The Land of Papua was recently expanded into 4 new provinces, consisting of Papua, Mountain Papua, Central Papua, and South Papua provinces. The new autonomous provinces of Papua have a lot of uniqueness compared to other regions of Indonesia, particularly related to Papuan indigenous people groups. The new provinces also possessed the last resort of rainforest in Indonesia, with more than 35 million ha of forested landscapes, or cover of more than 80% of Papua Land.  As part of an Australian donor trip last March, I had a chance to travel to Jayapura Regency of Papua Province and directly observe how empowered local people develop their community-based economy.

Indigenous territory is part of the local identity of Papuans since about 90% – if not all – Indonesian side of Papua Island is indigenous territory. This indigenous territory concept is spread across administrative jurisdictions. The indigenous people's territory that has been mapped in Tanah Papua covers more than 8 million ha areas, and thus far, the national government only started recognizing the customary forest in Papua in 2022. Six customary forests in Jayapura Province have received recognition from the national government, covering areas of 25 thousand ha. 

Isyo Hills in Jayapura
Isyo Hills Bird Watching Resort in Rhepang Village, Jayapura. Photo credit: Nicholas Stacher/WRI

Recognition of indigenous territory as Hutan Adat is important, because 1) this ensures the certainty of indigenous land tenure, 2) it provides more clarity and better governance for forest and land use management, and 3) the land rights recognition will support the acceleration of local economic development.

Local economic development is crucial for the people of Papua, as Papua’s Index Development Index (HDI) is among the lowest compared to other Indonesian provinces. In 2023, the Human Development Index for both Papua and West Papua Provinces was the lowest in Indonesia and is less than the national index average.

We stayed at Isyo Hills Bird Watching Resort, located in Rhepang Muaib village, Nimbokrang District, Jayapura Regency. It is a unique traditional resort, owned by Alex Waisimon, a local Papuan who formerly lived outside Papua for more than 40 years. He established the resort in 2017, to help local people, especially young generations to change their primary livelihood in hunting bird of paradise (burung cendrawasih) and cutting the forests.

During this time, together with his family, Pak Alex has observed that logging activities have reduced. Additionally, more and more young people help as local tourist guides and work for the resort, after getting basic education in Genyem language - the local language from this district, English skills, and some capacity to identify local bird species. There are more than 7 birds of paradise species in the village. Pak Alex himself could identify more than 250 local bird species living in the surroundings of the village.

Empowering young people and women is highly critical for Papua to be able to improve local livelihood in a way that does not destroying the remaining forests. The Island of Papua is currently the home of over one-third of the remaining forests in Indonesia. Hence, preserving these forests is key, not only for the Papuans, but also for the Indonesian government to achieve its climate target in 2030. 

In the evening, we were served by a local jungle chef, named Charles Toto (aka Chef Cato), who has experience serving several celebrities, including the singer Mike Jagger. Chef Cato cooked using a traditional fuelwood stove and uses mostly local food ingredients to serve the resort’s guests. We were served with different types of foods, including different types of foods from sago, vegetables, and of course, stewed local wild boar.

Jungle chef cooks using traditional stove and local food ingredients in Jayapura, Papua
Jungle Chef cooks using a traditional stove and local food ingredients. Photo credit: Waraney Rawung/WRI Indonesia

The knowledge of processing local food is important, not only to help increase nutrients of local communities, but also to improve education to local people to consume healthy food. This is crucial, especially because in Papua, child stunting still becomes one of the biggest health problems, due to food malnutrients and limited knowledge of local communities to process and cook nutritious and healthy foods, especially from local food ingredients.

The next day, around 5 in the morning, we went to the jungle to see the bird of paradise. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the first bird-watching spot. There are 41 cendrawasih species in Indonesia, with 37 species living in Papua. At Isyo Hills resort, we can find up to 6 species of cendrawasih, with the most iconic one is ‘cendrawasih 12 antena’ or locally known as cendrawasih mati kawat and cendrawasih raja or king of paradise.

birdwatching in papua
Early morning at Isyo Hills forest to watch the bird of paradise (Cendrawasih). Photo credit: Waraney Rawung/WRI Indonesia

Illegal logging and wildlife hunting, particularly for the Bird of Paradise, are common issues in Papua. Pak Alex mentioned that he observed a significant reduction in both problems after the establishment of the Isyo Hills bird-watching ecolodge. This initiative also simultaneously improved the capacity of the local community, especially among young people. Some of them have changed their livelihood from unsustainable practices, such as excessive timber harvesting or wildlife hunting, to expanding new opportunities benefitting from diverse forest wildlife, and its mega-biodiverse ecosystem.

Best practices like Isyo Hills should be replicated in other Papua regions, and other forest-rich regions, to ensure that local economic development could go hand-in-hand with forest and biodiversity conservation.