Saving Sumatran Tigers

Sumatran Tiger - Photo by Brian McKay

With fewer than 400 individuals surviving in the wild, the Sumatran tiger continues to find refuge in Indonesia's Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a World Heritage Site on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. But the critically endangered feline's habitat is rapidly shrinking. Illegal squatters have already converted nearly 20 percent of the 900,000-acre (356,000-hectare) park to farmland for the cultivation of coffee, pepper and other crops. And a large post-tsunami influx of immigrant settlers from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra has only increased pressures on the resource-rich protected area.

Construction Workers

Despite government efforts to evict as many as 15,600 families who have built semipermanent homes within the park, the influx continues, endangering not only the Sumatran tiger but a number of other wildlife species including the Sumatran rhino and the Sumatran elephant -- three of the world's most endangered mammals. The animals' dwindling and increasingly fragmented habitat has only fueled incidents of confrontations with humans and opportunities for poachers.

"Without effective law enforcement, encroachment into the park will continue to destroy animal habitat," explains Rainforest Alliance project coordinator Qori Nilwan Ishaq. "But law enforcement alone is not enough. The people living in this area need an incentive to conserve the park's biodiversity."

In partnership with WWF -- which has been driving attention to the problem since the organization's 2007 investigation that found farmers were growing coffee on more than 111,200 acres (45,000 hectares) of park land to produce over 19,600 tons of coffee annually -- the Rainforest Alliance has been helping to support coffee farmers and traders as well as local institutions and organizations through the promotion of sustainable coffee production. Sustainably farmed beans are not only better for the environment, but they often yield a higher price for the farmer.

Woman

Many of the squatters within the park boundaries inefficiently cultivate low-quality coffee, which fetches minimal prices. By buying sustainably farmed beans from coffee growers outside of the park boundaries companies can provide an economic incentive that can help prevent further encroachment in the park. Kraft Foods and ECOM -- the world's third largest coffee trader -- are now supporting the Rainforest Alliance's work on Sumatra. And other traders, such as Nedcoffee and Olam, have followed the call for a combined effort to promote Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee grown in the region.

"The Rainforest Alliance is not specifically working to stop encroachment of coffee farmers into the park," explains project coordinator Qori Nilwan Ishaq. "But we're working to make sure that coffee farmers and traders on the park border comply with the Rainforest Alliance Certified guidelines." Since the project started, one group of farmers has earned certification and is enlarging its group, while another trader's group has recently completed an audit. And there are new applications from other traders, which would engage an even larger number of small farmers –- each of them smaller than two acres (under one hectare) on average.

Forest Floor

To qualify for Rainforest Alliance certification, the farmers are learning to make compost naturally and to interplant their coffee with other plants including ginger, elephant grass and fruit trees, which can help to slow down erosion. They are also eliminating their use of certain herbicides such as paraquat, while reducing their use of agrichemicals overall.

Farmers in the certification program are increasing their coffee yields and getting a better price for their coffee. According to Ishaq, "Biodiversity is maintained and farmers are benefiting economically. This gives squatters the incentive to move outside the park boundaries." Already deforested land is available outside the park.

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