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Cutting bamboo, not trees, protects Indonesian forests

July 8, 2020

For centuries, the people of Mandalamekar Village, on the Indonesian island of Java, have used the area’s abundant bamboo plants to make everything from baskets to buildings. But selling bamboo never brought much income to village residents, who had to look for other ways to make a living.

Community members are changing that, with support from Seacology for bamboo processing equipment. Even minimal processing of bamboo greatly increases its value, so this initiative offers the chance to turn a plentiful, renewable resource into sustainable income.

Earning income by harvesting and processing fast-growing bamboo reduces the pressure  to clear the village’s forest for agriculture or timber. The forest is dense, boasting a large array of birds, monkeys, and other wildlife.

The lush forests around Mandalamekar are home to a wide variety of species, but were at risk from logging.

Villagers have been protecting and maintaining the forest in partnership with Seacology since 2009.

In exchange for Seacology’s investment, the people of Mandelamekar committed to protecting their forest, and reforesting an additional 128 acres, for at least 15 years.

This isn’t the first time we’ve worked with Mandalamekar, a community of about 3,000 people and the home village of our Indonesia field representative, Seacology Prize winner Irman Meilandi. In 2009, residents of Mandalamekar decided to protect their forest and the watershed it supports by working with Seacology.

Back then, Seacology funded construction of a community center in exchange for the creation of a 267-acre no-take forestry zone and replanting of 72 acres. More than a decade later, the community building is still widely used by the village. The replanted forest has already contributed to a healthier watershed. Many springs that had gone dry are now flowing year-round, giving the village critical freshwater during the dry season.

The new bamboo processing facility is now in operation. Villagers have used the refined bamboo to make new sheds for their livestock, reducing their need for lumber. They plan to sell processed bamboo to nearby villages soon.

So far this year, villagers have replanted 20 acres of rainforest, and will keep planting through 2023. They are also planting species of bamboo that are suitable for making joglo, the traditional high-roofed bamboo houses of Java. It’s another example of what many Seacology projects illustrate: that conserving island environments lets people preserve their island cultures.

Construction of the bamboo-processing facility underway in Mandalamekar.

The village used bamboo processed in the Seacology-funded facility to build new shelters for its livestock.