Giam Siak Kecil – Bukit Batu (GSK-BB) is a special place. A study undertaken by Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) found the area is home to over a hundred species of birds, dozens of species of mammals, 13 species of fish, eight species of reptiles and 52 species of endangered and protected plants. The area serves as a massive carbon sink, storing as much as 7.2 giga tons of carbon in its rich peat soil. And GSK-BB is home to many communities of Indonesians who have spent their lives living and working in and around its forest, rivers and swamps, relying on the natural resources to raise and feed their families.
Located in the Bengkalis and Siak Districts of Riau Province in Sumatra, GSK –BB is a true jewel of Indonesia, which is why Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its pulpwood supplier Arara Abadi went to such great lengths to ensure the area would be protected for future generations of Indonesians to revere and enjoy.
But ensuring the long-term preservation of more than 178,000 hectares of isolated forest isn’t a simple task. It takes great planning and participation from both the public and private sectors. It requires an integration of active conservation with education, social and economic development opportunities for the people living in and around the area. It means protecting the large landscape area from a range of potential disasters, natural and man-made, that could destroy the forest.
APP and Arara Abadi engaged a diverse group of stakeholders to develop the unique GSK – BB conservation plan. They set out an ambitious goal, to receive approval of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program. Never before had a private company worldwide proposed the creation of a Biosphere Reserve, and no area in the region had achieved UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in more than 20 years. Inclusion in the World’s Biosphere Reserve Network requires three main functions to fulfill. First, to conserve biodiversity (including genetic, species, ecosystem, and landscape); second, to encourage growth in the local economy; and last, to provide research and educational opportunities, especially in conservation and sustainability studies.
It was a long road, but finally after more than five years of research, planning and development, in 2009 GSK – BB was named one of 580 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves worldwide, the seventh recognized in Indonesia.
The biosphere, initially proposed in 2004, covers a core area of 178,722 hectares, including 72,255 hectares set aside from APP’s pulpwood suppliers production forest area that form an integral link between two natural reserves, Giam Siak Kecil and Bukit Batu. The area was set aside voluntarily when studies show that the area is incredibly rich in biodiversity and provides a massive carbon sink in its deep and unique peat land.
Critical to the long-term protection of the core area is how it is protected through a multi-use integrated land plan that extends far beyond the boundaries of GSK – BB. The core area is surrounded by a 222,425 hectare buffer area, the majority of which is APP pulpwood suppliers plantations, that serves to protect the core conservation area and are continuously monitored and sustainably managed by APP pulpwood suppliers. In addition, the core and buffer area are ringed by a 304,123 hectare transition area targeted as a collaborative, sustainable development region incorporating plantations, agriculture, fishing, farming and community settlements.
The three areas are managed by a multi-stakeholder group comprised of local government, NGOs, private industry, the scientific community, environmental experts and the local communities. The group’s mission is to protect the Biosphere while meeting the needs of local communities.
The GSK-BB area will be used for conservation of species, ecosystems and landscape diversity; provide research and educational opportunities; and create sustainable economic growth. It will eventually serve as a research testing ground for carbon sequestration and is also planned to be proposed as an REDD pilot project in Indonesia. Additional research and development programs to support social and economic aspects of the biosphere are also in the works, including a pioneering water treatment program funded by APP to better serve local communities with safe and clean water.
GSK – BB will be a model for active conservation for years to come and we look forward to sharing our progress as we develop new conservation and community development initiatives in the area.