Our Projects Officer, Harry Tittensor, recently travelled to Indonesia. Whilst there he visited the PV Climate certified Gula Gula project, located in West Sumatra, and a prospective PV Nature project, located in Ketapang. Here he tells us more about the trip.

Leg One: The PV Climate-certified Gula Gula project, Western Sumatra 

My time in Indonesia was inspiring, energizing, and exhausting in equal measure. Like many equatorial locations around the world, the standard world map gives the impression that Indonesia is far smaller than it is. Sumatra alone stretches the equivalent distance of Ireland to Italy. This is where I would start my trip, visiting Gula Gula - a certified PV Climate project located in West Sumatra.  

The projects participants are farming groups and communities spread across the Minangkabau region. The interventions focus on the restoration of degraded land, through the planting of varied multipurpose tree species (MPTS) including durian, cinnamon, papaya, coffee, guava, soursop, dragon fruit, stink bean, mahogany, and many others. On average smallholders manage a plot of ~1 hectare. The planting of a variety of species has a strong holistic impact, which not only restores degraded lands, but enables the participants to be more resilient to the volatility of market conditions and climate change  

Plan Vivo's Project Officer Harry (centre) with members of the RPL team, at their headquarters in Sirukam Village. Credit: Ai Farida. 

A vital cog of any Plan Vivo project is a strong project coordinator. Locally based project coordinators, who have roots in the project region, are well placed to build the trust required with communities and participants. Gula Gula has two project coordinators, Rimbo Pangan Lestari (RPL) led by Ai Farida; and the international partner Co2operate who assist with the commercial and technical elements of the project. RPL’s headquarters are at the centre of the project region. Here they host guests, conduct farmer trainings, and utilise the headquarters as a testing site for new interventions developed in collaboration with the participants.  

‘’Locally based project coordinators, who have roots in the project region, are well placed to build the trust required with communities and participants.’’ 

Plan Vivo requires its projects to have a strong participatory approach. What this means is that projects must be structured from the bottom-up and be participatory in their design and in the implementation of their interventions. Gula Gula’s participants, together with RPL, are a model example of how this can be achieved. The project has created an environment where participants impact the project’s initial design and its continued evolution. An example is the project mitigating for imperata, a long grass species, which outcompetes the natural regeneration of tree species and limits sunlight.  

In the past the project would recommend clearing the imperata, to allow more sunlight in. However, this often led to soils becoming arid, exacerbating soil erosion. At the same time, survival rates of planted saplings were lower than expected. The solution arrived via a collaborative effort with the FAO and the project’s participants, using a lodging board to simply flatten the imperata instead of clear-cutting it. This allows the saplings to get enough sun while retaining moisture and providing a natural compost for the topsoil. Subsequently, survival rates go up. It turned out to be very effective and labour savingDue to Gula Gula’s open forums this practice has quickly proliferated across the project. 

Image below/ left: Gula Gula's Murni, Eti Dan and Rita from the FMO Sirukam programme, Sirukam Village in the Solok Regency. Credit: Plan Vivo Foundation 

RPL has facilitated spaces for Gula Gula’s participants, farming groups, and communities, to share ideas and develop the project’s interventions. Geographically the Gula Gula project area is scattered across the Minangkabau region. RPL provides each project area with its own Project Officer (PO).

A PO is responsible for a maximum of 50 hectares. Should a project area be, or expand beyond 50 hectares, another PO will be recruited. These POs provide familiarity to the participants and constant attention throughout the year encouraging farming groups to meet frequently. Ai, translating for RPL’s PO Freddie, informed me that this close relationship with the community was enabled through years of trust building. The first contact with communities like Paninggahan Village or Sirukam Village was followed by several months of meetings with farming groups, local government, and sometimes the local Imam before interventions were then discussed.

This strong foundation of the Gula Gula project has provided fertile ground for additional participants to be recruited. It enables RPLs technical capacity to be utilised in a targeted and effective manner by the participants. RPL has established a nursery, where seedlings are chosen in agreement with the project participants. A composting unit has also been constructed, providing additional help for participants with soils that may lack sufficient nutrients or have high acidity. In collaboration with staff and students from Brawijaya University (in Malang, Java) soil analysis is carried out. This allows for more targeted recommendations. In addition, a pilot project was implemented in 2023 using camera traps and audio moths to better understand the impact of the interventions on biodiversity in the area. 

‘’Some of the project areas have also begun to set camera traps and audio moths to better understand the impact of the interventions on biodiversity in the area.’’ 

The project also has a mix of female and male participants, not limited by hierarchal power dynamics. Ai and her team took me to three project areas, there were different topographies, soils, and plot sizes, all requiring slight adjustments to their interventions. Their continued integral participation in the Gula Gula projects trajectory had undoubtedly left the individuals managing these plots with a feeling of strong project ownership. This results in a better chance of permanence and long-standing climate and socio-economic resilience. The matriarchal and societal structure of this region means projects are well placed to achieve community-led restoration on a landscape scale. I left feeling that this region is highly suited to the Plan Vivo model.

(Left to right): Erixal, Juni, Harry (Plan Vivo), Juliana, Ai Farida (RPL) and Asrul. The FMO programme, Panniggahan Village in the Solok Regency. Credit: Ai Farida. 


Leg Two: International Animal Rescue, a prospective PV Nature project, Ketapang, Western Kalimantan 

After Gula Gula, I travelled to Ketapang in Western Kalimantan to introduce Plan Vivo’s Biodiversity Standard (PV Nature) to a prospective project. 

International Animal Rescue (IAR) is a rescue centre for orangutans and other endangered primates. In recent years it has turned its attention to the prevention of habitat loss, through applying for concessions, collaborating with local government, and (most importantly) working with local communities to protect and restore peatland forest.  

Artificial canals, land conversion and forest fires mean this vital ecosystem is being cleared and degraded at an alarming rate. IAR (operating under their Indonesian subsidiary YIARI) and director Karmele have been colossus in their conservation efforts in the region. Karmele and her team have taken on the key drivers of degradation, standing up to mining operations, large palm oil plantations, and illegal logging activities.

YIARI was my host during my visit to Ketapang and for a few of days the team showed me the Pematang Gadung district, an area that still has intact (albeit fragmented) peatland forest.

‘’Artificial canals, land conversion and forest fires mean this vital ecosystem [peatland forest] is being cleared and degraded at an alarming rate.’’ 

En route through the region, while traveling on a dirt road running through a mosaic of intact peatland forest, palm oil plantations and recently cleared land, we passed an area where an attempt at excavating a new canal had started. They had not gotten far. Karmele informed me the bulldozer tasked with the work had been swallowed up by the peat without a trace.

These artificial canals may make land conversion easier, but they leave the land more susceptible to fires, which in turn leads to further habitat loss. During the dry season, the YIARI team is often called out, alerted by vigilant community members to animals (such as the Orangutan, Slow Loris, and Macaque) left displaced by the fires. Taking a more preventative approach, supported by YIARI, concerned female community members established a voluntary fire brigade, called the Power of Mama. The brigade now patrols the area and prevents fires.

‘’Supported by YIARI, concerned female community members established a voluntary fire brigade, called the Power of Mama. The brigade now patrols the area and prevents fires.’’ 

Image below/left: The community managed peatland forest research centre, based in the prospective PV Nature project area in Pemtang Gadung. Credit: Plan Vivo Foundation

In degraded areas not affected by canals, YIARI has also facilitated community-led restoration. Sitting at the centre of Pematang Gadung is a research station funded by YIARI. The research team is comprised of local community members who carry out peatland forest restoration. At present this happens on a small scale but demonstrates promise if scaled up

The initiative has successfully planted a mix of ~100,000 native seedlings across 180 hectares, using species that are attractive to primates like orangutans. This is also a form of mitigation, tackling the increasing instances of human-wildlife conflict, which occur due to the rapid destruction of natural habitats. Orangutans are often found raiding the crops of local communities, which can sometimes lead to fatal consequences. Addressing these issues with well thought out interventions is necessary and crucial if we are to preserve and protect these endangered species and their respective habitats.

This is where PV Nature comes in. YIARI are interested in exploring and utilising PV Nature as a mechanism to strengthen and upscale their efforts in the region. To introduce PV Nature to the team and the local communities involved, we held a workshop in YIARI’s learning centrepiece building – a beautiful building based on a Dayak templeDuring the workshop a variety of primates climbed through upper windows, a rather apt audience for the topic being discussed!  

The subsequent Q & A was insightful and varied with discussions around what the commodification of nature could lead to, and genuine enthusiasm (from both people and primates...!) for the benefits PV Nature could bring to the conservation efforts of Ketapang.  

''During the [PV Nature] workshop a variety of primates climbed through upper windows, a rather apt audience for the topic being discussed!’’

After the PV Nature workshop at YIARI rescue centre. Credit: Karmele Llano Sanchez 

Despite using different mechanisms to generate conservation finance, both Gula Gula and YIARI are aligned in many ways, particularly regarding conservation through community-led interventions, with benefit-sharing, while delivering a holistic impact. Experiencing the inner workings of these projects was an invaluable opportunity. It made me appreciate the level of work, dedication and commitment required to become, and continue to be, a Plan Vivo-certified project.  

Plan Vivo is a support mechanism - the hard yards are done by our project coordinators and participants, and having seen the work on the ground, it is these people that I now have even further admiration for. 

Our desk-based jobs in Edinburgh can sometimes feel a little removed from the conservation and restoration efforts happening on the ground. I returned home content in the knowledge that Plan Vivo’s work in Indonesia has played a real part in facilitating climate and nature resilience through community empowerment.  

Plan Vivo would like to thank RPL and YIARI for hosting Harry. Thank you for your hospitality, enthusiasm and dedication.