Green Firm Sees Forest Communities as Equal Partners

By : Tony Ng | on 9:58 AM March 04, 2014
Category : News

Jakarta. A green entrepreneur and his forest conservation company are leading the way with a business model that is not just green and sustainable but has the backing and involvement of the community.

Dharsono Hartono, president director of Rimba Makmur Utama, has invested in a restoration project consisting of 217,000 hectares of forest inside the Katingan peatlands in Central Kalimantan, where the company engages in regular talks with residents of the area on an equal footing.

The company’s aim is not only to preserve and restore the forest area from deforestation for oil palm projects, but to help local business thrive as well.

Rimba Makmur Utama is following the United Nations climate change mitigation strategy called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). It aims to help residents operate environmentally friendly businesses, employ locals and discourage them from working in unsustainable forestry or contribute to anymore carbon emissions in addition to the peatlands.

Rimba Makmur Utama has spent the last five years negotiating for an ecosystem restoration concession from the government and finally received it last year.

While waiting for the license to be approved, Dharsono took the opportunity to use the time to go meet the locals, be transparent about his plans, ask what they wanted and let them be a “stakeholder” in his company’s project.

“It was a blessing in disguise. For five years we did our homework. You have to be transparent with the communities, you have to go down to the village level and talk to them, get their support. Communities are important stakeholders,” he said.

Dharsono said his company had always wanted to do things differently by treating the communities as a business partner. He believes too many businesses don’t engage with the community enough, and only start negotiating once they get their license to operate in the area approved, and then give them unrealistic promises of jobs.

“People don’t invest much time in community support until they get the license. I never overpromise on something I cannot deliver,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Dharsono realized that communities like the ones in Katingan were very wary of the forestry industry. They were interested in what Rimba Makmur Utama had to offer when Dharsono talked to them about conserving the forest and the idea of running businesses that sold environmentally friendly products.

One village he talked to wanted to continue making rattan baskets but had trouble finding buyers to sell their products, so the company helped them source an overseas eco-friendly buyer to sell their products to.

Rimba Makmur Utama has partnered with nongovernmental organizations to find out what is needed to be done to provide a sustainable future for the people and the forests in the Katingan area.

One project the company has high hopes for is Photovoices, funded by the Clinton Foundation.

Photovoices provides cameras and training from professional photographers for villagers to use and take photos of their daily lives. They hope the photos will tell their story and give a better idea of what needs to be done in the area, address the main issues and then provide solutions for the future.

Dharsono says projects like Photovoices, and being genuine in asking for the community’s support, are the only ways of doing business in the long term because it was all about trust and that could only be built over time.

“You’ve got to treat the community as stakeholders. If you don’t, the project won’t be sustainable. You’ve got to show you’re committed, it’s all about getting trust from the communities,” he said.

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