Gunung Merapi National Park

Down to Earth No55  November 2002



In our November 2002 article on the proposed Merapi-Merbabu National Park (see below), we wrongly reported that the park was officially opened in October 2002. These plans are on hold following community protests. President Megawati attended what was to have been the opening ceremony, but the agenda was changed to celebrating International Mountains Day and Ecotourism Year. Heavy-handed authorities marred this event. A local politician from the ruling PDI-P party had threatened NGOs with violence at an earlier meeting. Two activists from the GERAP group (gerakan anti-penindasan) were arrested after villagers tried to present their views to the president. They were later released when lawyers intervened, but have since fled the area after further threats.

It is not clear when or if the Merapi-Merbabu National Park will go ahead. Campaigners seem to have convinced decision-makers that the whole planning process was deeply flawed. The authorities are now saying that they do not have sufficient funds to draw up Park plans properly. Regulations require them to identify the potential of the area and any problems, and to circulate draft plans for input from the community as part of the planning process. However, the team from UGM University, Yoyga, originally appointed to draw up the master plan has been holding meetings with villagers within the proposed park area.

Local feelings are still running high. Forestry staff - who accused NGOs in the local press of doing nothing to help - quickly extinguished fires on the slopes of Merapi, possibly set by people opposed to the National Park. Local NGOs were planning to hold a meeting with communities from the Mount Merapi-Merbabu area in early February to discuss views and further advocacy.

A member of local NGO, Yayasan Wana Mandhira, informed DTE that: "We have (been part of the) active struggle with local community and some NGOs to reject this project... because it was not participatory (and there was) intransparancy and manipulation, plus ... the experience of failure of almost all National Parks in Indonesia." She emphasised that they want Merapi-Merbabu to be managed with full community participation.

(Sources: Walhi Jogja email 30/Jan/03; Yayasan Wana Mandhira email 18/Dec/02)


Gunung Merapi National Park was officially inaugurated on October 17th by President Megawati. The park covers 17,509 hectares on the slopes of two neighbouring volcanoes - Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu - located in the provinces of Central Java and Yogyakarta.

Much of the area is forest controlled by state-owned forestry company, Perhutani. Some is land affected by regular eruptions. Other parts are farmed by local inhabitants. Only a few hundred hectares (at Plawangan Turbo) were already designated protected areas.

The key decisions were made in November last year when Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, who is also governor of Yogyakarta, enthusiastically backed local forestry office plans. He described the proposed park as the 'heart and soul' of Yogyakarta. The main justifications seem to be the status symbol of creating a new national park, generating more income from tourism and access to reforestation funding. Critics of the national park point out that other administrative options could better protect the livelihoods of local communities, the water supply for rice farmers and the inhabitants of Yoygakarta, and the local flora and fauna. The plans were approved in April 2002 by the Department of Forestry which, despite regional autonomy, still has responsibility for nature conservation throughout Indonesia.


Top-down planning

The Forestry Department press release for the park's opening describes Gunung Merapi as "a natural ecosystem which is still intact, comprising alpine habitat with meadows and shrubs and montane habitats with endemic species such as orchids (Vanda tricolor) and the Javan Eagle and many other species with genetic potential for the future". Ironically, the list includes the Javan tiger, believed extinct since 1980. Its only mention of the tens of thousands of people living in the new park is as a 'socio-cultural attraction' connected with local supernatural beliefs plus the traditional Javanese architecture of villages like Turgo.

Right from the start, experts from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta (UGM) advised officials that in-depth studies of the planned park area were needed and proposed intensive discussions with villagers. The NGO WALHI Jogja called for a new model of management to avoid the conflicts between the government and indigenous communities which characterise so many of Indonesia's national parks. It proposed that a consortium of local stakeholders should have overall control. The university and local NGOs held several public meetings to discuss the proposal, with local government officials on the platform.

Local authorities reassured anxious village heads of Klaten, Sleman, Magelang and Boyolali who had set up the Paguyuban Sabuk Gunung Merapi - an association to promote solidarity between affected communities. They said the park plans were only at the 'concept' stage; there would be full consultation and that local people would be given a major role in forest management. In May, the Sultan told members of the Merapi Community Local Forum that the plans would not be rushed. The villagers and NGOs had greeted an official visit to Kaliurang by four ministers from Jakarta and Yoyga's governor with a demonstration. Banners said 'Conservation Yes! National Park No!', 'Listen to what we want!' and 'Merapi belongs to the people, not to conglomerates'.

However, the plans were pushed through by forestry department staff from Jakarta, Yogya and Central Java with no genuine consultation. A series of meetings were held in various sub-districts where people were told what a national park was and that their area was to become part of one. Government officials brushed aside any resistance, claiming that all the communities agreed with the park plans with only minor reservations. "We will not wait until everybody gives their approval. We won't collect signatures to show approval. The Gunung Merapi National Park project will proceed and it will be inaugurated in October this year," the head of a team set up to gather local opinions told journalists in August.


Bewildered villagers

Many local people are concerned about their livelihoods. They are worried that they will no longer be allowed to collect volcanic sand for building materials or to gather firewood or fodder for their animals and that they will be marginalised by conservation measures, even though forestry officials have publicly stated that no-one will be evicted from the new park. One villager is quoted in a local news report: "How can we be sure that our people will get new jobs? When they determined the zoning of the national park, they did not involve us in discussing this matter. So, we may not have a chance to be forest rangers". Another feared that, "It will be outsiders who gain most benefit from the park. We locals will just be left to watch the process". Communities in the Merapi-Merbabu area have set up a number of action groups.

At meetings, forestry staff have talked of 'community and domestic resources-based development', but exactly what this means is still far from clear. No detailed plans have been released: the management plan is still being prepared by a team of consultants, headed by UGM professor Joko Sumarsono. Local NGOs accuse the authorities of lack of transparency and of giving biodiversity conservation much higher priority than community livelihoods. WALHI Jogja repeatedly called for the national park plan to be postponed so that the concept of the national park and plans for its management could be clearly explained to villagers. "Otherwise, there will always be resistance on the part of the community because in the drawing up of the policy on the national park, the role and the position of the community were simply neglected," said Fajar Irawan, WALHI Jogja's programme manager. But these calls were in vain.

Within a week of the inauguration, 300 ha of forest was destroyed by fires at Kaliurang. Local residents and conservation staff succeeded in preventing the fires from spreading further.

(Sources: Bernas 27/Nov/01, 4/Mar/02; Kompas 3/Jan/02, 14/Aug/02; Suara Merdeka 15/Jan/02; Pikiran Rakyat 20/Apr/02, 23/Apr/02, 1/May/02; Walhi Jogja email 5/May/02; Warta Walhi Sept 02; Jakarta Post 3/Oct/02; Sinar Harapan 21/Oct/02.)