PanEco and local partner foundation Yayasan Ecosistem Lestari (YEL) helped 64 smallholders in Tripa-one of the last remaining high biodiversity coastal peat swamp rainforests in Aceh, Northern Sumatra-turn 67 hectares (ha) of degraded land into a community-owned palm oil plantation. The plantation was established in accordance with RSPO and organic standards, planted on mineral soils rather than forested peat swamp, and used as a case study to show the viability of similar plantations.
PanEco and YEL laid the foundations for this project by conducting baseline assessment reports on environmental, economic and social conditions. They used their findings to create spatial and physical development plans. When the District of Nagan Raya gave PanEco and YEL permission to conduct the pilot study on a plot of land, they reached out to local community members, learning that the land had remained fallow because of its informal owners lack of access to quality inputs and capital, and because of the risk associated with spending time engaged in an activity other than that which provided their regular source of income. PanEco and YEL found success in engaging the farmers when they promised to address these main barriers and work around farmers' daily schedules.
PanEco and YEL partnered with local RSPO members to develop a 3-day training in Bahasa Indonesian for smallholders on RSPO standards and how they protect biodiversity and provide a long-term economic return. PanEco provided financial cover for the initial work on the plantation of clearing area, applying organic pesticides and planting land cover crops. Recognizing the lack of long-term financial services, and the need to ensure formal organization and commitment of the smallholder community while capturing economies of scale, PanEco and YEL facilitated the creation of a local Credit Union. They also created a user-friendly manual for smallholder palm oil farmers in Indonesian providing them with step-by-step guidance in sustainable production of palm oil, which was distributed to 5,000 smallholders locally. PanEco used their experience to produce an economic analysis of the inputs required to develop a smallholder RSPO-friendly oil palm plantation and the economic return to smallholders. The analysis demonstrated that over time, the model is economically viable given the right inputs and support.
Another aspect of PanEco's work involved government outreach and advocacy for strong policies to prevent the damage of business-as-usual oil palm production. PanEco and YEL facilitated a multi-stakeholder discussion with representatives from the Aceh Province Government, local NGOs, and representatives from the Central Government’s Department of Forest and Plantations, urging stakeholders to make transparent information regarding biodiversity and land use policies in Tripa. Information they provided led to the designation of Tripa as a conservation area in the Aceh province's draft spatial plan presented to the Ministry of Forestry. They also helped start an Aceh Sustainable Palm Oil Working Group with representatives from government, NGOs and palm oil companies. Finally, they facilitated a joint petition for sustainable management of Tripa that was signed by 21 villages and sent to 30 institutions, including the District Government, the Provincial Government, and the President of Indonesia.
PanEco also worked to build community awareness around palm oil issues. They spearheaded a campaign focusing on orangutan conservation, demonstrating the link between an environmentally healthy Tripa and sustainable local development. Religious leaders, radio programs, and billboards helped spread the word, and the campaign eventually reached over 2,700 people in 30 villages.
BACP funds allowed PanEco to empower smallholders with the knowledge and resources needed to produce biodiversity-friendly palm oil and advocate for the protection of orangutan and peat swamp forests. Equally important, they allowed PanEco to document this process so that other communities can build on the knowledge gained in Tripa to take charge of palm oil production in their own villages.