Turning Tree Seedlings into Medicine, Borneo

Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI)’s mission is to improve both environmental and human health around Gunung Palung National Park, a 100,000 + hectare protected area of Borneo’s forests,  home to 5-10% of the world’s orangutans. Tying together healthcare and conservation initiatives to break the dangerous cycle of poverty, poor health and environmental destruction, ASRI engages with local communities to provide high quality, low-cost healthcare in exchange for a commitment to protect natural resources.
 
School children planting trees
School children planting trees

The Project

Gunung National Park’s significant populations of threatened species such as orangutans, Malayan sunbears and mouse-deer, are threatened by illegal logging, land clearance and uncontrolled fires that often launch a vicious cycle of annual burning.  It is critical to break this cycle and research shows that orangutan densities can recover if the forest is allowed to recover over a few years. Since 2007, ASRI has operated a health clinic that offers discounted health care to communities in exchange for commitments to reduce or eliminate illegal logging, complemented by targeted conservation initiatives.  This involves offering clinic patients the option to pay for up to 70% of medical bills with specific varieties of native tree seedlings which are then used to restore degraded areas of the park. This project will:
- establish an arboretum and educational trail around the healthcare centre, providing education for local school children (12 educational trips) and health benefits for recovering patients (approx. 2000).
- rehabilitate an additional 15 hectare area of forest through a mixture of natural regeneration and planting where there are low levels of regrowth.  Approximately 22,500 trees to be liberated through natural regeneration and an additional 25,000 seedlings will be planted to achieve optimal tree cover density
- train volunteers and local communities in fire fighting and fire patrols to ensure no fires reach the newly reforested area 
- help create ‘savings accounts’ with seedlings and establish a seed nursery in the hospital grounds

 
School in the Forest!
School in the Forest!

The Update

Update March 2018:
The project is making great progress including:
- Planting 1,484 native forest seedlings around the healthcare campus and adjacent mini forest arboretum.
- Establishing a 1km gravelled educational trail around the mini forest arboretum with signboards and seedling placards.
- Undertaking educational conservation programmes: children learn about the hospital, services provided, the connection between health and the environment, and ASRI’s non-cash payment system. They also watch a film about climate change, tour and work in the demonstration sustainable farm (including harvesting vegetables), and do a guided walk through the trail in the mini forest arboretum to learn about tropical forest ecosystems and how to conserve forests.
- Outreach educational presentations are conducted once a week in the hospital waiting room and at monthly community meetings. Forest Guardians are also raising awareness about the seedling payment option to their communities. In total, almost 3000 people have been reached.
- The seeding nursery has been established at the hospital with a capacity for 4000 seedlings. More than 37 species of trees have been received from patients. Seedling overflow is moved to the reforestation site nursery.
- In 2017, 11,850 seedlings were received from patients. After hearing about the programme many patients have started to bank seedlings with ASRI as savings accounts.
- Rehabilitation has started on the 15ha area of forest with 3ha of assisted natural regeneration and enrichment plantings progressing in areas where there are low levels of growth.
- Fire breaks have been maintained and patrols carried out with surrounding residents being educated in fire prevention and control; resulting in zero fires in any of the reforestation sites.
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We are hugely grateful for the support of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, without whose support we could never have realised such an ambitious project.
Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Against Sewage