Impact in Indonesia: Leveraging the Debt for Conservation program

9/30/16 – This post is the second by the team working on agroforestry initiatives in Indonesia this summer for the GSSE MBA field work. Their startup, Mama Bumi, is identifying opportunities in niche industries where they can have an impact. You can read their first post here.


Team Mama Bumi exploring a bamboo farm in Indonesia.

One of the major themes of the first semester of the GSSE program is realizing that the global issues we are studying are not easily solved nor understood. They are interwoven into the fabric of communities and many times don’t have a simple or quick fix. These are wicked problems – just like the issues of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia.

Therefore before our team left for our summer venture field work, we conducted primary and secondary research through Skype interviews and information online about the problems we were to tackle in Indonesia. We needed to attempt to understand what types of issues exist with solving this problem and subsequently how to best tackle it. Indonesia is increasingly becoming one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world due to the demand for palm oil. This demand can be mainly attributed to developed countries who import it and use it in a plethora of consumables. For example, it can be found in shampoo, soap, processed foods and even ice cream. One of the conclusions of this secondary research was that reducing or stopping the production of palm oil in Indonesia was not an optimal venture for a GSSE team to embark on. Palm oil is one of the largest exports for Indonesia, and therefore the government is in conflict about halting production versus conserving their land.

Since Indonesia has experienced increasing scrutiny in the public eye around this issue, the US government implemented a ‘debt for conservation’ program where they would forgive about $80M in debt provided the money gets put towards conservation efforts in the country. This is where our venture, Mama Bumi, comes in. Our partner organization, the Kehati Foundation, is an Indonesian organization that has over 1000 grantees working to improve biodiversity and conservation within the country’s borders. Many of the grantee organizations that we interviewed were born out of the ‘debt for conservation’ legislation that was passed. Our team decided to focus on the positive impact and alternative uses of the land that were being conducted within the country. Over the course of our research, we saw many different products that were promoting positive and sustainable lifestyles from the local communities. One of the major products being grown sustainably is coffee, as we discussed in our first blog post. But our team was excited to find other sustainable products that promote land conservation such as honey, bamboo shoots, rattan products like handbags, tribal weavings, natural dyes, sea salts, essential oils, and coconut products. We all saw potential with many of these products for markets in the US as there is a drive towards buying sustainable products that aren’t harming the environment.

Our research and work doesn’t stop there, however. Our next task is to develop a supply chain for these sustainable products in the US. In our final semester, we will be building out a business plan, including identifying distribution channels and markets for selling these products.

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