If you search “Tangkahan” today, you will be shown to many travel websites calling it the “hidden gem in Sumatra”. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Tangkahan was once an open forest exploited by illegal logging and constantly threatened by palm oil and rubber land expansion.
Local villagers who lived around the Tangkahan forest has been surrounded by rich natural resources. For generations, many of them have been collecting and selling resources from the forests. The demand for logs was (and is) high. Most of the men became illegal loggers, following their fathers, grandfathers and even great-grandfathers.
It was a practical job and easy money for them. They have plenty of trees to cut down and they only need a saw, axe and ox to pull the logs through a pathway. The logs will then be washed away by the Batang Serangan River to be sold to the buyers were in Tanjung Pura.
One villager, who is also former illegal logger, Ukur Depari realized that this isn’t the future he wants his children to live in. He was once caught by the police and he ran out of savings. Together with a fellow logger, Njuhang Pinem, they initiated the idea to turn the forest area into an environment-based tourist attractions and improve the locals’ agriculture.
Unfortunately, the realization was not without obstacles. Tangkahan’s ecotourism was slowly thriving with illegal logging still practised in parallel. Other villagers who were still loggers even outcasted both men for what they do. The swarming tourists also created a problem of rising gangsterism.
So, they collaborated with the youth through an organisation called Simalem Ranger. They aim to exchange information with nature enthusiast college students to learn about observation, conservation and search and rescue exercise.
Depari and Pinem’s struggle from 1989 wasn’t for nothing. In 2001, through a Village Congres, they succeeded in legalizing a Village Regulation on prohibitin any forest and animal illegal exploitation. The regulation also came with Tangkahan Tourism Institution (LPT) to manage ecotourism in the area.
The locals were very enthusiastic as an international conservation organisation, Fauna and Flora International (FFI) formed a Conservation and Response Unit (CRU). The CRU created programs for local villagers to conserve their environment and develop their welfare at the same time. They also held intensive training, bringing international professional coaches, so that the villagers can master English.
LPT is a successful example of conservation area management that includes local people. Not only conserving the forestry, LPT also promotes welfare for local residents. Through this participatory management, local residents actively develop a sense of belonging. They are not only outsiders or become the exploited party because they have a shared responsibility.
Tangkahan ecotourism has been growing stronger and more popular. Illegal logging in Tangkahan now reaches to none.
Yet, recently the conservation is threatened by palm oil and rubber land expansion. The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture stated that North Sumatra is one of the central palm oil lands in the country, giving on average 1,7 tons of Crude Palm Oil (CPO) every year. This number is equal to 8.23% of the total national CPO yearly production.
Infrastructures around Tangkahan, such as the roads are seriously damaged due to excavation trucks and palm oil freight trucks traffic. With this condition, Tangkahan will be further away from attracting foreign and domestic tourists. It will be a shame, considering that the locals are already willing to change by planting seeds that supports ecotourism.
If Tangkahan keep attracting more tourists, despite its infrastructure, the site can prove itself as a steady and significant source of income for the local economy. Thus, it will get attention from the government who have the authority to legally protect the site.
So, if you’re visiting or live in Indonesia and are planning your next trip, consider Tangkahan as part of your options. Not only you will support local prosperity, you’ll also get to experience its natural beauty without damaging it along the process.