Religion and conservation combine to save Sumatra’s forests

A major project funded by the Darwin Initiative and implemented by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), aiming to engage faith leaders in Indonesia in environmental action has seen its results documented in a new book called Integrating Religion Within Conservation: Islamic Beliefs and Sumatran Forest Management.

The Indonesian island of Sumatra is rich in diversity but has an average deforestation rate of 2% a year. Given Islam’s central role in the daily lives of millions of people in Indonesia, the project started a project to promote the importance of biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use to religious leaders in West Sumatra who had until then largely been uninvolved in environmental issues.

West Sumatra mosque. Credit: J.E.McKay

West Sumatra mosque. Credit: J.E.McKay

Co-authored by a wide range of experts from noteworthy organisations, including DICE, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, the British Council and Conservation International, the book provides a model for how future conservation efforts can be directed across Southeast Asia and the rest of the Muslim world.

Dr Matt Linkie, FFI Aceh Programme Manager said, “FFI is proud to have contributed to this important book. The application of a faith-based approach to conservation, conducted during a three-year project – of which FFI was a principal partner – was a thoughtful approach, and one we feel will reap conservation rewards for years to come.”

By engaging religious leaders in sustainable natural resource management approaches that are explicitly based on their religious principles, the project was both culturally appropriate and replicable across most of Indonesia.

Project partners found that by directly involving members of the community in activities such as green mosque campaigns, agroforest nurseries and replanting projects, a strong sense of ownership and pride was created towards the project. Evaluation was done through questionnaire surveys before and after each training activity, reporting significant increase in both knowledge of the issues and of the role of Islam in protecting nature.

Related link: Read the blog Integrating religion within conservation: Islamic beliefs and Sumatran forest management