An Indonesian Community Conserves Its Forests While Turning a Healthy Profit

Forest On Java, Indonesia's most densely populated island, forest communities have learned to make the most of their limited resources. For the 550 members of the KOSTAJASA cooperative this has meant using their small tracts of land to grow and harvest mahogany, teak and other tree species, to cultivate crops such as cloves, cassava, tobacco and corn and to raise livestock.

Cooperative members say that the ancestors of these family farmers deliberately planted mahogany for the benefit of their grandchildren, and today it is those trees that bring the villagers the most revenue, which they use to pay for their children's schooling and other needs.

Deforestation has lead to widespread problems throughout Indonesia, but the KOSTAJASA coop members are determined to manage their resources with an eye toward the future, just as their ancestors did. This commitment is what led them to seek Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) / Rainforest Alliance certification -- an option they were able to entertain after years spent working with The Forest Trust (TFT) as an advisor and supporter, and with continuing guidance and orientation on sustainability requirements by both the TFT and Rainforest Alliance.

Members of KOSTAJASA -- an acronym from the coop's full name, Koperasi Taman Wijaya Rasa -- allow their mahogany trees to regenerate fully before harvesting them, practice reforestation of damaged areas, avoid harvesting along streams so as not to compromise water quality and avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers, opting instead for the manure they collect from their livestock.

People in a Forest

"They realize that, in the long-term, these trees have value not only for wood but also for the services that they provide, such as a cooler environment and better soil structure," explains Iwan Permadi, a Rainforest Alliance forest management specialist and lead auditor for the certification.

In addition to the environmental improvements that have resulted from certification, coop members are realizing the benefits that come from running a well-organized sustainable forestry operation, including access to new clients and markets, increased efficiency and public acclaim. The latter, especially, is a source of pride for the community. "Securing the FSC certification is something very impressive," said the coop's chairman, Sunarto FM. "We've achieved international recognition."

Much of the mahogany harvested by coop members is manufactured into furniture at a factory in Indonesia and sold at Crate and Barrel stores, thanks largely to the efforts of TFT. Because the furniture has Verified Legal Origin status, it can be legally exported to the United States, assuring consumers and companies that the wood was harvested from a legal source -- a requirement of a Lacey Act amendment enacted by Congress in May 2008. The amendment prohibits the trade of illegally sourced plants, including wood and items made with wood and mandates that importers declare the species and origin of their plant products. According to Crate and Barrel's public relations and community affairs manager Vicki Lang, "We are deeply committed to sustainable wood sourcing, and are pleased to be a part of this important community effort in Java."