Getting to know GTC: Interview with Arief Hamidi

Posted on by Fred Pilkington


In the next installment of our interview series we meet another dedicated conservationist working with GTC to save the world’s most threatened trees from extinction.

Introducing Arief Hamidi, GTC programme manager and national botanist for FFI’s Indonesia Programme. Arief is responsible for the delivery and coordination of GTC projects throughout Indonesia with a particular focus currently on launching new projects in West Kalimantan and Raja Ampat.

How did you get into tree conservation?

I love plants, I love trees and the prospect of them vanishing is like a slice to my heart. For many years, I worked on various forest assessments where I always took the botanists role. Through this, I deeply connected with the trees and I was always delighted if I found threatened species. Why? Because I was lucky enough to meet them directly in the wild, experience how they live and share the environment that they call home. To be involved in the work to save them, especially the numerous threatened ones, is one of the aspects of my life I am most proud of.

I joined FFI’s Indonesia Programme in 2013 as a national botanist and this presented me with the opportunity to directly work in wildlife conservation across FFI’s Indonesian sites. Increasingly, I have focussed more on rare, threatened and endemic trees as well as native trees with significant value to communities.

Arief Hamidi, programme manager and national botanist for FFI’s Indonesia Programme, standing beside the Critically Endangered Hopea bancana.

Arief Hamidi, programme manager and national botanist for FFI’s Indonesia Programme, standing beside the Critically Endangered Hopea bancana.

How do you contribute to the Global Trees Campaign (GTC)?

In 2014, I assisted the former GTC programme manager to carry out a conservation project on an endemic and critically endangered tree species, Dipterocarpus littoralis. This species is found only on Nusakambangan Island.

My role was to conduct a baseline survey and provide information on its distribution and threats. Since then, I have assisted in bringing together the nation’s tree experts to establish the national forum of tree conservation, Forum Pohon Langka Indonesia (Indonesia’s Threatened Trees Forum).

In 2016, the forum produced the national strategy for tree conservation highlighting to national policy makers the importance of and threats to many threatened trees . In 2017, I was appointed GTC programme manager and I now oversee GTC projects across the Indonesian archipelago.

A community group establishing a rare, threatened and endemic tree nursery to facilitate population recovery in Kalimantan. Credit: Arliansyah Nahan/FFI.

Which conservation achievement are you most proud of?

So far, perhaps the achievement I am most proud of was developing the national Strategy and Action Plan for trees conservation (or the Strategi dan Rencana Aksi Konservasi). This was a long process involving 62 stakeholders through three regional focus group discussions and one national workshop in 2017.

The stakeholders were a diverse group of government representatives, research institutions, universities, NGOs, private organisations and conservation experts. We drafted the SRAK which consists of a national strategy and conservation action plan for 12 priority tree species. The SRAK document itself will become a legal document published by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to be implemented by the appropriate national and site level stakeholders.

Through this effort, we mainstreamed the issues of tree conservation across Indonesia and highlighted the importance of tree conservation to many who were otherwise unaware of the issue.

Best story from the field?

Finding the two most threatened tree species Dipterocarpus cinereus and Hopea bancana might be my best story in the field. These are two narrowly endemic species to the small Mursala Island, on the north west coast of Sumatra.

D. cinereus was listed as Extinct on IUCN Red List in 1998, but was rediscovered in 2012 by a team from Bogor Botanic Garden but only three populations remain. Our trip aimed to estimate the remaining population on the island. The small population of D. cinereus was unknown to most people except the loggers. Yes, the loggers live on the island and the species was likely to be the third most favoured timber on the island. Due to these interests, it was hard to find a local willing to guide us through the forests.

Fortunately, we found an elderly ex-logger turned priest, who understood our honest intent and offered his help. The island, with many steep slopes, was a very challenging hike. The remaining stands of the species occur only at the top of these slopes, protected by the effort and expense of extracting timber from these hard to reach locations. On the third day of a week-long field trip, we began to locate individuals and in total we found 30 mature individuals and hundreds of saplings. This baseline survey was the first step in developing a conservation programme for Mursala Island and its stakeholders.

Arief and the team with the first D. cinereus found on the expedition.

What is your favourite threatened tree?

This is kind of hard, but I think most recently Dipterocarpus cinereus has taken my attention. The species is really on the brink of extinction and few people are aware of this. The challenge is to highlight these issues to the government and management authority, and invite them to take action for the conservation of the species. I really hope that this species has a future and that we succeed to protect its habitat and revive the population.

D. cinereus on the inaccessible hilltop.

What are easy things people can do to support tree conservation?

You can start with what people always do nowadays, social media. Social media is a powerful tool to mainstream issues across nations or even worldwide. You can post photos or vlogs of the trees that are important to you or interact with daily, write about them and spread these via your social media account. Tell the story of what interests you about threatened trees, like native wild fruits for instance.

Presenting this information to raise people’s awareness or at least to educate people about the species’ condition can have a large impact. Through engaging with a broader audience about the presence of threatened trees around us, much more people can engage with them and care about these species.

The final question – which tree product could you not live without?

Should I answer Oxygen? Because trees (or plants) are the unique providers of it and no one can live without it. We can live without food or water for a couple of days, without timber, fuelwood or essential oils for many days, but we cannot live for a single a hour without Oxygen.

If you would like to find out more about those working with GTC to save threatened tree species, then our last interview is here.

Header image credit: Boyhaqie.

Written by Fred Pilkington

Fred previously worked as the Programme Officer for Plant Conservation at Fauna & Flora International, working on the Global Trees Campaign supporting their portfolio of projects globally. Previously he has worked in the Philippines (9 months), Ecuador (6 months) and Japan (4 months).

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