Visit With Forest Guardians

Consistent with rapid deforestation rates in much of the Bornean rainforest, more than 70% of the lowland forests within Gunung Palung National Park’s buffer zone were deforested between 1988-2002.

During sequential surveys done by ASRI/HIH, they found 1,350 logging households around the park at baseline in 2007.  ASRI’s clinic and conservation program opened in 2007—and since then logging households have decreased to 450 households in 2012, and 150 in 2017, representing an 89% decline from baseline.  Although it would be impossible to prove causation, there certainly is a temporal correlation. How does ASRI/HIH actively help community members decrease their logging activity?

As Dr Nomi describes in the video from a previous blog post, ASRI’s hospital provides discounts of up to 70% on both healthcare and pharmaceuticals for people from villages which obtain “green” scores on the ongoing monitoring programs, which follow 7 indicators of logging activity, including things like having an active logger in the village, having logging roads near the village and having a circle saw in the village.

A vital element in this system is ongoing communication with the villages, and evaluation of their logging activities.  This is done by ASRI employees, one from each of the approximately 33 villages that are part of the program.  They are known as the Forest Guardians. They hold a meeting every three months—we were lucky to be able to sit in on one.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Forest Guardians all introduced themselves—I was impressed to see that most have been employed in the program for between 5 and 8 years. This is despite it being a relatively-demanding job from a social standpoint: it is the Forest Guardians who work with the coordinator to give each village the forest-protection score that determines the discount that every member of the village gets on healthcare and pharmaceuticals at ASRI.  You can imagine the challenge for a guardian who discovers that his neighbour is, in fact, a logger…meaning that all of a sudden the entire village will see their healthcare discount reduced.  It’s a fascinating way to use social pressure, relationships and healthcare to incentivize forest protection—and improve planetary health.

If the guardians do discover a logger in their village they don’t turn them into the forest police.  As my translator, Zulkarnain said, “we want to help them, right?”  Instead, they talk to them about ASRI’s Chainsaw Buy-Back program (which will be discussed in a subsequent post) which helps loggers transition out of logging by issuing them a grant and a business loan.

Each guardian has a target of growing and planting 1000 seedlings in the forest each year—using local tree species like Arrowroot and Durian.  They also have a target of “socializing” 360 people each year about ASRI’s programs, discussing things elements like the Chainsaw Buy-Back program, seedling growing, and healthcare.

ASRI took the opportunity of the meeting for some health outreach too—with nurse Efan doing a smoking-cessation presentation.  It was funny to see that the impotence slide got the biggest reaction here in rural Borneo…just like it does in Canada.

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