Friday, 11 July 2008

Lalu Selamat: Transforming a forest community at home

Lalu Selamat: Transforming a forest community at home

Source: The Jakarta Post - July 8, 2008 By Panca Nugraha, Dompu

As a forest ranger, Lalu Selamat lives a simple life. His house in Dompu regency, West Nusa Tenggara, is not fully built, while his new living room walls are showing cracks from an earthquake that jolted the regency early last year.

Lalu has invested years of struggle to transform the behavior of a forest community, although it means putting his own life at risk.This year he is one of the recipients of the prestigious national Kalpataru award which recognizes successful environmental protection efforts.

As a 45-year-old forest ranger, his job has been to ensure the forest remains free from illegal loggers and trespassers who collect firewood and grow crops inside the reserve.

Throughout his career, the native of Pringgarata in Central Lombok has arrested some 60 people involved in illegal logging.Assigned to Dompu after graduating as a forest ranger in 1987, Lalu recalled that at the time there were only 22 forest rangers including himself to watch over a 114-hectare forest area in Dompu.

They divided their tasks, with Lalu and a friend assigned to watch over a forested area in Soromandi in Kilo district.After three years, he was transferred to Manggalewa district where he married and settled down with his family of five children."

At that time, there were only two forest rangers in Manggalewa, including me. Many times we had to fight illegal loggers and seize their axes even though we were unarmed," he told The Jakarta Post in his home in Manggalewa hamlet, Manggalewa district, about 30 kilometers east of Dompu regency town center.

Once they even had to flee to safety after being chased by illegal loggers. "One night, a mob came to our house after my husband foiled an illegal logging attempt. Luckily, nothing happened," said Suryanti, Lalu's wife.In 1996 Lalu started thinking about changing the way his community uses forest resources.

The thought occurred to him after some locals were caught conducting illegal logging, taking wood from the forest to build their houses or places of worship."Once I met residents collecting wood to build a mosque. I was moved.

But I'm a forest ranger and I must prevent illegal logging," he said, adding that the law punishes anyone found illegally collecting timber from protected forest, regardless of whether it may be sold or used for housing or mosque construction.

He then started to think of ways to provide wood for residents without sacrificing the forest or violating the law. In early 1997, aside from planting forest areas in a regreening program, he also started planting dormant land outside the forest preserve, preparing tree seedlings by himself.

"I began by planting two hectares of dormant land. Many residents then asked me why I had planted the trees. So I told them I had some other young trees and asked them to plant them in their own yard or land if they wanted to find out why," he said.

Soon, he also began providing informal counseling to residents, spreading messages on the significance of environmental conservation when he was preaching at the mosque, attending a wedding party or attending Koran recitation for children.

His work has turned out to be fruitful. Many residents have followed in his footsteps, planting trees and tending them.Today, teak and rajumas trees have matured to between five and 12 years old, turning Manggalewa green.

Some residents have also acquired tree seedlings, either to be planted in their own land or to be sold to other people.Mansyur Bowe, for example, finally could afford haj. He made his pilgrimage in 2006 thanks to the proceeds from selling teak trees that he had planted on his one-hectare plot in Manggalewa.

"If I had not followed Lalu Selamat's advice, I would not have been able to afford haj," Mansyur said.Lalu Selamat said he had never imagined he would win the Kalpataru award since he was only trying to help and carry out his job as a forest ranger.

"If residents plant the trees, it means they will no longer practice illegal logging or trespassing, making my job as a forest ranger easier," he said. "However, I'm really grateful for this Kalpataru although I will keep on doing what I've been doing even without the award," he said.

The economic value of the award, which came with a Rp 10 million (before tax) cash prize, did not change much. Lalu spent it to buy return air tickets to Jakarta to receive the award.

But Lalu was grateful since the award makes him able to keep his promise to his wife: to take her on an airplane trip."Every time she saw a TV broadcast about a flight, my wife always asked me when she could fly in an airplane and I would always say that some day she could.

Well, when I received the Kalpataru award, this promise came true when my wife went with me to Jakarta by air to get the award," Lalu said.The award has also made him popular, receiving officials at his home. During the interview, Dompu military district commander Lt. Col. Kusdiro paid Lalu Selamat a visit to congratulate him and promise him his full support in the tree planting program.

Lalu was also given a special promotion. He has been appointed head of the forestry guard division in Kilo district, although it is not yet clear whether the Dompu administration has granted him his request to promote his civil servant rank from II/D to III/A, allowing a Rp 50,000 monthly salary hike. He hopes the regency administration will help him to keep on with his program.

He also plans to bring the campaign to schools.His idea might sound simple: Every 10 new elementary school students must plant one tree, then look after the tree until they complete their elementary schooling."If every 10 students plant just one tree, imagine the result six years later when these children leave elementary school."