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Pulitzer Center Update August 18, 2023

Sowing Seeds of Change: Deforestation Awareness Amplified at Indonesian University


Limbung Pangan1 Papua

The food estate project has become a nightmare for indigenous peoples and the last tropical forest...

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Students prepare for a creative presentation about the impact of deforestation in Indonesia. Image by Indra Pradana. Indonesia, 2023.


A group of passionate students at the top-ranked campus Universitas Indonesia gathered for the ‘Public Discussion: Reporting From a Grassroots Perspective’ on June 22, 2023, to delve into the pressing issue of deforestation in Indonesia. The Pulitzer Center, together with Research Center for Climate Change in Universitas Indonesia (RCCC-UI) and Roemah Inspirit, welcomed a total of 80 students with multi-disciplinary backgrounds for this lively discussion. The event aimed to increase awareness and understanding of the multifaceted challenges surrounding deforestation in ecologically diverse Indonesia, amplifying the important reports done by Pulitzer Center grantees and Fellows.

The discussion, which attracted 80 participants and 200 registrants, delved into two main topics: Deforestation and Changes to Local Food Systems, and Sustainable Forests. These topics are inspired by two landmark stories from the Rainforest Journalism Fund: "Hungry People at Merauke Food Estate" by Ahmad Arif and "Planting Coffee, Maintaining Sustainability at Batang Gadis National Park" led by Prayugo Utomo.

The discussion began with a sharing session by Prof. Dr. Jatna Supriatna, a prominent Indonesian ecologist who spoke about the main challenges and solutions for tackling deforestation through science. He mentioned how the potential phenomenon of the ‘empty forest’ in Southeast Asia has become one of the main anxieties among researchers. ‘Empty forest’ refers to a decrease in the ecological species that live in the forest.

Land conversion for agriculture to produce palm oil is another primary challenge in Indonesia. Prof Supriatna highlighted how deforestation, primarily driven by the expansion of palm oil plantations, logging, and agriculture, poses a severe threat to both the environment and Indigenous communities.

Video by Indra Pradana. Indonesia, 2023.


Ahmad Arif, a Pulitzer Center Southeast Asia RJF grantee, sparked discussion about how repeated failures of projects for national food security have caused staple food shortages in the traditional forest community of Marind-Anim. The prominent journalist shared that children and pregnant woman in the kampung (village) have since been experiencing malnutrition.

The discussion was also a great space for journalists and academics to compare the ideas of these national government projects versus the actual conditions in the field. Arif expressed that cassava seeds, planted as part of the project, were in fact only able to grow very short in Merauke, Papua, which contradicts agriculture scientists who say Indonesian soil has the capacity to grow cassava well anywhere in country. This failure was first discussed in the event alongside an Indigenous leader of Kampung Zanegi, Bonefasius Gebze.

A remarkable highlight of the session centered on the invaluable role of forest communities in ensuring the sustainability of Batang Gadis National Park's pristine ecosystem. During this session, Prayugo Utomo, another Southeast Asia RJF grantee, discussed how the close relationship between the traditional communities and the forest has played a pivotal role in safeguarding the park's biodiversity and ecological balance. From responsible coffee harvesting techniques to habitat preservation efforts, the insights shared underscored the significance of integrating local wisdom into modern conservation strategies. The session concluded with a unanimous acknowledgment of the crucial role forest communities continue to play in maintaining the equilibrium of Batang Gadis National Park's ecosystems, offering a compelling model for collaborative and sustainable forest management.

The discussion brought multi-faceted perspectives when discussing deforestation to build critical thinking amongst students and educators. Also joining the session was a community health expert, Prof. Dr. Budi Haryanto, and Social Forestry expert, Dr. Mochamad Indrawan, who both shared rich insights about the impact of deforestation and climate change on society’s health.


Mosaic presentations by groups of students. The drawing represents their aspirations for a sustainable forest. Image by Indra Pradana. Indonesia, 2023.


These student activists were very enthusiastic about participating the ‘Fish Bowl Discussion’ as well as the group discussions, ‘Mozaic Presentations’ and ‘Creative Presentations.’ Each group of five was given time to interact very closely with the journalists and experts while expressing their opinions and thoughts through engaging methods such as a Q&A, drawings, and even poetry. The discussion distinguished itself from regular events through a creative facilitation process, which was led by 12 facilitators from Roemah Inspirit. “It is always important for us to create a lively yet meaningful discussion approach to leave a lasting impression for the participants” says Budhita Kismadi, executive director of Roemah Inspirit.

In addition to the public discussion, the Pulitzer Center also held a photo exhibition, ‘The Contemplation for Indonesian Forest’, featuring 20 stunning photos by five RJF grantees on the theme of deforestation drivers and their impacts. The exhibition complemented the discussion very well by bringing the stories to life. Separately, the exhibition had 1500 visitors.


The Fishbowl Discussion, which successfully brought together students, journalists, and experts. Image by Indra Pradana. Indonesia, 2023.


The closing session echoed a sense of shared responsibility and urgency. The participants expressed their commitment to raising awareness on their campus and beyond, emphasizing the power of collective action in combatting deforestation.

The university student discussion proved to be an insightful and thought-provoking event, highlighting the need for ongoing dialogue and collaboration to address the complex challenges posed by deforestation in Indonesia. The participants left the discussion inspired to continue their advocacy efforts and contribute positively towards a more sustainable future.


A student at the ‘Contemplation of Forest’ photo exhibition. Image by Indra Pradana. Indonesia, 2023.
An aerial overview of a volcano and a national park.

Conservation of Batang Gadis Absolute National Park is carried out. Alternative economic development...


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SEA Journalist-Scientist Rainforest Hub

SEA Journalist-Scientist Rainforest Hub


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change