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Coalition working for lasting transformation in and around the world-famous Leuser Ecosystem

Coalition working for lasting transformation in and around the world-famous Leuser Ecosystem

Southern Aceh

Home to the world-famous Leuser Ecosystem and the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, which has one of the densest populations of orangutans anywhere in the world, Southern Aceh is teeming with biodiversity.

Earthworm Foundation, with support from Coalition partners, including members who source from the region, and in partnership with NGOs, civil society, local communities and local government, has begun work to reduce deforestation on a landscape scale, beginning with the Subulussalam district.

Southern Aceh in view

The main part of our work so far has been conducting extensive spatial diagnostics and engaging with local stakeholders to understand and be positioned to address targeted drivers of deforestation in the region. Starling satellite monitoring intelligence from 2018-2019 shows several revealing patterns of deforestation in the Southern Aceh landscape which help inform and hone our strategy for on-the-ground implementation.

Whilst, encouragingly, deforestation has declined fairly steadily from a high of nearly 1600 hectares in the first quarter of 2018 to a low of just over 200 hectares in the second quarter of 2019, we see three key trends with major strategic implications that warrant focused attention and collaboration:

1.The majority of deforestation in Southern Aceh is taking place in the Subulassalam district on the northeast region.

2. In contrast to Aceh Tamiang and many other regions in Indonesia where the majority of deforestation is driven by lack of alternative livelihoods for smallholders, in Southern Aceh it’s company-led activities putting forests under pressure. Nearly 50% of deforestation to date in 2019 in Southern Aceh occurred within company concessions, in contrast to just over 20% in 2018. This is particularly true in Subulussalam district. Notwithstanding the overall decline in deforestation figures from 2018-2019, we believe that the relative intensification of company-led deforestation compared with smallholder deforestation warrants focused engagement and support for plantations and mills in this landscape.

3. The escalating pace of in-concession deforestation in Subulussalam district means an increasingly narrow window of opportunity to act to address commercial-scale clearance activities before the remaining forest is lost.

Our landscape Areas for Priority Transformation (APT) programme and its supporters recognise the urgency in Southern Aceh. We believe that leveraging maps and data insights, growing relationships with local stakeholders, and using innovative support tools for landscape actors can play an important, complementary role to the critical follow-up actions being taken by our supporters, wider industry, and other actors through their own supply chains and spheres of influence to find collaborative solutions that successfully conserve remaining forest areas.

Key activities

Identified priority forest areas and connected actors for engagement and transformation

Through our Starling satellite monitoring tool and in-house data repository, we have performed advanced spatial diagnostics of the whole Southern Aceh landscape to understand the drivers and patterns of deforestation. In 2019 we are supplementing this with extensive field verifications and stakeholder consultations that have enabled us to identify high priority forest areas both within and outside of concession areas, including indicative HCV/HCS areas, as well as connected actors for targeted engagement and implementation work.

Capacity-building workshops for mills and plantations

Under a new partnership with the Subulussalam district government, Earthworm Foundation is holding a series of sustainability, labour and social workshops to build the capacity and motivation of local oil palm mills and plantations to adopt improved policies and practices.

An introductory Tools 4 Transformation (T4T) & Sustainability workshop was held in September 2019 for all mills and plantations in the district, its purpose to socialise the No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE) concept and why sustainability, including good social and labour practices, are important and valuable for business. It also introduced participants to the T4T platform, a powerful online self-assessment tool that can help companies better understand and track their respective situations when it comes to achieving better environmental, social and labour practices. Ten plantations and four mills attended the first of several workshops.

Identifying “at-risk” priority villages for targeted capacity-building work

We have used extensive desktop spatial analyses and field surveys to identify villages with the greatest need of alternative livelihoods not linked to forest conversion. We have also conducted in-depth stakeholder consultations with government, civil society and financial institutions to gain critical input on the location and design of community engagement and capacity-building work. Through this process, we have identified a well-resourced funder who, via an implementation partner, has conducted considerable past work in the same villages Earthworm identified. The exact nature and impact of this institution’s work is being critically evaluated to identify gaps and assess strategic opportunities to leverage their past investments and achieve deeper impact.


Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve spans 82,000 hectares of the Leuser Ecosystem peat swamp forest
100% of Southern Aceh now covered by high-res Starling satellite monitoring for forest cover change
100% of Subulussalam mills and 75% of plantations engaged

Key achievements

Building consensus and maximising leverage to tackle deforestation in Southern Aceh

We believe strongly that Southern Aceh is a highly strategic landscape for industry and for the future of the Leuser Ecosystem. We also believe that achieving consensus on this point among key industry players is critical for success. With a shared understanding of what is at stake, and a commitment to support collaborative actions, the APT programme can proceed with maximum collective leverage to help incentivise behavioural change and deliver impact on the scale that is required on the ground. We were challenged to build this consensus in the first half of 2019, but are very pleased to have successfully garnered the support and alignment of influential market players and others to help us drive forward from a position of strength for the remainder of the year.

Securing government support in Subulussalam district

Following extensive engagements with the newly-elected mayor of Subulussalam district and relevant district agency heads to build trust and awareness of the APT programme approach and goals, we were able to successfully secure government support for the programme’s environmental, social, and labour-centric activities moving forward, starting with the Tools 4 Transformation & Sustainability workshops. This is a critical early milestone in our work that will enable us to act with legitimacy in the district while also benefiting from the convening power of the government to help bring industry and other key landscape actors to the table.

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