Chairman of Indonesian Community Radio Network
Community Radio Helps Revive Forests
By Kanis Dursin*
*JAKARTA, Feb 21, 2012 (IPS) - Irman Meilandi unhesitatingly attributes the
return of birds, wildlife and the forests around his hilly village of
Mandalamekar in West Java province to conservation advice streaming in over
community radio. *
"Thanks to Radio Ruyuk (meaning scrubland), the people of Mandalamekar have
adopted a campaign to replant deforested areas and conserve forests around
the village," says Meilandi, referring to the yet to be licensed community
radio station that specialises on environmental issues.
Broadcasting on FM 107.8 megahertz, Radio Ruyuk goes on air at 6 p.m. and
signs off at 11 p.m. Its programmes discuss organic farming, herbal plants
and medicines and village infrastructure, all in the local Sundanese
"Radio Ruyuk was designed to encourage local people to pay attention to the
condition of the village's forests and wildlife," says Meilandi, co-founder
of the Mitra Alam Munggaran (Nature's First Partner) or MAM, a social
movement concerned with shrinking water supply in Mandalamekar, a
seven-hour drive from Jakarta.
Established in 2002 by a dozen local residents, the MAM movement started
out by organising public discussions, distributing leaflets and putting up
posters, urging people to protect the forests around the village.
While MAM was able to get local officials to ban the harvesting of rattan,
hunting, and cutting down trees in protected forests, cooperation from
local people was initially missing. Many were involved in tree felling and
cultivation on lands designated as water-catchment areas.
Radio Ruyuk has been organising, on Sunday evenings, a live talk show from
7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on various environmental issues confronting the
718-hectare village. The hosts and participants are mostly farmers and
small traders, working voluntarily.
The issues discussed include tree-planting activities, with MAM activists
occasionally joining in to explain local policies or provide updates on the
status of Indonesia's forests.
Indonesia, one of the world's most densely forested countries along with
Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congro, saw extensive deforestation
through the last century. Its estimated forest cover of 170 million
hectares in 1900 was halved by the beginning of this century.
"The MAM programme aims to raise local people's awareness and stimulate a
sense of responsibility toward the environment," says village chief Yana
Noviadi. "We wanted more people to be aware of the dangers of deforestation
and to participate in replanting."
Radio Ruyuk, which hit the airwaves for the first time in October 2008, is
run by the Mandalamekar Community Broadcasting Council, which manages the
radio station with Meilandi serving as its secretary.
"In the beginning, Radio Ruyuk focused on environmental issues, the link
between the shrinking of river waters and deforestation in the area and
also local forest-related policies," says Noviadi.
In 2008, a year after he was elected village chief, Noviadi declared forest
conservation as one of his official programmes, further boosting people's
participation in tree-planting activities.
By 2011, Mandalamekar had replanted a total of 118 hectares of deforested
area, including some 40 hectares located around water sources, and before
long the volume of water flowing into the village's rivers had increased.
"Paddy fields that once lay fallow are now irrigated and farmers grow paddy
all year round," says Meilandi, adding that Mandalamekar has 34 hectares of
irrigated paddy fields.
"More importantly, stories of local residents picketing water irrigation
structures or quarrelling over water resources are unheard off now,"
Noviadi concurs with Meilandi, saying that he had heard stories of farmers
setting up traps to discourage people trying to divert water. "While these
are now told in a joking manner, they were disturbing," Noviadi says.
Since 2008, local officials have made it a policy to ask every visitor to
the village to plant trees in designated areas. "We want their support for
our programme. The idea is to instill environment awareness among visitors
so they can do the same in their villages," Noviadi says.
By law, community radio is limited to a radius of two-and-a-half km, but
Radio Ruyuk is received in six districts with a combined population of more
than 10,000 people.
"A neighbouring district head once phoned in with a request for a talk on
steps that can be taken at the grassroots level to conserve forests. When
we asked where he was calling from, he replied that he was at a gathering
of village heads in his district who were waiting to hear us over the
radio," Noviadi said.
Mandalamekar's conservation efforts have not gone unnoticed. For two
consecutive years, in 2009 and 2010, it won the prize for the best
self-financed village forest management programme at the regional level. It
was also runner-up at the provincial level in 2010.
"To the best of our knowledge, the regional government never made any
assessment of our forest management, but I guess they listen to Radio
Ruyuk," Meilandi says.
Meilandi himself claimed the 2011 Seacology Prize for his efforts to
preserve the environment and culture of Mandalamekar. "They told me that I
was chosen from among candidates in 46 countries," Meilandi says.
Seacology, a non-profit with headquarters in Berkeley, California, focuses
on preserving island ecosystems and cultures around the world.
"Winning awards has never been our goal," Meilandi said. "We take pride in
the fact that we were able to replant deforested areas with our own
resources, without external help," he says.
*This story was produced with the support of
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