Communities often stand on the front line to save and conserve their forests – this is the case for villages in Aceh, Indonesia. Here three villages – Gampong Mane, Gampong Lutueng, and Gampong Blang Dalam – are trying to find ways to improve economic opportunities for their families by turning to non-timber forest products. Recognising the importance of managing their forests sustainably, these virtuous residents intend to allocate a proportion of their increased income for improving forest management.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been supporting these communities, to develop small enterprises to improve their income while conserving their forests. For example, the men of Gampong Blang Dalam have developed a cattle-fattening business and the men of Gampong Mane and Gampong Lutueng have set up rattan businesses. But something excited us when we talked about business activities in Gampong Lutueng. The women spoke out and wanted to create a business unit themselves, in order to contribute to forest protection and conservation.

In these communities, raising livestock is traditionally a role dominated by men. Participation in rattan businesses is also unattractive to most women because to find the raw materials women must explore the forest and leave their homes, families and children for long periods. But knowledge has no limits. Armed with determination and a little money, women in Gampong Lutueng formed a wedding equipment hire business in 2015.

The business started small, consisting of six members, with an income reaching an average of US$634.20 per month. The women contribute a portion of this income to the Community Forest Management Unit. In 2017, every time a wildlife conflict occurred (when tigers or elephants come into contact with people), US$35.23 from the business went to supporting the agency’s community forest patrol operations. Income from the business has also supported residents of Gampong Lutueng whose orchards or paddy fields were damaged by wildlife.

The business is supporting community patrols that help reduce human-elephant conflict. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

The business is supporting community patrols that help reduce human-elephant conflict. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

The assumption that women are only unproductive domestic workers is torn down by the resilience of these women who put themselves up front in building a business whose profits support forest conservation. Women are able to devote their free time to running this business, which does not usually take much time because demand for wedding equipment hire is mostly on weekends.

The majority of those who hire wedding equipment are residents of the same or nearby villages. Now, if there is a local wedding or other ceremony, the community does not need to travel to the city to hire equipment. Adjusting the rental costs to the economic conditions of the village means the price offered by the local business is not too high.

Women cannot be underestimated in Gampong Lutueng. The business activities initiated by these women not only increase income but also contribute to forest sustainability. There are many other positive effects created by these activities – relationships between fellow villagers are increasingly intertwined with employees in this business activity.

Overall, the assets owned by this business group total US$5,637.36, and the wedding equipment hire business is still running today. In fact, the business is growing well, with an additional wedding set being purchased in 2018. And more widely, positive changes have occurred in Gampong Lutueng. The dream of women to be able to take care of their families, contribute to household income, and participate in conserving nature has become a reality. Women are ultimately empowered in society.

Women are built like rocks; inside and outside. They are determined to be part of the conservation of the forest, the prosperity of life and the equality of opportunity. The involvement of women in improving and supporting family income is not new. But in these villages, their ability to develop small enterprises that increase household income while at the same time positively impacting nature conservation is truly inspiring.