Fellow Since 1998
Lembaga Amanah Gappa Samudra
This description of Siti Aminah's work was prepared when Siti Aminah was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
Siti Aminah has succeeded in developing effective ways to preserve Indonesia's mangrove forests by harnessing the local community support of women and children and the fishermen that rely on the mangroves for their livelihood.
The New Idea
Siti is mobilizing women and children to halt shoreline erosion by introducing comprehensive community-based management of local mangrove resources. She is gaining support in an area that is traditionally hostile to such conservation efforts. Not only has her project improved the environmental condition of areas of shoreline, but it has also served as an income-generating project for the women of local villages.Siti has also gained the vital support of local fishermen, and in order to sustain her project, she is making arrangements with them to contribute to a fund that would support the replanting of mangroves along the coastline. This replanting is in the fishermen's best interest because it increases the available fish resources. It also has the added effects of decreasing erosion and flooding.She is currently working to expand her project to the vast coastal areas throughout Indonesia by raising awareness and training local women to undertake similar projects in other areas.
Indonesia is a nation of islands with a significant proportion of its 200 million people residing in areas along the coasts and depending on the coastal strips and waters for their livelihoods. Sumbawa is a large, elongated island with a mountainous spine. The soil is much less fertile than the rich volcanic soil of Java and Bali, and Sumbawa has a long dry season. This makes the inland areas very unproductive and the coastal strips crucially important. Although the ecosystems of the coastal regions have survived for centuries, they are now being threatened by overuse. The whole north coast of the main island of Java is now almost completely denuded of the natural mangrove forests, causing erosion, severe flooding and loss of fish resources. Similar disasters are happening in many other places. The foreshores on the northern coast of the island of Sumbawa where Siti grew up and lives today have been shrinking. Three rows of houses and a market that once lined the beach are now gone, taken over by the encroaching shoreline. The mangrove trees where Siti played as a child have disappeared, in part because women had cut down huge tracts of them as easy supplies for firewood. The irresponsible cutting of the mangroves and fishing with explosives, which opens up the mangrove forests to the sea, have caused environmental degradation and a consequent reduction of people's incomes. Fishermen are leaving the area as their catches from the shallow waters are decreasing. When the community became aware of their problem they looked into the possibility of building concrete walls along the shore to help stop the erosion, but the price of this construction was too high for the poor villagers. The replanting of the mangroves was not considered to be possible. Despite the obvious environmental deterioration that people saw in their day to day lives, they did not take action to save the mangrove forests, partly due to disinterest and opposition from the adult males.
The first eighteen months of Siti's project were a learning period. In mid-1991, she and two friends established the People's Solidarity Organization, which she has directed since 1994, with the aim of replanting mangroves along the foreshore of their village. They began by walking to an area three kilometers down the coast where there were still some mangroves, to collect seedlings. Because the adults were skeptical of young women planting and caring for seedlings along the beach, and because those same adults were also a major causal factor in the problem, Siti evolved the idea of involving the children of the community and their teachers in her project. She presented the seedling collection trips as adventure and learning expeditions. At first Siti and her colleagues collected and planted seedlings with shoots, but these died after two months. They had more success the second time with the 500 "fruits" they planted directly. During this time Siti had a breakthrough when local fishermen told her about some mangrove forest areas on offshore islands. She went out with them and started collecting supplies there, as the species were better and more plentiful. In late 1992, Siti's organization received some funds from the Dana Mitra Lingkungan (Friends of the Environment) Fund, which had heard of the project, to pay for boat rental. Siti continued to experiment with different types of mangroves and planting techniques.Steady access to a boat led to a major new development in Siti's project, the conservation of mangrove "laboratories" on the offshore islands, especially that of Pulau Panjang (Long Island). This is an uninhabited island about three kilometers off the coast, which is accessible by an hour-long boat trip. This eight by three kilometer island is a rich source of seedlings with over 23 different varieties of mangrove, a complete ecosystem in itself. Recently, because of the depleted fish resources along the main coastline, fishermen have started to exploit this precious area, and Siti is now addressing this relatively new problem. In March, 1998, Siti held a workshop for community representatives, government officials, and teachers on conservation of Pulau Panjang. She aims to generate agreement for a government permit for her organization to have authority over the island, to monitor activities there, to allow some local community access to the area, but to restrict outsiders. A recent grant from the Global Environment Development arm of the United Nations Development Program for the purchase of her own boat makes this monitoring program possible.Siti's challenge from the beginning was to develop ways to improve community support for the project. From the outset she faced resistance from her own parents and from the parents of the children, especially about going out on the boat. Being a young person and a woman made her task more difficult; many villagers gossiped about her going out on fishing boats with men to collect seedlings. But as her reputation grew she gradually gathered more power and cooperation. She approached people directly one by one, explaining that her aim was to improve community conditions for future generations and inviting them to come to see the project. She works directly with them to find appropriate solutions whenever possible, for example negotiating with the fishermen on where to leave spaces in the mangroves for boat mooring access. After attending a training program in Lombok in 1995, she came to the attention of the officials of the forestry department who offered funding for the mangrove planting. Siti made good use of this as an opportunity to prove to the community that her project was important. She has been able to involve local women in an income-generating activity by teaching them to germinate seedlings in plastic bags for three months before planting. Siti has created an arrangement with the forestry department whereby the women are paid for producing these new seedlings. The initial six months of this project has produced 200,000 seedlings that have been planted over 100 hectares along a ten kilometer stretch of shoreline. Siti has been able to take part in a number of training sessions to learn more about the techniques of selecting and planting seedlings. She has joined workshops in mangrove development and biodiversity in Mataram, Bali, and Medan. This has broadened her expertise, which, together with the demonstrable benefits of her project and the interest of the forestry department, has enabled her to overcome some of the initial skepticism, criticism and disinterest of the local community.Now thinking to the future sustainability of her project, Siti has formed an Environment Cooperative composed of a women's seedling group and a men's fishing group. Men from the community who do not own boats are allowed to use the organization's boat for fishing but they must share their profits with Siti's organization to help finance the seedling group. She has plans to use the boat for profit by arranging eco-trips in cooperation with another organization, and she is allowing the children to join trips on the boat so long as they have started a savings' account, as she wants to encourage this habit in the children. Siti believes that this cooperative can serve as an embryo for such groups in many other areas.In order to spread knowledge about the project, Siti works mainly through other nongovernmental organizations and with teachers. She has arranged for teachers to conduct environmental education trips with students from schools in other areas, using the project boat, during school holidays. Siti now has four associates, three women and one man in their early twenties, whom she is training to take her ideas to other areas. She has been approached by a community located on the north central coast of Sumbawa to teach them how to replant mangroves in this area. Her associates will implement her strategy there during the planting season. She will achieve a two-way technology transfer by learning their techniques with fish ponds, which will provide an extra income resource for her original site. Other nongovernmental organizations have visited her project to learn from Siti's experiences, and she is invited to give papers at seminars in other places.
Siti is the second of four children in a farming family. As a child she helped her parents in the fields with crops such as corn and peanuts. She went to Mataram in Lombok to stay with her older brother and to attend the senior high school for social work, where she chose the community development stream. For her practical work she worked with farmer groups in a village where they produce coconut oil.After returning to Sumbawa in 1990, Siti joined a local organization that helps women to improve their incomes in their jobs as small traders and producers of traditional cloth and coconut oil producers. She introduced new activities to the group, a saving's fund and hiking trips. It was during the hikes that they noticed the shoreline environmental problems, and this led to a small project to replant some mangroves. In mid-1991, Siti and two friends who live in a village on the foreshore decided to concentrate seriously on the mangrove replanting activity and formed the People's Solidarity Organization.In early 1997 Siti was awarded the Global 500 award from the United Nations Environmental Program and she traveled to Korea to accept the award. A documentary film, sponsored by UNDP, is presently being made about her project. Siti has a strong commitment to her ideas and a vibrant personality that impresses everyone who meets her.