Times have changed. Gunawan’s monthly earnings have been more than tripled. The work is steady, less demanding — and totally legitimate.
Gunawan has given up illegal logging, which until a few years ago was just about the only way he knew to earn enough to feed his family. Today, His livelihood comes from harvesting honey and catching fish, which he sells to local markets.
And he’s not alone. Gunawan’s family is one of 12 living in a row of homes along a riverside boardwalk inside a forest concession of Wirakarya Sakti (WKS) near Jambi. The tidy homes, all with shaded porches and painted in a peaceful shade of sea-grass green, provide the families a comfortable place to take a break in their daily fishing and honey-farming routines.
‘Today, we are fishermen and this is a fishing village,” Gunawan says with obvious pride. “Before, we were scattered around the province, and then we were gathered by the company.”
The gathering took place between 2003 and 2005, according to Iskandar Purnama, a member of WKS’s community development section.
“These people thought only timber could provide them income, so they became illegal loggers,” Iskandar said. “We came up with the idea to provide a community where they could be nurtured and trained on how to earn income from fish and honey. After the 12 households gathered, the Tani Bayas (fishermen village) group was formed.”
In return for housing, job training and basic health care provided by WKS, members of the 12 families also serve as firefighters. They extinguish any flames they spot in the forest surrounding their village.
And, in an ironic turn of fate, they also agreed to keep an eye out for signs of illegal loggers and report them to WKS. But, rather than prosecute, the company wants to bring other illegal loggers to the village and show them how they, too, can earn a living in another way.
Iskandar said the houses serve as a way-station for families to live temporarily as they learn new and legal ways to earn their livings.
Such lessons are life-changing, according to Gunawan. “Before, we could only get 400,000 to 500,000 [Rupiah] a month,” he said. “Now, from fish we get 600,000 to 700,000 a month, and when you add honey with that, we can get 1.5 million to 2 million per month.”