MECU 7 Adds New Activities and Expands to New Village
7 March 2017 - Medan, Sumatra. Under the status of a legalized NGO, Yayasan Peduli Orangutan Indonesia (YPOI) or Orangutan Caring Foundation of Indonesia, continues to expand the scope of the Mobile Education and Conservation Unit (MECU) in its 7th year by adding a new village and new activities to the program. OURF President Gary Shapiro was able to visit the field locations, including the new village of Kuta Gadja, for the MECU 7 programs during his site visit in early March.
The MECU program was formed in 2010 and supported by the US Fish and Wildlife program (2011) to assess the level of conflict in 16 villages with endangered wildlife such as Sumatran orangutans, gibbons and siamangs. The MECU team members were locally managed by Club Peduli Orangutan Indonesia, now YPOI under the local leadership of conservation educator Herman Syahputra.
Several high conflict villages were chosen in years 2-4 and local villagers and farmers were provided with conservation education programs as well as training in various sustainable and organic agricultural methods. In years 5 and 6, demonstration plots (DEMPLOTS) were added to the MECU program in two villages to provide an experimental plots of land and ponds to showcase permiculture and innovative organic agriculture methods. The logic of devoting time and resources to organic agriculture was to help the local people improve yields without toxic and polluting chemicals, thereby keeping them healthy and happy on their farm land. This would, by extension, build trust and mitigate situations where villagers might clear relict forest stands outside the national park or within the park in order to plant crops or oil palm trees.
To implement these programs, local villagers with leadership and farming skills were hired to be part of the MECU team and to enroll their farming peers to join the program. Over the past two years, the MECU teams have been successful in bringing an increased number of local farmers to adopt practices outlined within the MECU program. In MECU 6, a component of lending small, mechanized farming machines (hand tractor and hole boring) to MECU farmers was added as a way to help the farmers save time in preparing their soils for planting. That time would be exchanged without further compensation to listen to the MECU team messages.
MECU 7 continues and expands the conservation education programs as well as adds ecotourism and volunteer management to the program. The last two aspects are part of developing sustainable activities that could generate internal funds for the MECU program and YPOI. Additionally, forest restoration and community patrols are being added as the village of Kuta Gadja is added to the villages that are part of the MECU program. Three additional staff have been added to support the increased scope of the program. Kuta Gadja is a region where wild Sumatran orangutans and Sumatran tigers can move from the nearby forests within Gunung Leuser National Park and come into conflict with local farmers. In late 2016, a tiger was interupted in the act of attacking a cow within the herd of a local villager. It is vital that the MECU program address this conflict with humane solutions and to work with other NGOs who have experience in rescuing and relocating orangutans and other wildlife.
In addition, Kuta Gadja will be the entry point into the National Park where YPOI is obtaining permission to conduct forest restoration with a 10 hectare area within the park. Thousands of small indigenous trees, including those wood trees that have been clear cut previously, will be planted to help the forest return to a state similar to its original thereby providing habitat and food sources for local animals.
The MECU 7 program in Kuta Gadja will include a Community Patrol component to assess the biodiversity and to insure rogue villagers are not incurring within the National Park. Such a program will require the involvement and cooperation of the Forestry Police. The details of this aspect of MECU 7 are still being worked out and the MECU 7 team will be trained in the skills needed to conduct the patrols effectively and safely.
Finally, the MECU 7 team will be creating an education structure called the "Creative House" in Kuta Gadja that will be used to educate students in the village. Sadly, the village is located so far from the formal government schools that many children do not receive education. This structure will provide a center for students to gather and learn about orangutans, environment, and other important subjects. MECU 7 will also launch the "Smart Car" program to bring education in a colorful vehicle to village, including Kuta Gadja, that will inspire and motivate villagers to care about orangutans and protecting the local forests.