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In rural Indonesia, a village learns to embrace its forest through sustainability

TABA PADANG, Indonesia — Yoyon remembers being elected head of his village back in 2010, here on the southwestern coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, following a spate of arrests of his fellow villagers. Those arrested were accused of farming in Bukit Daun, a protected forest. The last arrests that Yoyon, who goes by one name, can recall came two years before his election, when six villagers were held. “I’ve lost count of how many locals have been detained,” he said in an interview. Yoyon, head of the Taba Padang village, strived for years to obtain state approval allowing his people to farm within a nearby protected forest. Photo by Dedek Hendry/Mongabay-Indonesia. The village of Taba Padang is one of many scattered across Indonesia, where impoverished communities have for generations lived within or nearby forests. Their efforts to make a living from the natural riches around them have often run up against the interests of those with more power, such as the government or private companies. “I became so concerned by the problem and wanted it to end,” Yoyon said. Eventually he was introduced to the government’s “village forest” scheme, known locally as hutan desa. Under the program, each household receives the rights to manage a 1.5-hectare (3.7-acre) plot in the protected forest. They are prohibited from clearing the land for a plantation, but may grow fruit or trees or coffee in the forest’s understory. In exchange, they must agree to protect the animals that live there and guard…

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