Small island, big issues: how working at the small scale can help influence the larger scale

The tiny Indonesian island of Lombok is often referred to as the ‘unspoilt Bali’. Tropical paradise it may be, but bubbling away underneath are problems that could potentially affect its wildlife, people and neighbouring islands.

Lombok is just over 5000 km2 in size, slightly smaller than the English county of Norfolk and home to around 3 million people. The island is dominated by the Rinjani volcano (which at 3726m, is the 2nd highest in Indonesia) covering much of the north. The volcano supports the largest remaining patch of forest, within the Rinjani National Park, which provides three of the islands four watersheds. Undeveloped, Lombok’s economy is based on agriculture, tourism and out-migration of cheap labour to other parts of Indonesia. One of the main crops is tobacco, employing around 155,000 people and supplying around 70% of all tobacco consumed in Indonesia, where an estimated 30% of the population smoke more than 12 cigarettes a day. Despite the importance of agriculture, much of it suffers from severe water shortage from deforestation and a breakdown of the watersheds. It is said this has worsened in recent years as a result of changing weather patterns associated with global climate change.

Biologically, Lombok isn’t the highest conservation priority in the region. It does, however, encapsulate within its shores many of the problems that effect Indonesia more widely.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working on Lombok as part of the British American Tobacco (BAT) Biodiversity Partnership (BATBP) since 2006. Under this partnership, FFI (with two other NGOs) work with BAT to address its impact and dependence on biodiversity. BATBP’s Biodiversity Risk and Opportunity Assessment (BROA) was piloted in Lombok, and is now a mandatory evaluation for all of their growing areas. This assessment identified that one of the main impacts of industry on the Island was the use of natural wood in the tobacco curing (drying) process. Previously the industry used around 45 million litres of kerosene in its 13,500 drying kilns, but the removal of government subsidy saw a shift to coal and natural wood. The wood was thought to come from the forests and watersheds of Rinjani and from the even less developed, and much more forested neighbouring island of Sumbawa. This deforestation was further adding to problems associated with the breakdown of the island’s watersheds.

FFI, working with Mataram University, is the lead NGO partner under the BATBP, and are running running a project that aims to demonstrate sustainable management and recreation of the Rinjani watershed. Another FFI project, funded by the NL Agency Global Sustainable Biomass Fund, in consortium with Bosch Siemen Hausgeraute and Export Leaf Indonesia, aims to develop sustainable biomass alternatives to replace kerosene, coal and natural wood as fuels for the curing process, whilst a contributing to restoring tree cover and watersheds.

On a recent visit to the island, I saw some aspects of the BATBP work undertaken, albeit at early stages. For me the most interesting component was in the National Park buffer-zone where FFI and partners are helping farmers diversify from illegal wood removal and cash crops, to restoring tree cover and diversity within forest gardens. I saw where a farmer had cleared coffee trees and replaced them with several species including vegetable and fruit crops at ground level, fruit bushes and trees and taller, longer-growing timber trees. This kept the farmer busy (coffee growing only requires work at harvest), produced a more sustainable and less periodic income (coffee prices are low and income is once a year at harvest) which meant the farmer had financial security and didn’t need to go into the national park to cut trees. FFI has also been working with the women in the village, developing ways to add more value to the crops grown, such as producing banana snacks, selling for more than the raw bananas. Even at a year old the converted coffee plots looked like young forest. Whilst this is only one aspect of FFI’s work, the impacts were tangible.

Lombok agricultural landscape Photo credit: Anna Lyons/FFI

As well as activities on ground, FFI will try to influence policy on provincial and national levels, with a workable model for watershed restoration in Renggung, the water catchment where most tobacco growing occurs. Indonesia is one of three priority countries for BAT during the current term of the partnership, with work on Lombok set to increase. So, whilst it may be small, the challenges prestenting Lombok are common to a much wider area. We hope our work here will form a basis to be extrapolated elsewhere. If left unaddressed, problems on the Island have the potential to impact a much larger area if natural wood and fossil fuels continue to be brought in from other islands.