Hans Nicholas Jong, Jakarta – Suryani grew up in a family of farmers on the island of Java in Indonesia. Her parents are members of a farmer's union called SPP. The land they live and farm on isn't titled, so Suryani knows very well the importance of having farmers' land rights recognized and protected.
Yet she's also seen how other women farmers like her tend to be reluctant to share their opinions during meetings of the farmer union. "We always sat in the back, in the dark corner," Suryani says.
So when she heard from her mentor in the union that there would be a four-day training workshop for women farmers in their region, she was excited to join. It would cover gender equality, emphasizing how women farmers have the same rights to voice their opinions as their male counterparts and to fight for their rights as well.
The workshop took place in December 2022 in the district of Ciamis, a four-hour drive from Suryani's home village in Garut district. She rode in the back of a rental pickup truck, and it rained heavily that day. Suryani was soaked by the time she arrived at the workshop, but that didn't dampen her spirits: she was there, she reminded herself, to continue her parents' fight to get the family's land rights recognized by the government.
"I wanted to learn and get more knowledge and experience," she says. "If I don't learn from now on how to organize and strengthen [the movement], then my parents' fight will stop when they're gone."
After the training, Suryani says, she's become more confident about voicing her opinions. "Now I'm more active in the farmers' union. Every time there's a protest and discussion, I always participate," she says.
The training program that Suryani participated in was one of many supported by the Nusantara Fund, Indonesia's first direct funding mechanism for Indigenous peoples and local communities, or IPLCs.
The fund is unique compared to other similar funding initiatives that have existed elsewhere, such as the Dema Fund in Brazil, which was run by the Brazilian NGO FASE (Federacao de Orgaos para Assistencia Social e Educacional), according to David Kaimowitz, chief program officer with the Tenure Facility, a Sweden-based grantmaking initiative that focuses on IPLCs.
This is because the Nusantara Fund was born of a partnership of three of Indonesia's largest Indigenous and civil society organizations, representing millions of local community members: the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), the main advocacy group for Indigenous communities in Indonesia; the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), Indonesia's largest land reform movement organization; and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the country's largest green group.
With most farmers and Indigenous peoples across the archipelago connected to at least one of these founding organizations, funders say they expect the Nusantara Fund's impact to be rapid and at a scale not seen in other countries, where civil society groups have experimented with delivering climate funds directly to IPLCs.
"I think there have been some territorial funds in other places, but nothing like this," Kaimowitz said. "This is different because it's being managed directly by very large Indigenous and community groups and small farmer groups like AMAN, KPA and Walhi."
The Nusantara Fund is also the first direct funding mechanism for IPLCs in Asia. "It has the potential, in a way that the other funds don't necessarily have, to reach out to very large numbers of communities very soon," Kaimowitz said.
The idea behind the initiative is that empowering IPLCs could contribute significantly to the protection of ecosystems as customarily held lands house around 80% of the world's biodiversity and more than a third of remaining intact forests. Science has demonstrated that forests and other biomes are healthier when these communities are in charge, even though their customary rights aren't always recognized.
The important role that IPLCs play has been increasingly recognized with commitments to support them with funding. In 2021, five countries and 17 private donors made a five-year commitment of $1.7 billion to support IPLC land rights at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
But only 7% of the roughly $322 million disbursed in the first year of the pledge went directly to IPLC organizations. In the context of funding to address climate change in general, IPLCs received less than 1% of the total climate funding, and of that less than 1%, only 16% was channeled directly to IPLCs.
Instead of providing funds directly to IPLCs, donors often channel their money to "intermediary" organizations with whom donors tend to be more comfortable liaising, such as international NGOs, development banks, and consultancies.
Donors can be hesitant to directly channel their money to IPLCs because of lack of trust as well as lack of capacity among IPLCs to fulfill burdensome administrative requirements, observers say. These requirements may include submitting frequent progress reports in English and establishing multiple bank accounts for fiscal transparency.
Initiatives like the Nusantara Fund aim to rectify this by channeling climate funds directly to IPLCs who are on the frontlines of a battle to stop ecosystem destruction that would exacerbate climate change.
IPLCs in Indonesia who receive funding from the Nusantara Fund manage the funds themselves and decide how to spend the money in their best interests.
This, KPA secretary-general Dewi Kartika said, is "a new model for delivering development support to the people most capable of reducing the environmental damage, realizing food and economic sovereignty."
"The Nusantara Fund will strengthen the agrarian reform movement in grassroot to protect land rights and livelihood collectively. This supporting system will support peasant unions, rural women, and young farmers in expanding good practices of agrarian reform models at village level," she said.
Empowering IPLCs in their fight to secure their land rights is especially important in Indonesia, where many communities have to fend off land grab attempts by big companies as they continue to have their land rights unrecognized by the government, according to AMAN secretary-general Rukka Sombolinggi.
"We need to create a new breakthrough to protect and manage the lands, territories and resources of Indigenous peoples and local communities," she said.
Data from the KPA show that the richest 1% own 68% of the land in Indonesia. This huge gap in land ownership has resulted in agrarian conflicts across Indonesia, with 35 cases recorded just in 2021.
"By demonstrating the success of this sustainable model, we hope to encourage national and local authorities to recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities across the Archipelago," said Walhi executive director Zenzi Suhadi. ("Nusantara" in Indonesian means "archipelago.")
The Nusantara Fund was launched on May 8 and has attracted $3 million in initial support from a group of international donors, including the Ford Foundation and the Packard Foundation.
Ford Foundation president Darren Walker said supporting the fund was an easy decision to make for his organization.
"The Ford Foundation has had a long-standing commitment to the idea of empowerment of IPLCs. So the creation of the fund is simply an extension of work we have engaged in for many years," he told Mongabay in an interview in Jakarta.
"It's consistent with our global vision for a world where everyone lives with dignity. In order to live with dignity, people have to feel empowered and that their voices are heard. This fund will help to contribute to the voices of IPLCs in Indonesia."
The founders of the fund aim to eventually attract $20 million from donors. "Too often, there's an announcement and no follow-through," Walker said. "We can't repeat that pattern in this instance. It would be a real shame."
He said that he's personally committed to help increase the number of donors in this fund and that he's talked with other philanthropies to try to get them to give to the new mechanism.
"The question for current donors [is] can we increase the amount that is being committed, and how do we find new prospects for funding," he said. "So part of my job – interestingly people are surprised that the president of the Ford Foundation is also a fundraiser – so I would be spending some of my time as a fundraiser champion of this fund."
According to Rukka, the money collected under the Nusantara Fund will enable IPLCs in Indonesia to map 20 million hectares (nearly 50 million acres) of their territories as well as to formally register 7.8 million hectares (19.3 million acres) and rehabilitate 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) of customary lands.
Kaimowitz said even small amount of money could go a long way to empowering IPLCs if it's directly managed by the communities themselves.
"What's news in this case is that with very small amount of money, you can make a huge difference," he said. "In many ways you can be more effective with $3 million in the hands of a community than $200 million in the hands of a World Bank project."
This is because IPLCs are on the ground and they can see their own needs much more carefully, Kaimowitz said.
"When they manage the funds together, they become better organized," he said. "And, as we said, community organization is key for solving the biodiversity and climate and food problems."
Besides calls for more donors to join in, there have also been calls for the Indonesian government to support the initiative by recognizing the rights of IPLCs.
Kaimowitz pointed out that the objective of the Nusantara Fund, which is to empower IPLCs and address climate change, is the same as the government's.
"It is the government objective to achieve food security, climate and biodiversity, and this is the way that the communities can take initiatives on their own to support government objectives," he said. "So the government can welcome that and find ways to facilitate it."
Under its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, known as its nationally determined contribution, Indonesia plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 31.89% by 2030 against the business-as-usual projection, or by 43.2% with international funding. To achieve the latter, the Indonesian government has calculated that it will need $322.86 billion from the international community.
But between 2007 and 2019, it received just $6.4 million in international climate finance support, mostly in the form of loans.
Indonesia also has an ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. Walker said the Nusantara Fund could contribute to the achievement of these climate and emission targets.
The case of Ibun village in West Java shows how the government plays a key role in supporting IPLCs and the Nusantara Fund. Farmers there were among the first to receive land titles through President Joko Widodo's flagship social forestry program in 2017.
The program is one of the largest socioenvironmental experiments of its kind, aiming to reallocate 12.7 million hectares (31.4 million acres) of state forest to local communities and given them the legal standing to manage their forests.
Since receiving their land titles, the Ibun farmers have no longer had to pay rent to Indonesian state-owned forestry company Perum Perhutani to use their land. As a result, they've been able to increase their income, according to 54-year old Amir Rohimat, the head of the farmers' group in Ibun.
"I've seen many changes [since we received the land titles] in our village," he told Mongabay at his village. "In the past, houses in the village were made of timber, but now they use concrete."
Soni Trison, a lecturer in forest management at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) in West Java, said issuing land titles under the social forestry program could have a huge multiplier effect for local communities' economic welfare.
"The benefit of the social forestry program is particularly pronounced for farmers in Java who have very limited land ownership," he said.
Some 80% of farmers in Java had no access to land in 2012.
To increase their income, the farmers in Ibun have been planting coffee in recent years, interspersing them with vegetable crops like cabbage and chili to enrich the soil and speed up the coffee harvest time.
This is where funding from the Nusantara Fund comes into play. Like the farmers from the SPP union in Garut, the Ibun farmers were also selected as part of the fund's pilot project and received 50 million rupiah ($3,400) in funding.
They decided to use the money to build a coffee processing facility, able to churn out around 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of ground coffee a day. It takes 6 kg of coffee cherries to make 1 kg of ready-to-brew ground coffee. These come from 30 farmers who are members of the Ibun group.
"Before the coffee processing house was built, nearly all regions here planted coffee but they're uncoordinated, with lots of middlemen purchasing coffee [from us]," said Dahu, the deputy head of the farmers' group. "But now with the Nusantara Fund [supporting us], our coffee could be collected [at the house]."
Danang Kuncara Sakti, an environment ministry official responsible for community welfare under the social forestry program, said the ministry is open to working with the Nusantara Fund.
"It's very possible [to integrate the Nusantara Fund with the social forestry program] because we open ourselves to support from all parties," he said.
While the Ibun farmers say they've been able to diversity their crops and achieve greater ease of mind since receiving land titles from the government, they still face shakedown attempts by people claiming to be from Perhutani, according to Amir.
"Two days ago, I was approached by someone from Perhutani who asked for my 'cooperation.' Perhaps he'd like for us to return to the old way [of paying rent to Perhutani]," he said. "He told me to ask my members to 'cooperate' [with Perhutani]. He asked for some of the profits from our coffee sales."
To support the fund, it's important for the government to not only recognize IPLC rights through programs like social forestry, but also to protect those rights from pressures from business interests once formal recognition is issued, said Moira Moeliono, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, West Java.
"At the moment, it seems that once community forest is handed over, the government retreats and also doesn't take the responsibility of protecting it," she said.
Supporters of the Nusantara Fund say they hope the mechanism can serve as a template for funding initiatives in other regions that want to directly channel money to IPLCs.
"I think it can definitely be replicated in many countries, [but] not in every country," Kaimowitz said. "The tenure facility where I work, works right now in about 20 countries and I think in most of the countries that we work in this could be replicated. But we work in countries where there's more organization than average. So there may be many countries where it's not easy to replicate."
The Nusantara Fund first has to prove itself as an accountable system that can effectively distribute funds where they're needed. In terms of this governance, representatives of AMAN, KPA and Walhi will serve on an advisory board with trusted members of Indigenous and local communities. Decisions about which projects to fund will be guided by a desire to protect, promote and respect human rights, while adhering to customary rules.
AMAN, KPA and Walhi have agreed the program should be implemented with trust that IPLCs have high integrity, initiative and direct field experience. Leaders of the three organizations have met with hundreds of Indigenous people, fisherfolk and farmers, and with leaders of the organizations that represent these communities, both online and in person.
And the fact that community members will be the ones who monitor the use of the fund will also increase efficiency and accountability, Kaimowitz said.
"It's much cheaper to have your neighbors all involved, and to be looking at what each one is doing," he said. "And to see 'is this money being lost,' because everybody in the village can see how the money is being used, it becomes much cheaper and more effective. So, it's a better way to actually monitor what is happening to the money."
With the establishment of the Nusantara Fund, Suryani, the farmer from Garut, says she's excited about the future. Money from the Nusantara Fund will help fund the construction of an education center in Ciamis, where women farmers like Suryani can further develop their skills. She and others who've received training have been asked to be mentors for other farmers at the education center.
And now that she's finished the training, Suryani says she's emboldened to fight to get her land titled by the government. "If the farmer's union is stronger," she says, "hopefully we'll be able to get [land] certificates soon."