wiped out. A friend of mine, an Indigenous Peoples leader recently phoned me and said that he and his family have been living many days and nights in the forest, keeping guard of it. They will protect that forest, whatever it takes, with their machetes, sumpit, and self. Ain’t he reminded us of a great president? This might be just what President Ramon Magsaysay will do were he there in East Kalimantan?
This Muara Tae is the living example of all that is wrong and unjust with our environment, the pillaging of Indonesia’s forests, the biggest environmental crimes in the recent history of the world.
For me, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is not about my top performance and achievement. Rather we are being at the low, but as Ms. Abella said, I am an emergent leader, and we will be emerging upwards…onwards.
It is then with joy and confidence that I asked my colleagues at the Wana Lestari Menoreh Cooperative in Jogjalarta to manage the prize of this Award by developing and running a social investment facility. The funds will be put in a cooperative and dedicated to social security of many of our local leaders/activists and be used as a revolving fund for start-ups and emerging community/social enterprises.
For the people of Muara Tae and other Indigenous Peoples and forest peoples in Indonesia and Asia, this Award is a recognition and public statement that in fighting for their right to live and make decisions over their life, they are not alone.