This project preserves carbon-dense tropical peat swamp by helping to halt deforestation of forest slated for conversion to palm oil plantations. It focuses on community development and biodiversity conservation, including the endangered Borneo orangutan.

The region

Currently, nearly 85% of global palm oil production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia1, with Indonesia planning to double its production between 2015 and 20202. In addition to the released carbon emissions, palm oil conversion causes a host of other, often irreversible, ecological problems. This includes destruction and fragmentation of habitat for endangered species, soil erosion and increased sedimentation in rivers, air pollution from forest fires, soil and water pollution from heavy use of pesticides and untreated palm oil-mill effluent, and increasing flood frequency. After approximately 20-25 years, palm oil plantations are often no longer productive so must move to new areas, and the soils they leave behind can take many years to recover.

Indonesia has the highest global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from peatlands due to drainage and deforestation. It is estimated that over 85% of the country’s GHG emissions derive from deforestation and peat fires, driven primarily by agricultural expansion3. Peat soil, which characterises much of the affected areas, is highly flammable, causing localised fires to spread and making them difficult to control. In 2015, peat fires burned millions of hectares of land in Indonesia and caused a significant air pollution problem. The Rimba Raya project has managed to respond to threats effectively so far, but given that it borders palm oil plantations (which are more flammable), fires remain an ongoing challenge.

The location

Rimba Raya is located in the Seruyan Regency, in the province of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is bounded by Tanjung Puting National Park in the west, the Java Sea in the south, the Seruyan River in the east and a palm oil concession in the north.

The project

The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve is based on the southern coast of Borneo in a carbon-dense tropical peat swamp forest which is part of the Seruyan River watershed. The project was established with the primary objective of protecting the area against the threat of palm oil conversion by combining the conservation goal with community activities and commercial support.

The project is protecting the area’s wildlife and carbon stocks mainly through physical barriers and management regimes: the construction and operation of guard towers, fire protection plans and infrastructure, monitoring plans and orangutan care facilities. The project also works on community development activities with the 2,500 households living within the project area.

The Rimba Raya project is verified and validated to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), and has achieved Gold Level status under the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standard as it significantly assists communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change and displays high biodiversity benefits.

Further details on alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals

In addition to delivering against SDG 13 to take urgent action to combat climate change, the project delivers a number of other sustainable development benefits, including:

Situated adjacent to Tanjung Puting National Park, the project plays an important role in ecosystem conservation by expanding habitats within a key biodiversity area. The Tanjung Puting National Park is renowned for providing one of the few remaining habitats for orangutans and is home to approximately 10% of the global orangutan population. There is also significant orangutan presence in the areas surrounding the park, making the project crucial in helping protect the species. In addition, the project is a partner of the Orangutan Foundation International, which rescues orangutans orphaned by deforestation, rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild. With approximately 105,000 Borneo orangutans left in the wild, the UN’s Environment Programme believes that, if the trend of illegal logging, fire and extensive development of oil palm plantations continues, they will become extinct in 10-20 years.

The project is part of the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot, which is largely dominated by the islands of Borneo and Sumatra and is considered one of the top five “hottest hotspots”. Biodiversity hotspots are areas featuring exceptional concentrations of endemic species while experiencing exceptional loss and threat to habitat. This hotspot contains plants and animals that amount to up to 5% of total species worldwide, while having less than 8% of its primary vegetation remaining4. The area is also considered an Important Bird Area (IBA), as identified through Birdlife International, with more than 200 bird species recorded in the Tanjung Puting National Park.

In addition to protecting the area against deforestation, the project has committed to undertaking significant enrichment activities in the area through planting seedlings of dipterocarp and other native tree species, particularly jabon, binuang and makaranga which thrive in degraded conditions. By the end of 2015, over 210 hectares had been planted around two villages in the northern part of the project area, with a five year goal to plant one million trees.

The project is partnering with Potters for Peace5 – a member of the World Health Organisation’s International Network – to train local communities in the making and selling of inexpensive water filtration devices. These are effective in eliminating approximately 99.88% of water-borne disease agents from drinking water. By the end of 2015, the project had distributed 1,900 colloidal silver water filtration systems throughout the project area.

In addition, two of the villages have built water systems with government support that could provide clean water to every household within the community if they were working properly. As a result, the project has started working with local government to train the villagers in proper maintenance, assist in the cost of repairs when needed, and help the community develop a business plan for water distribution.

In general, development activities on tropical peat land, such as palm oil conversion, result in increased frequency and severity of downstream flooding, causing serious consequences for nearby communities. Drainage ultimately destroys the sponge effect of peat swamps and their reservoir function is eventually lost – this is often irreversible. The project is helping minimise land-use change by protecting the peat swamp ecosystem and its ability to hold water and provide critical hydrological services.

The project is providing training on community-based agroforestry activities, including crop diversification, harvest rotation and the application of new technologies for improved production of native species.

Traditionally, the main protein source for local populations has been fish. However, mining upstream has silted the Seruyan River and unsustainable fishing practices within the flooded forests of Rimba Raya have further depleted natural fish stocks. Following the successful implementation of a community fish farm in 2015, the project will be supporting the construction of two further farms in 2016. The future hope is that these farms could be used to help replenish some of the wild fish stocks.

The project is also supporting the construction and stocking of two community poultry egg farms, and will offer local residents technical training to ensure the longevity of these ventures. Manure from these egg farms will be used as a fertiliser for the community vegetable gardens - another of the project’s community-based programmes.

The community-based agroforestry programme and planting of native species helps increase crop productivity, both for subsistence use and for potential sale to project groups, such as Orangutan Foundation International, or nearby people. The growth of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees can offer some of the communities an alternative source of income if there are excess yields, or simply improve their current food expenditures.

In one Rimba Raya village, a local community enterprise has enabled 98% of women to become self-employed through the manufacture and sale of shrimp paste.

With an average household income of around US $1.80 per day, improving agricultural productivity and adopting new income-generating activities offers communities living in the 14 villages within the project area the chance to increase their earnings.

A number of direct employment opportunities have been created in order to patrol the reserve, monitor the carbon and biodiversity of the project and help with project management and community development activities. Temporary jobs for activities such as firefighting, scientific surveying and “bushwhacking”, has created an additional 100 roles. The project has also recently employed over 200 people as part of the reforestation efforts.

Community fire brigades are a vital line of defence in protecting the reserve from fires that might blow in from neighbouring palm oil plantations. In 2015, major investments were made in firefighting equipment and training, and the project is looking to double this effort again in 2016. The project is indirectly helping employ other local people through its collaboration with several NGOs such as Health and Harmony and World Education.

The project is focused on increasing environmental awareness amongst youths and adults in the project area; this includes education on reducing hunting activities and forest fires, and protection of important bird areas. Additionally, park personnel have access to training and capacity-building programmes to increase knowledge sharing around sustainable practices to avoid deforestation.

The project has also established a scholarship fund that will be used to enhance educational access by funding the education of 3,750 community students for the next 10 years. Funds will also be used to provide 75,000 writing books.

Two villages have built community centres which offer facilities for park and project staff as well as community organisations. The centres will supply news and radio communication facilities, libraries and social and agricultural training programmes.

Planned activities

In the near future, the project plans to develop a health care and immunisation programme, partnering with the NGO Health in Harmony. The project is also arranging for the construction and outfitting of a floating clinic, which will deliver medical services up and down the Seruyan River. In 2016, the project aims to vaccinate every child living within the project area against common childhood diseases.


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