Hendrik Hermawan: Taking Care of the Environment, Advocacy is Not Enough

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Hendrik Hermawan watched heavy equipment in action at Piayu Laut, Batam, Riau Islands, from a distance, 17 July. He is currently monitoring and will report the case to the relevant agency in Batam. Hendrik also showed a map via his cell phone screen. The area is included in a protected forest.

“Mangroves are still protected by law, this needs to be seen with a construction permit,” said the man who was born on June 21, 1974.

He and his colleagues at the environmental organization he founded, Akar Bhumi, not only guard but also report to the authorities. Unfortunately, due to weak supervision from the authorities, the perpetrators have recently acted again.

“This is our form of advocacy. It’s not enough just rehabilitation and education, we will report the incident to the relevant department,” he said.

For more than 10 years, Hendrik has struggled to protect the environment, especially the mangrove forests in Batam City. Thousands of mangrove seedlings will be planted by Bhumi. Thousands of students and the public have received education. Hendrik has reported dozens of environmental crime cases in the last two years.

“The environment is a new religion for me,” said the man who was born in Jember City.

Not only acting at the regional level, Hendrik’s struggle reached Commission IV of the DPR. He was invited to give his opinion and findings regarding environmental damage in Batam. The DPR has made four inspections of environmental crimes in Batam City.

This graduate of Gunadarma University in Jakarta with an accounting education background never imagined becoming an environmental activist.

Yogi Eka Sahputra, journalist for Mongabay , had the opportunity to have a special conversation with Hendrik. He spoke at length about his debut as an environmental activist, along with his excerpts.

Did you get involved in saving the environment?

I have to flashback , no one planned all of this, no one aspired to be a savior for the environment. Ten years ago, I joined environmental friends and started learning about the environment. This burden is getting heavier, but it’s even heavier if we know but don’t do anything. Finally, I formed an environmental NGO, Akar Bhumi to strengthen this movement.

We see low environmental awareness, we fight it through education. The environment is damaged, we plant. When hoarding occurs, we seek to legally stop it.

Your environmental campaigns and advocacy as well as Akar Bhumi focus on mangroves?

Mangroves are one of our focuses. Over 55% of Akar Bhumi advocates talk about damaged coastal mangroves. Mangroves are very important to us.

Why are mangroves important on an island like Batam?

In Batam City, 60% of the sea, the Riau Archipelago has 96% of the sea. This explains that mangroves not only have local wisdom, they are also a natural stronghold of the Creator. The existence of mangroves is very important for small islands and fishing communities.

How is the condition of mangroves in Batam?

Over the last three years, Akar Bhumi Indonesia has reported 26 cases of environmental crimes, ranging from deforestation, mangrove destruction, waste disposal and others. Finally, we set an issue regarding Batam’s condition, that Batam is an environmental emergency. In it there is a coastal emergency Batam, Batam’s coast is under threat of development, regardless of environmental impact. As many as 60% of cases were coastal damage, either reclamation or closing of rivers and mangroves. Development changes the landscape in Batam City including mangroves. 

The big threat to mangroves in Batam City is humans themselves, through development that is not pro-environmental. Various development activities, ranging from reclamation, shrimp ponds, construction of reservoirs, to deforestation of mangrove forests for mangrove charcoal. Lots of people have reduced the area of ​​mangroves in Batam City.

This is also due to their limitations, for example, the Environment and Forestry Service has a law enforcement department but no investigators. Meanwhile, the central government is also limited in funds, resulting in widespread damage. Two years ago, Gakkum decided to make a Gakkum Post in Batam, a form of central attention, but it is still lacking in resources.

Lack of public concern for the environment also expands the damage. The coastal area of ​​Batam City has complexity, there are many authorities on the coast, there are BP Batam, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs. So our protection complex is here on the coast.

Challenges of Roots Bhumi in campaigning and advocacy efforts?

The challenge is quite big, we have to do maneuvers, local government needs to be strengthened. We have to go to Commission IV of the House of Representatives to specifically report Batam as an environmental emergency. This is the impetus for this issue to be managed properly, don’t muzzle it until Commission IV is intense in Batam.

Have you ever experienced intimidation or violence during advocacy ?

There are many things, some are funny too, tense and tempting. A member called. ‘Please get out of that NGO, otherwise you will be miserable for seven generations.’ Some threw stones at the house, some called via WhatsApp . I think as long as we do the right thing, hopefully we can still be protected, even though in reality it is a lot risky to choose this field.

There are lots of things that are tempting, there are even when we organize educational institutions (stocking up mangroves), we are offered to become teachers. That’s an attempt to get us to withdraw the claim. That’s a bit funny, some are offering plots, shophouses, villas. Tulalah , that ‘s billions, there are those who offer project work. Yes, we just smile. This NGO is the fourth pillar of strengthening the state.

There is a negative stigma against NGOs , how is the community’s response to the Roots of Bhumi ?

Previously, we gathered together to agree to be serious and to raise Bhumi Roots together. We agreed that we have to be strong economically, yes, we shouldn’t be hungry and we have to eat. We have to do this right, that the environment is not where we make a living. The environment is meant to give life so that it can live even more. This is a time when we must return to placing the word NGO according to its function, according to its meaning, which is community-oriented.

It’s the same when Akar Bhumi became an NGO, as an NGO the first orientation was for a better environment. The negative stigma about NGOs is hard to straighten out. Indeed, there are many NGOs that have deviated from their original purpose, but Akar Bhumi has to prove that Akar Bhumi is an environmental NGO dedicated to the environment. Stay in the spirit of movement.

Some people call Akar Bhumi a private law enforcer ?

If friends say that , maybe we still think of it as a joke. If someone said it was an institution, at that time someone said it was a BP Batam employee. Yes, that’s an award for us, the private sector’s salary is greater than the state’s, the fact that the private sector is not paid he he…

Where does the Bhumi Roots fund ?

So far, we are here to make social contributions, especially in efforts to save the environment, rehabilitation, education and advocacy. All of that costs money. When it comes to rehabilitation, we sometimes get company support, even though it doesn’t cover it completely. But we prioritize our own resources, because the average company only focuses on planting, they don’t know how much it will cost us to stop destroying mangroves. In this case, the Bhumi Root must seek funds. These funds are from our own internal.  These funds come from our respective pockets.

What kind of campaigns and advocacy does Akar Bhumi do?

Human behavior has experienced a decline in civilization. The scriptures have talked about the environment. In fact, the community has limited environmental knowledge and insight. Therefore, Akar Bhumi is not only advocacy and rehabilitation, but also education. We don’t only involve school children and the community in education, we also use art as a means of campaigning.

Why use art tools ?

The roots of Bhumi are not one, but many people who have an attachment to the environment. Most of them come from art. Why are we trying to campaign through art, because art touches the heart more, regardless of age. Even with the melody alone can affect them. That’s how we educate with all strategies.

What is the successful education like ?

For example, this place (Kampung Pancur, Tanjung Piayu Batam), if we were here four years ago this area became a dense place (prone to criminalization). Here, the place to use drugs, obscenity. We’re coming here. We have a strategy so that we can influence the community, by directly involving them in rehabilitation and this green movement.

Eventually, this area became a center for mangrove rehabilitation, education, a center for activist friends, artistic activities related to the environment. Here we watch movies and discuss the environment, there are many changes.

How is the mangrove rehabilitation effort ?

My friends and I, Akar Bhumi, have planted around 60 hectares of mangroves in Batam, including 50 hectares with the government, five hectares on our own, five more hectares in water catchment areas. Our rehabilitation focus is on catchment areas, Batam reservoirs, protected forests, coasts. Currently we are also collaborating with Montigo Resort and Singapore organizations in planting mangroves.

In some cases, planting mangroves is only ceremonial , do you think ?

For us, if there are companies that are only for ceremonial purposes but are not responsible for plant maintenance , we cannot work with them. Planting is easy, growing is difficult.

Moreover, the environmental conditions are not good. The government has made efforts like this (not only planting but caring for it) so we ask companies to also adopt it, even companies must be superior to the government. If the government can only maintain three years of seed, the company must be more than three years. This is a lesson for the private sector, after being planted, don’t leave it like that .

Now the company has understood, but not much. The cost of planting mangroves for one hectare requires IDR 20 million, ideally IDR 50 million. Improving the environment is expensive, if you can stop deforestation.

Mangrove conservation must involve various parties, in collaboration with the government such as BP Batam, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. On the one hand, we also cooperate with local NGOs. Because local NGOs need assistance. We fight each other together.

How are young people involved?

In the field of education, Akar Bhumi Indonesia not only has the ” Akar Bhumi Goes to School ” program, but also the concept of “green class” for students. Through this program, they take the time to plant mangroves and clean up the environment by collecting trash.

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