Promoting ecosystem health and conservation through utilisation of Insect and Plant diversity: A model for sustainable development in Indonesia

An expert on insect ecology, specialising in host-parasitoid interaction, Dami Buchori has been working in Java since 1996. Insects play a vital role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems and the sustainable conservation of wildlife and local agriculture. Dami believes that this balance is in danger of being upset by the increased use of artificial chemical pesticides by Indonesian farmers as they move from traditional to modern techniques in an agriculturally dependent nation.

Dami’s interest lies in the conservation of insects and in particular with the conservation of natural predators to help alleviate pest abundance within agro-ecosystems. Her project compares the management of two very different areas; Gunung Haliman National Park (GHNP), the last remaining primary forest in Java, and Karawang, the site of intensive rice production for the country, in an attempt to assess the impact of different land use practices on insect biodiversity. GHNP is home to the endangered Javan eagle and the Javan gibbon, but both are now threatened by the local communities’ recent move towards the use of pesticides in their fields.

In order to design an environmentally friendly method of pest control, Dami’s project focuses on the role of insects in the ecosystem, the natural insecticide properties of some plants, and habitat management. The goal is to build a model of sustainable and safe agriculture that can be replicated in other areas.

The project includes study of the insect diversity found at the forest margin, as well as the impact of land-use systems on biodiversity, and the abundance and distribution of botanical pesticides. It also includes a very important community education component for farmers. In both Karawng and GHNP, the focus is on the use of existing natural enemies (biological control) as an alternative to chemical pesticides, and showing the community that local plants and their traditional habitat management is the key to sustainability. In order to do this, farmers are being taught about habitat management and the technology to mass produce natural insect enemies. The key to the project is the community empowerment it is giving to the people.

Continuation Funding from the Whitley Fund for Nature has enabled a field laboratory to be built in the Karawang area for the development of botanical insecticides and environmentally friendly bio-controllers. The laboratory acts as a mini botanical garden, as well as parasitoid insect mass rearing factory. The indigenous knowledge which is being put to good use in the lab is also being used by the project team to train local farmers, local government officials and local NGOs in the development of biological control methods.

Through Dami’s efforts, an effective network of local stakeholders has been put in place, and the lab is now critical to the next stage of the project to develop appropriate organic pesticides with input from local farmers. This is an important step towards building a model of sustainable and safe agriculture in Indonesia.

Since winning her Whitley Award, Dami has also established a small research and information centre at GHNP. The centre, which incorporates a small environmental library for children to help them understand the importance of their natural environment, has made the findings of Dami’s initial research on sustainable living and farming techniques available to local people. It is hoped that through participatory workshops to disseminate the critical information, it will be possible to begin to address some of the key issues associated with living and farming sustainably in Java.

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