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Changing community needs drive conservation success in West Java

July 27, 2021

Every Seacology project conserves island habitat, but the details of each one are different. That’s because we work directly with island communities, and each community has unique needs. Communities come to us because they want to conserve a forest or marine area, and need material help to do it. They decide what they can do for conservation and what they will do with a Seacology grant. This community-led approach has demonstrated its success in more than 350 projects in 65 nations.

But what happens when a community’s needs change in the middle of a project? Taking a cue from our resilient partners, we adapt!

Mekarjaya, a small village 5,000 feet above sea level in the lush green mountains of West Java, Indonesia, is the latest example of a Seacology project that changed considerably after its original terms were agreed to.

Like the people in many nearby communities, Mekarjaya’s people mostly support themselves through small-scale rice farming, using traditional methods on terraced hillsides around the village. In 2018, Seacology agreed with Mekarjaya’s leaders to provide a building and equipment to make processing the rice more efficient and profitable. In exchange, the community pledged to protect more than 4,500 acres of forest that surrounds their farms. They also began planting native trees in degraded areas of the forest, including sugar palms, which provide an additional, sustainable source of income.

The now-protected forest provides many benefits for the people of Mekarjaya, including irrigation for their crops.

Members of the community planted native trees in degraded areas of the forest.


The building was finished quickly, and the project was moving forward smoothly until the pandemic hit. Supply-chain disruptions and lockdowns delayed the purchase of the rice-processing equipment. At the same time, a nearby business began milling rice, which reduced the demand for such a service in Mekarjaya.

The community, continuing to honor its commitment to protect the forest, approached Seacology with an alternative. The village no longer needed rice-milling equipment — but they did need a new primary school, and the building they had intended for milling rice was the perfect size. We quickly agreed, and they got underway converting the facility for its new purpose. In a few short months, the changes were finished, and local craftsmen filled classrooms with new desks, chairs, and bookcases.

Big changes like this aren’t common with our projects, but we don’t mind adjusting our course as we go. It’s consistent with our mission of protecting both island habitats and cultures — and respecting the knowledge and independence of indigenous people.

The building originally intended for rice milling has been converted to a primary school.

Local craftsmen built bookcases and other furniture to prepare the facility for its new use.