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ForestWise, Borneo

  • Definition
    Devising project idea, defining the aim and main components
  • Design
    Specifying details such as time-frame, budget, target indicators, project partners and relevant steps to reach the project objectives
  • Open to Financing
    Searching and securing funding and investment, setting up relevant financing partnerships, and discussing payment modalities
  • Implementation
    Execution of feasibility studies, context analysis, plot design, planting and setting up facilities and starting with potential capacity-building
  • Maintenance
    Operational phase (monitoring and evaluation, impact assessments and adjustments, execution of educational programmes and long-term capacity building)
  • Scaling Up
    Scaling up phase is when the project it has already shown success by obtaining impact as well as economic results and it's ready to become replicable.

This project aligns the interests of people and nature on the deforestation-ravaged island of Borneo. Through Regenerative Agroforestry, farmers are given the opportunity to revive degraded rice farms. They will increase the productivity of their natural rubber and rice farms while learning about and understanding the value of the rainforest – thereby protecting it. This approach will not only assign economic value to nature but also increase the environmental value of human production systems. Farmers are provided with a feasible solution to move away from traditional shifting cultivation and slash and burn farming practices. This way, the tendency towards deforestation would not only be halted, but shifted towards the restoration of nature, whilst supporting rural livelihoods.

Illipe nut farmers in the forest (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

The problem: Monocultures replacing rainforest

Borneo’s rainforests remain threatened by human-made deforestation and forest degradation. The main drivers for those developments are agricultural activities – monoculture (one-crop) farming systems intended to provide economic opportunities for farmers and companies – as well as logging for wood products. 

The spread of biodiversity-poor agriculture is one of the main threats to Borneo’s ecosystems and its inhabitants (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

However, monocultures are inefficient, harm biodiversity, degrade landscapes and only provide one commodity. This implies that farmers cannot source food from their own plots which, on rural Borneo, often is a problem. Monocultures also conflict with forest resources that are needed for wood for fuel or building. 


rainforest lost on Borneo


lost in the area since 2001

View of a forest in Sintang regency, West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

Because of their inefficiency in harnessing natural resources, monoculture plantations are low in productivity, especially over the long term. Farmers are often forced to acquire more land, expand into pristine natural areas and source wood from elsewhere to improve their livelihoods. 

In Borneo, that means cutting down rainforests. These are not often associated with economic value. The abundance of commodities that rainforests produce is not yet sufficiently recognized. Instead, their rich trees and plant life is seen as an obstacle for farming. 

Langan’s farmers are currently cultivating rice and rubber in conventional monoculture systems. Those are commonly related to soil degradation, for example, due to high inputs of expensive agrochemicals. Thereby, farmers increasingly degrade the main resource for their farms’ productivity. Farmers end up threatening the sustainability of their own livelihoods. 

Introducing our partner: ForestWise

Our partner ForestWise has committed itself to the preservation of Borneo’s rainforest by generating economic value from it. It sources commodities growing in the rainforest, such as illipe nuts, coconuts or arenga sugar from local farmers. These commodities need a functioning rainforest to grow.

One of ForestWise’s final products: Illipe butter (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

In this way, a healthy forest is no longer an obstacle but a valuable resource for farmers; there will be an increased economic need for them to preserve it. This is an innovative commercial angle on forest conservation, implying a promising step towards a healthy balance between Borneo’s people and its nature

Bringing nature back onto the farms

reNature and ForestWise have now partnered up to join forces and take this a step further. Together, an approach is designed focusing on the revitalization of degraded, old farm plots, as well as the improvement of existing rice and rubber farms. 

The degraded plots will be replanted and restored through local tree and plant species. New opportunities for biodiversity will be developed, whilst the soil will be revitalized. In the long term, these plots will represent rainforest-like systems producing economic value similar to the actual forest. This way, farmers will be able to recognize the value of the forest in front of their very own doorsteps.

Economic value straight from the rainforest: An illipe nut from Shorea Stenoptera tree (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

The existing rice and rubber plots will be diversified through Regenerative Agroforestry. Farmers will benefit from stabilized and more diverse yields. These will not only include rice and rubber but also edible commodities suitable for their own consumption or local markets.

The intervention

reNature will drive this process through a twofold strategy:

  1. Developing a regenerative agroforestry system – a Model Farm – alongside the necessary capacity-building for the students and/or farmers managing the plots.
  2. Providing the technical knowledge for an educational agroforestry program – a Model School – for local students and farmers, to be hosted in the existing local school facilities. This includes ‘teaching of teachers’ capacity-building, practical learning on the Model Farm as well as measures to expand project outreach.

The Model Farm will serve as a “springboard” for others in the community to learn. Farmers learn best from other farmers. Therefore the Model Farm is the starting point for reNature’s transition strategy. Going further, it represents opportunities for scaling up the transition and increasing the impacts on the landscape level. 

In the spotlight: The farmers

This project will make the case for an innovative approach to merging agriculture and forest conservation while delivering tangible socio-economic benefits for farmers and their families. As part of our participatory approach, the farmers will be closely involved in the decision-making processes, for instance, regarding the choice of additional crops added to their farms. 

Farmers drying illipe nuts in the sun (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

The advantages linked to the introduction of agroforestry will inspire other farmers in the area to take on the approach. In the long term, we aim for replicable systems that are applicable to wider parts of the area.

The Model Farm: Productivity and regeneration

The Model Farm will benefit the farmers, the community and ForestWise. Parts of it will be allocated to the development of sustainable rice and rubber farming systems. The focus will be on creating diverse systems providing commodities to boost economic productivity and resilience as well as to enhance food diversity, availability, and diets within the Langan community. 

The other parts will serve the development of productive systems on degraded rice plots, with a focus on regeneration. Here, an additional focus will be placed on cultivating commodities that are suitable for processing in the ForestWise hubs and link to its value chain

The emphasis will be on the cultivation of raw products such as Illipe nuts, kukui nuts, coconuts and arenga sugar for long-term profit. Additionally, commodities such as bananas, papayas, mangos, bamboo, and other fruits will be options for the farmers to be sold at local markets.

The processed illipe butter stored at the warehouse in Sintang (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

Capacity-building with a long-term vision

With the Model School, we lay the foundations for upscaling local agroforestry practices in the area, while involving the farmers associated with ForestWise’s value chain. We, therefore, address socioeconomic improvements on the local level as well as the company’s interest in a commercial sense.

Workers pour sun-dried illipe nuts into a sack (Source: Kemal Juffri for Panos Pictures/Food and Land Use Coalition)

The Model School will be a learning facility for local farmers, students as well as teachers. Teachers will be equipped with the knowledge, practical experience and skillset to educate their students on Regenerative Agroforestry (a ‘teach the teachers’ approach). 

An educational program will be set up to facilitate the capacity-building of the beneficiaries. The focus will lie on the practical implementation of agroforestry techniques within the local context. reNature will place great emphasis on utilizing local knowledge.


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