Outdoors fan helps protect Indonesian forests | Global News

Outdoors fan helps protect Indonesian forests

By: - Reporter / @TarraINQ
/ 10:19 PM September 01, 2012

Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto from Indonesia was among five Ramon Magsaysay awardees who arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, ahead of the awarding ceremonies on Friday at the Philippine International Convention Center. PHOTO FROM RMAF.ORG.PH

MANILA, Philippines—In the forests of Indonesia, community loggers control the cutting and replanting of trees, turning the business into a responsible enterprise that leaves the land as green as when they found it.

In coastal communities, villagers have turned their backs on destructive fishing and learned sustainable practices, balancing conservation efforts and their need to make a living.


In a country that used to lose 1.5 million hectares of forest each year, making people and their environment friends again has been the life work of Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, a social entrepreneur and environmentalist.


The 40-year-old Ruwi, as he is known, downplays the renown his pioneering efforts have brought him, saying he is a simple fan of the outdoors who got started on his mission because of his love for nature.

He credits instead the communities themselves for being open to change and for beginning the transformation that has retained 200,000 hectares of forest  and resource-rich waters in Indonesia.

“Change will come only if the people, the community themselves, change. So I cannot and do not bring anything new. I am just accompanying them in their change,” Ruwi said in a recent interview.

He said people can change their “situation, their livelihood and their environment” when they are organized, “when they  have a sense of togetherness and collective action of leadership”.

Ruwi also gave  credit to  Filipino friends, like-minded environment advocates from Davao and Cagayan de Oro, with whom he has been collaborating for the past 15 years.

“I learned almost everything from my friends in the Philippines. The Philippines has a longer history of indigenous peoples’ movements, land reform, agrarian reform, destructivism reform … so I learned all these from the Philippines,” he said.


Ruwi, who founded the multisectoral environmental organization Telapak, is among the six recipients this year of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

“Of course I never thought about earning recognition. It never crossed my mind that the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation was watching me, evaluating or researching me. So I was surprised and asked what does it mean, what will happen with me?” he said.

“Now that I’m part of this family of laureates, it’s like also a new responsibility so that I will keep deserving it,” he added.

Ruwi caught the attention of the foundation when he led Telapak’s campaigns against illegal logging and fishing practices around Indonesia, leading to the arrest of transnational timber and wildlife smugglers. For taking on such “dangerous work,” the foundation noted, Ruwi has seen the inside of a prison.

“[Telapak’s] exposés on the how and who’s who in illegal logging and smuggling sparked public indignation and heightened pressures on Indonesia and other governments to tighten and enforce regulations on timber production and trade,” the foundation said.

The foundation also noted Ruwi’s unfailing commitment in pursuing a “community-based natural resource management” in Indonesia and introducing “fresh social enterprise initiatives that engage the forest communities as full partners.”

Growing up in a farming family in Central Java, Ruwi indulged his love for the outdoors as a marine sciences student at Bogor Agricultural University in West Java. While at university, he and five schoolmates gravitated toward each other, all of them being of one mind: to explore Indonesia’s lush forests and mountains.

“We wanted to be together, wanted to keep doing what we love to do, going out to nature and working with rural people, mountain climbing,” Ruwi recalled.

These frequent treks led the group into encounters with forest villagers, eventually inspiring the establishment of Telapak as a grassroots-based wildlife protection organization.

“I think it was a slow transformation and evolution [into what Telapak is now].  And now, today, we are having a hard time keeping to the original [purpose] of our organization, which is having fun,” Ruwi said with a laugh.

“There are so many problems and challenges. But we don’t want to forget that we are doing this because we are happy doing this and our passion is in this,” he said.

Telapak, which means the sole of the foot or the shoe in Bahasa, was the name of choice for a group that literally hit the ground running, racing against time to help save the environment.

“The challenge is time. Because we don’t have time. That’s why we invite others to join our organization, to learn about the mission. We want to be together,” Ruwi said.

Ruwi ran the organization while pursuing advanced studies in marine biology, environmental education, social entrepreneurship and conservation leadership in leading universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Today, more than a decade since Telapak’s first trek into the forest, the organization has become a coalition of environmental activists, business leaders, academics, media practitioners, indigenous people, fisherfolk and farmers advocating the sustainable management of natural resources.

“We are working with indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk in Indonesia to work toward a better environment, a better economic situation for them and a stronger dignity for us as a people. That’s the goal,” said Ruwi.

At the same time, the organization continues to pursue a campaign against environmental crimes, including illegal logging and fishing.

Asked what Telapak’s notable victories were, Ruwi cited the organization’s forest management plan that has succeeded in maintaining a sustainable logging cycle in forest communities.

“If you cut one, you plant 10. That’s very simple. It’s like if you have 10 hectares of forest, you don’t cut 10 hectares now. You do it rotationally. So every year, the total number of trees is the same,” Ruwi said.

This Telapak style of resource management is a win-win solution: Communities earn a living while their source—the environment—remains intact.

“We have many examples already of community groups who form cooperatives, who are managing their forests sustainably, who are internationally recognized, and who are able to live well from that management,” Ruwi said.

“Because they are in control, they get to [sell at a] better price, there’s better distribution of benefits, less transaction costs. So it’s economically and environmentally good,” he said.

This transformative approach has returned to the communities what they lost when they chose profit over nature.

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“The biggest change, the most important change is that they now have dignity. When they were illegal loggers, they didn’t have dignity, they were afraid of the police, of everybody. They hid. After they became sustainable forest managers, they have the dignity, they can now be a part of society. That’s the most important thing,” Ruwi said.

TAGS: Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, award, Forest, Indonesia, Ramon Magsaysay Awards

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