‘World’s largest private economic sector,’ communities on the ground combat threats to food security and tropical forests, but boosting their role requires secure tenure, investments in homegrown solutions
JAKARTA— At a high-level event in Jakarta today, three of Indonesia's largest Indigenous and civil society organizations launched a new initiative that will channel climate funds to the country’s rural communities on the front lines of a battle to protect food security and stop the environmental damage posing threats to planetary and human health.
As Indonesia’s first direct funding mechanism for Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), the Nusantara Fund joins an unprecedented global effort to correct a significant disconnect in how climate funds are allocated: Indigenous peoples and local communities receive less than 1% of foreign aid to address climate change, despite significant evidence that they are among the world’s best protectors of vulnerable ecosystems, with significant sustainable development benefits arising from their management of tropical forests.
“The Nusantara Fund is designed to meet the needs and desires of the Indigenous peoples and local communities we serve,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, an Indigenous Toraja and elected leader of AMAN (The Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago).
The Nusantara Fund was born of a partnership comprised of AMAN, an organization representing 20 million Indonesians and 2,449 communities, KPA (Consortium for Agrarian Reform), Indonesia’s largest agrarian reform movement/people-based organization, and WALHI (The Indonesian Forum for the Environment/FoE Indonesia), the country’s largest environmental group.
Launched with US$3 million in initial support from a group of international philanthropies, including the Ford Foundation and Packard Foundation, the Nusantara Fund joins a select group of organizations in tropical forest countries that are helping to fulfill the goals of the Indigenous peoples and local communities Forest Tenure Pledge of US$1.7 Billion. The new fund’s Indonesian founders hope to eventually attract US$20 million in investments that will be directed to Indigenous peoples and local communities across the archipelago.
"Today, we honor our shared responsibility to protect the sacred resources of our planet. As funders and philanthropists, it is our responsibility to bridge the distance between what power we have — from our networks to our financial resources — and the urgent problems facing Indigenous peoples and local communities in Indonesia and around the world," said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. "By investing in the Nusantara Fund, placing grassroots leaders at the center of climate solutions, and joining the global movement to protect forests and territories around the world, we can mitigate the climate and biodiversity crises that touch us all.”
Announced at COP26 in Glasgow, the Forest Tenure Pledge responded to evidence that Indigenous peoples and local communities have been receiving little support to advance their quest for secure rights to their ancestral territories, a proven but untapped solution for addressing global crises fueled by the destruction of forests and other biomes.
A growing body of research, much of it generated by the UN’s own climate and biodiversity experts, points to Indigenous peoples and local communities as vital to the conservation of natural resources, including an estimated 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calls communities defending forests and producing vital food crops, “the world’s largest private economic sector.”
The vaunted role of traditional communities in tropical forest countries is increasingly at risk, however, as remote regions of the world come under attack, driven by increasing hunger for lands on which to produce soy, corn and palm oil, and to extract fossil fuels and the metals and minerals needed for renewable technologies.
“Indonesia is no exception,” said Zenzi Suhadi, Executive Director of WALHI. “Worldwide, Indigenous and local communities lack the legal protections they need to stop the fragmentation of lands that would be so much more sustainably productive if community land rights were recognized and enforced by governments.”
“The Nusantara Fund will strengthen the agrarian reform movement in grassroot to protect land rights and livelihood collectively. This supporting system will support peasant unions, rural women, and young farmers in expanding good practices of agrarian reform models at village level," said Dewi Kartika, KPA Secretary General. “The Nusantara Fund is also creating a new model for delivering development support to the people most capable of reducing the environmental damage, realizing food and economic sovereignty.”
A farming community in Western Java, for instance, is using its grant money to boost production of crops and generate income, but the local farmers are also drawing on rich traditions of customary law, including those governing inheritance, to prevent the fragmentation of land. This in turn encourages farmers to practice a form of sustainable agriculture designed to meet the needs of future generations.
Governing the Nusantara Fund
“Our overarching goal is to empower the communities we represent, providing them with resources that will help them to scale up their role in managing the environment and natural resources while growing the economy and reducing emission, which is one way the world must pursue to recover the earth," added Zenzi. “By demonstrating the success of this sustainable model, we hope to encourage national and local authorities to recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities across the Archipelago.”
In governing the new fund, representatives of the three organizations will serve on an advisory board with trusted members of the Indigenous and local communities. Decisions about which projects to fund will be guided by a desire to protect, promote and respect human rights, while adhering to customary rules.
No one group will be treated better than any other group in how decisions are made and benefits shared, according to the three founding organizations. AMAN, KPA and WALHI have agreed that this program should be implemented with trust that Indigenous and local communities have high integrity, initiative and direct field experience.
To make sure they got it right, leaders of the three organizations met with hundreds of Indigenous people, fisherfolk and farmers, and with leaders of the organizations that represent these communities — online and in person.
Funders of the Nusantara Fund, and of other funds being introduced and expanded in tropical forest countries, committed in 2022 to increasing capacity-building support and spreading their grants more evenly across tropical regions.
“The Nusantara Fund directly supports Indigenous peoples and local communities, bolstering their capacity to manage their natural environments, reduce emissions, build rich local economies, and steward crucial resources for the benefit of all Indonesians — and our global climate,” said Darren Walker. “The fund will also contribute to the achievement of Indonesia’s Nationally Determined Contributions and net-zero emission targets. I hope that donors and funders everywhere will join us and commit to enhancing the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples and local communities, and the health of the territories where they live.”
The UN’s 2022 Climate Change Report underscores the importance of this work. The expert panel of scientists advising UN climate negotiators cited the urgent need to recognize Indigenous peoples’ rights and to support Indigenous knowledge-based adaptation, calling Indigenous peoples “critical to reducing climate change risks and effective adaptation (with very high confidence).”