Indonesia is vying against other Southeast Asian countries for a $30 million grant from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization aimed at assisting communities living near a biosphere reserve in the region . “The better our proposal for managing biosphere areas, the better our chances of getting management funding from Unesco,” said Endang Sukara, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu biosphere reserve in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, on Wednesday, Endang said that the grant, if received, would be allocated to research and helping communities located near the biosphere over five years. A biosphere reserve is an international conservation program by Unesco aimed at protecting a core area while allowing sustainable use of the surrounding zones by the local people.
Some $5 million of the funds would be earmarked for research on enhancing the economy of communities living around the biosphere reserve, while the remaining $25 million would be used for a small-scale credit scheme for local communities. Endang said that Unesco was still awaiting proposals for the grant from countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. He emphasized that helping improve the livelihood of local residents was an important factor in protecting biosphere reserve areas.
“So while a reserve such as Giam Siak consists of highly valued forests that need to be managed without damaging them, we could still benefit by, for example, promoting the area as an eco-tourism destination, especially considering its strategic location near Singapore and Malaysia,” he explained. The biosphere reserve method, Endang said, was possibly a better mechanism for managing and protecting virgin forests than other mechanisms. Under it, local communities have access to a transition zone around the biosphere for their economic benefit, but at the same time help protect the core area from illegal logging.
Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban said he hoped the number of biosphere reserves in the country would be increased in the future. “Indonesia has seven biosphere reserves, with the last two inaugurated in 1981,” Kaban said. According to LIPI, the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu biospere has at least 159 species of birds, 10 species of mammals, 13 species of fishes, 8 species of reptiles and some 52 endangered and protected plants.