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INDONESIA: Community Radio Helps Revive Forests

JAKARTA, Feb 21 2012 (IPS) - Irman Meilandi unhesitatingly attributes the return of birds, wildlife and the forests around his hilly village of Mandalamekar in West Java province to conservation advice streaming in over community radio.

“Thanks to Radio Ruyuk (meaning scrubland), the people of Mandalamekar have adopted a campaign to replant deforested areas and conserve forests around the village,” says Meilandi, referring to the yet to be licensed community radio station that specialises on environmental issues.

Broadcasting on FM 107.8 megahertz, Radio Ruyuk goes on air at 6 p.m. and signs off at 11 p.m. Its programmes discuss organic farming, herbal plants and medicines and village infrastructure, all in the local Sundanese dialect.

“Radio Ruyuk was designed to encourage local people to pay attention to the condition of the village’s forests and wildlife,” says Meilandi, co-founder of the Mitra Alam Munggaran (Nature’s First Partner) or MAM, a social movement concerned with shrinking water supply in Mandalamekar, a seven-hour drive from Jakarta.

Established in 2002 by a dozen local residents, the MAM movement started out by organising public discussions, distributing leaflets and putting up posters, urging people to protect the forests around the village.

Radio Ruyuk hosts a talk show on various environmental issues. Kanis Dursin reports on how farmers and small traders use community radio to save Indonesian forests.

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While MAM was able to get local officials to ban the harvesting of rattan, hunting, and cutting down trees in protected forests, cooperation from local people was initially missing. Many were involved in tree felling and cultivation on lands designated as water-catchment areas.

Radio Ruyuk has been organising, on Sunday evenings, a live talk show from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on various environmental issues confronting the 718-hectare village. The hosts and participants are mostly farmers and small traders, working voluntarily.

The issues discussed include tree-planting activities, with MAM activists occasionally joining in to explain local policies or provide updates on the status of Indonesia’s forests.

Indonesia, one of the world’s most densely forested countries along with Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congro, saw extensive deforestation through the last century. Its estimated forest cover of 170 million hectares in 1900 was halved by the beginning of this century.

“The MAM programme aims to raise local people’s awareness and stimulate a sense of responsibility toward the environment,” says village chief Yana Noviadi. “We wanted more people to be aware of the dangers of deforestation and to participate in replanting.”

Radio Ruyuk, which hit the airwaves for the first time in October 2008, is run by the Mandalamekar Community Broadcasting Council, which manages the radio station with Meilandi serving as its secretary.

“In the beginning, Radio Ruyuk focused on environmental issues, the link between the shrinking of river waters and deforestation in the area and also local forest-related policies,” says Noviadi.

In 2008, a year after he was elected village chief, Noviadi declared forest conservation as one of his official programmes, further boosting people’s participation in tree-planting activities.

By 2011, Mandalamekar had replanted a total of 118 hectares of deforested area, including some 40 hectares located around water sources, and before long the volume of water flowing into the village’s rivers had increased.

“Paddy fields that once lay fallow are now irrigated and farmers grow paddy all year round,” says Meilandi, adding that Mandalamekar has 34 hectares of irrigated paddy fields.

“More importantly, stories of local residents picketing water irrigation structures or quarrelling over water resources are unheard off now,” Meilandi says.

Noviadi concurs with Meilandi, saying that he had heard stories of farmers setting up traps to discourage people trying to divert water. “While these are now told in a joking manner, they were disturbing,” Noviadi says.

Since 2008, local officials have made it a policy to ask every visitor to the village to plant trees in designated areas. “We want their support for our programme. The idea is to instill environment awareness among visitors so they can do the same in their villages,” Noviadi says.

By law, community radio is limited to a radius of two-and-a-half km, but Radio Ruyuk is received in six districts with a combined population of more than 10,000 people.

“A neighbouring district head once phoned in with a request for a talk on steps that can be taken at the grassroots level to conserve forests. When we asked where he was calling from, he replied that he was at a gathering of village heads in his district who were waiting to hear us over the radio,” Noviadi said.

Mandalamekar’s conservation efforts have not gone unnoticed. For two consecutive years, in 2009 and 2010, it won the prize for the best self-financed village forest management programme at the regional level. It was also runner-up at the provincial level in 2010.

“To the best of our knowledge, the regional government never made any assessment of our forest management, but I guess they listen to Radio Ruyuk,” Meilandi says.

Meilandi himself claimed the 2011 Seacology Prize for his efforts to preserve the environment and culture of Mandalamekar. “They told me that I was chosen from among candidates in 46 countries,” Meilandi says.

Seacology, a non-profit with headquarters in Berkeley, California, focuses on preserving island ecosystems and cultures around the world.

“Winning awards has never been our goal,” Meilandi said. “We take pride in the fact that we were able to replant deforested areas with our own resources, without external help,” he says.

*This story was produced with the support of UNESCO


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