Winner avatar
2019 Continuation Funding
2016 Whitley Award
Farwiza Farhan Indonesia Terrestrial
Saving Sumatra’s iconic species in the Leuser Ecosystem

Winner of the Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats donated by the Arcus Foundation


Environmental activist and Founder of Yayasan HAkA, Farwiza Farhan is fighting to save Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem and its biodiversity. Despite legal protection, threats to this unique rainforest are large-scale and imminent. In 2013, the provincial Aceh government proposed a Spatial Plan which failed to recognise the Leuser Ecosystem as a strategic area for conservation. If approved, this would effectively legalise oil palm plantations, logging, mining and road development inside the protected area. While the plan is still being evaluated by central government, such activities continue to occur illegally, causing destruction of forest and triggering a surge in poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

Farwiza recent headshot


By bringing citizen lawsuits against proposed construction plans, issuing of illegal logging permits and the proposed Aceh Spatial Plan, Farwiza is tackling the issues head on. Her NGO is opposing illegal oil palm plantations and restoring deforested areas, tackling poaching and empowering local communities to participate in government land-use planning decisions.

Image credit: Paul Hilton


The Leuser Ecosystem is recognised as one of the world’s most irreplaceable protected areas and at over 35 times the size of Singapore, this ancient ecosystem covers more than 26,000km². It is the last place on earth where the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan, tiger, elephant and rhino coexist in the wild. It also provides ecosystem services that are vital for the survival of four million Acehnese people living in the surrounding areas.

Farwiza’s project aims to:

  • Pursue a citizen lawsuit to prevent the Spatial Plan from legalising the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.
  • Ensure community concerns are included in land-use and conservation policies at government level.
  • Establish a Community Patrol Team to prevent poaching, logging, illegal land desecration and inform community-led action plans.

Why it matters: 

  • Poor forest governance, weak law enforcement and destructive new policies are currently failing the Leuser Ecosystem.
  • Poaching is increasing at unprecedented rates; evidence of tiger presence has dropped by almost 75% in the last five years.
  • Oil palm plantations are being established across elephant migration paths, causing a rise in trapping and poisoning of elephants by plantation owners.

We seek to empower local communities and enable them to take direct action in order to protect their forest.


Campaign against the Tampur mega-dam, a largescale infrastructure project in the Leuser Ecosystem
£100,000 over two years

The Tampur dam is part of the Aceh Spatial Plan, the latest government-approved project which opens up the Leuser Ecosystem to development. The dam will destroy free flowing river ecosystems, drowning 4,000 ha of pristine primary forest that serves as the last link between the north and south populations of the Critically Endangered Sumatran elephants, with only 170 individuals remaining, as well as prime orangutan habitat.

Farwiza Farhan’s 2016 Whitley Award supported her in tackling the Aceh Spatial Plan head-on, bringing citizen lawsuits against proposed construction plans and illegal logging permits issued in the LE. Now, her 25th Anniversary Funding grant will support this continued fight as she brings a lawsuit against the 173-meter high Tampur Leston dam. Her project looks to set up community roadshows, learning exchanges and roundtables to strengthen a grassroots movement against the dam as part of an advocacy campaign. Farwiza will solicit media attention, protests, and disseminate information about the impacts of the dam, hoping to garner both local and international support. The project will also seek to investigate the financing sources of the Tampur dam. By blocking the development project from going ahead, she would prevent tragic biological and environmental consequences as seen resulting elsewhere in the world from similar misinformed mega-dam projects, and will consult with past winner Dr. Eugene Simonov, an expert working with hydropower assessments and dam campaigns to help achieve her goals.

This urgent project is critical to the preservation of this last connecting forest tract for endangered elephants and orangutans in the LE.