Learning from the Ground: Experience with Ngata Toro Community Print

By Jo Ann L. Guillao, Research Desk, Tebtebba

A community visit to Central Sulawesi, Indonesia was organized by Tebtebba and AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara/Indigenous Peopels Alliance of the Archipelago) to bring indigenous experts/researchers from Africa, Latin America and Asia to look more closely into the experience of the Ngata Toro community in Central Sulawesi in terms of their customary practices and governance as they interact with their ecosystem. The case of Ngata Toro community in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia is an evidence of self-sustaining life that permeates a collective well-being based on practical indigenous system and governance.

Photo Gallery:

Click on the image below to see more of the community visit.


As the international community looks into REDD+ as a mechanism to reduce GHG emissions, indigenous peoples around the globe are likewise expectant of the potentials REDD+ may bring not only to reduce GHG, but more importantly, how it will sustain life and realities of indigenous peoples. With REDD+ implementation, the experiences of indigenous peoples in the ground must therefore be accounted and recognized because of their rich and sustainable system that has long been tested by time.


The group participating to the exchange visit composed of 1) Ms. Pasang Dolma Sherpa-Researcher, Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN); 2) Mr. Allan Deli-deli- Executive Director, Silingang Dapit Southern Mindanao Inc. (SILDAP); 3) Nanta Mpaayei- Researcher, Mainyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development (MPIDO); 4) Tarcila Rivera Zea- Executive Director, Centro de Culturas Indigenas el Peru (CHIRAPAQ); 5) Ms. Vu Thi Hien-Executive Director, Center of Reserach and Development in Upland Area (CERDA); 6) Stanley Kimaren Riamit-Director, Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA); 7) Mr. Ontiveros Rivera- Member, Centro de Culturas Indigenas el Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and this writer, representing Tebtebba.

The five-day activity started with a short meeting with AMAN in their office in Jakarta in the morning of June 25. Mr. Abdon Nababan, AMAN’s Secretary-General, together with other AMAN staff and volunteers warmly welcomed the participants of the exchange visit. A brief sharing of expectations and pleasantries was done in the whole morning. After lunch, the group prepared themselves for the final trip that would bring them to Ngata Toro community. The group arrived in Palu at 9:00 in the evening of July 25 and were warmly received by Ms. Rukmini Paala Toheke and Mr. Rizal Mahfud, the respected leaders of the Ngata Toro community, the visit’s hosts.

On June 26, the group had an audience with the Committee on UN-REDD Programme of the Indonesian government. The meeting was attended by the Vice-Chairman of the Indonesia’s UN-REDD Programme Committee, NGO representatives and some community leaders. It was reiterated that the Indonesian government was open to the REDD+ program because they saw this as an opportunity to manage disaster and strengthen forest management systems. To involve crucial stakeholders, four working groups were created, given their scope and span of work in relation to REDD+. The idea in coming up with this group was to involve multistakeholders and look into various issues that would impact the communities that will choose to be part of the project. The implementation of REDD+ would be in 2012, though Indonesia was selected as one of the pilot areas in March 2009. The UN-REDD Programme document was signed in November 2009 and an inception workshop was held in March 2010 to kick off implementation of the programme.

Under the UN-REDD programme of Indonesia, there are four working groups: 1) Local strategy; 2) FPIC; 3) MRV and 4) Development with its respective scope of work and space for engagement. Each working group shared the progress of their work and highlighted some challenges and difficulties in the process of consolidating and coordinating work on REDD+. From the civil society group, they insisted that proper protocol must be observed and not just on papers. They found REDD with no clear protocol yet, especially in involving multistakeholders. Corruption was another issue that is now pre-occupying every stakeholder in Indonesia, especially when this relates to benefit-sharing because of the big question on how money from REDD+ reach the community and how this will ensure fair and just benefit to everyone. Significantly, the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights in Indonesia is still problematic. The wide gap of participatory engagement by indigenous peoples is yet to be witnessed.

After a brief meeting with key officials from the national government, the group then prepared for the road trip to Ngata Toro, reaching the community on the evening of July 26. The following day, the group prepared themselves to witness the historical signing of MOU between the government and Ngata Toro that would firm up the collective ownership and use of the land, territories and resources of Toro community. The ceremony was attended by representatives from the local government, indigenous leaders, indigenous women and children. In behalf of the mayor, the vice-mayor gave his declaration of appreciation and hope for the Ngata Toro community to continue with their indigenous practices and system of resource management especially in managing their forest and rich biodiversity. The vice-mayor remarked, “The green world in this place is a witness of change and must continue to persist for the next generation to enjoy.”

Seeing the support and recognition of the government, the Ngata Toro community, through their leaders Rizal Mahfud and Rukmini Paala Toheke, expressed their heartfelt gratitude that finally the local government was significantly recognizing the ways of life and perspectives of Ngata Toro. For these community leaders, the road to more fruitful gains in favor of the indigenous peoples has just begun. This is quite a good start for more productive endeavors in the future. The ceremony ended with a community dance and forging of the Memorandum of Agreement. Following the historical signing of MOA in the morning was a short acquaintance with some officials and community leaders.

A deeper discussion about the experiences of Ngata Toro in relation to their identity, governance system, local landscape and forest management was held in the evening of July 26. The inquisitive thoughts of the group for the exchange visit were filled with the generous sharing of wisdom and knowledge of the community leaders. One of the highlights of the discussion was the historical redemption of Ngata Toro’s ancestral domain, which was declared as national park back in 1992. The declaration of about 18,000 has of the Toro’s domain in 1992 has really brought so much disadvantage to the Ngata Toro community. Seeing that their rights were being abused and neglected, the Toro people organized themselves to redeem what was due them. Between the years 1998-1999, they worked very hard to establish their community map with the help of YTN Foundation.

In the community map, Ngata Toro identified various use and management of their land and resources.

The following day, July 28, the group prepared for a whole day walk to the forest. The group, together with some AMAN partners and community leaders, trekked through the paddy field (the agricultural section of Toro peoples’ domain) then they passed by the pangale, mature forest which has re-grown over several decades, on land formerly used for farming and agro-forestry (kebun).

While the group stopped for rest inside the forest, Mr. Abdon Nababan briefly shared the land use system of the Ngata Toro. From the place where the group was resting, Abdon pointed to the wana ngkiki (primary montane forest, dominated at high altitude by grasses, mosses and low-growing plants) and wana (primary forest located immediately below the wana ngkiki zone; this forms the habitat of rare plants and animals and is a water catchment area). He reiterated that these parts of the forest were completely forbidden to be cleared. At this point it was understood that the group no longer needed to go to those areas as the place was highly elevated and considered as sacred. The rest of the sections of the forest were then described by further.

In the evening of July 28, a discussion on AMAN and its work on indigenous peoples took place. Briefly, the group was oriented about AMAN’s vision and mission and current strategies to deal with its current commitment and work. An exchange of impressions, insights and queries followed after Abdon and Mina Setra shared how AMAN works and serve the indigenous peoples across Indonesia. There are currently 1,163 customary law communities incorporated into AMAN.

On July 29, the group travelled back to Palu Central Sulawesi where they met with Merah Putih Foundation (YMP – Yayasan Merah Putih), an NGO organization. This meeting was organized in order for the participants to personally witness how this sector looks into the UN-REDD program by the Indonesian government. In this meeting, the group emphasized the weakness of government in implementing genuine free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) on the ground and how they failed to account the perspective of indigenous peoples in some processes. YMP clearly stated that they wanted to see that both the local and national government seriously take into account the critical issues on FPIC.

Interestingly, this group is putting up a REDD monitor program that they will use a mechanism to draw in feedback from the communities about the implementation of REDD+ at least in Central Sulawesi. The monitoring program will also serve to channel issues and concerns of indigenous peoples in relation to REDD+.

After valuable exchanges of ideas and knowledge the participants were asked to spend the night in Palu and enjoy a bit the beauty abounding the island. Without any reason for disagreement, the participants together with the generous staff and leaders of Ngata Toro community delighted themselves in another solidarity moment that concluded the exchange visit on July 30 2011.