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From Kalpataru to Customary Forest Legality for the Punan Batu Community

Kalpataru Punan Batu
Keterangan Foto Penyerahan status sebagai Masyarakat Hukum Adat Punan Batu oleh Bupati Bulungan pada Juni 2023. © YKAN

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On this year's World Environment Day, the Punan Batu Indigenous Law Community was bestowed with the prestigious Kalpataru award in the environmental savior category. This recognition, the highest honor from the government's Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK), is a testament to the community's significant contributions to environmental conservation. Makruf, a representative of the community, expressed their gratitude, stating, "We are thankful that our relentless efforts to protect our forest, our home, have been acknowledged by the central government in Jakarta." This was shared during a media briefing titled "The Legality of Customary Forests for the Protection of Indigenous Law Communities (MHA) Punan Batu Benau Sajau," held in Jakarta on Thursday, June 6, 2024.

The media briefing was attended by Jo Kumala Dewi, Director of Environmental Partnerships at KLHK; Syarwani, Regent of Bulungan; Pradiptajati Kusuma, a researcher from the Mochtar Riady Institute; Herlina Hartanto, Executive Director of the Nusantara Nature Conservation Foundation (YKAN); and representatives of the Punan Batu Indigenous Law Community, Makruf and Samsul. Makruf stated that the dream of the Punan Batu community is to keep the forest, their home, preserved and intact. Therefore, after bringing home the Kalpataru award, the MHA Punan Batu hopes their living area, Benau Forest, can soon be designated a Customary Forest. This designation is crucial to ensure the forest area does not diminish or change its function. "Our living space is becoming increasingly limited; we hope to obtain guarantees for the forest that is our home," he added.

Photo Caption The Punan Batu community traditionally leads a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place following food sources. © YKAN

This year, MHA Punan Batu received the Kalpataru Award for the environmental savior category based on the Decree of the Minister of Environment and Forestry Number 574 of 2024 concerning the 2024 Kalpataru Award Recipients. "Their tradition of maintaining forest sustainability for thousands of years was the main consideration in awarding this Kalpataru," said Jo Kumala Dewi, Director of Environmental Partnerships. Jo Kumala hopes the Kalpataru Award to MHA Punan Batu can inspire other MHA communities and the public to protect forests. "They are like a hotspot that needs to be fanned to 'ignite' other communities, inspiring," she added.

The journey of the Punan Batu community to secure official management rights over their forest was a long and arduous one. It began with genetic research conducted from 2018 to 2021, which revealed the community's unique genetic heritage. Professor Stephen Lansing and researcher Pradiptajati Kusuma discovered that the genetics of the Punan Batu are older compared to indigenous communities in North Kalimantan, such as the Dayak tribe. "They are also the only tribe in Kalimantan that still practices hunting and gathering," Pradiptajati said during the same occasion. The combined research results were then published in a journal by the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2022, further highlighting the community's distinctiveness and the importance of their preservation. (Https://

"The scientific studies by the researchers greatly helped establish the Indigenous Law Community," said Regent Syarwani at the same event. The Punan Batu Benau Sajau community received Indigenous Law Community status on April 3, 2023, based on the Bulungan Regent's Decree Number 188.45/319 of 2023 on the Recognition and Protection of MHA Punan Batu Benau Sajau. The process took only 1.5 years. According to Regent Syarwani, the unique genetics of the MHA Punan Batu are strong evidence for this designation.

Photo Caption The Regent of Bulungan conferred the status of the Punan Batu as an Indigenous Law Community in June 2023. © YKAN
Photo Caption Media briefing on the Punan Batu community activities in Jakarta, Thursday, June 6, 2024. © YKAN

With the Punan Batu community's designation as an Indigenous Law Community and the awarding of the Kalpataru, the Bulungan government has expressed its full support for the community's next steps and processes. Regent Syarwani stated that they are ready to facilitate the necessary procedures for the Punan Batu community to secure the status of their 18,000-hectare area as a customary forest. This forest area was determined through research using Global Positioning System (GPS) tools that mapped the Punan Batu community's roaming area. "We are committed to guaranteeing their roaming and living space," said Regent Syarwani. The Bulungan government is also formulating basic services (health, education, and food) and long-term economic development for MHA Punan Batu, demonstrating the collective effort in preserving the customary forest.

Echoing Regent Syarwani, YKAN Executive Director Herlina Hartanto also hopes the Kalpataru award can advance MHA Punan Batu's journey to gain legal recognition for their Customary Forest. "We greatly appreciate the recognition given by KLHK for the important role of the Punan Batu Benau Sajau community in preserving and protecting the forest," Herlina said at the same occasion.

Photo Caption The Punan Batu Indigenous Law Community received the Kalpataru award on June 5, 2024. © YKAN

As a strategic partner of the Bulungan government, YKAN will continue to assist the Punan Batu community in securing protection for their living area as a Customary Forest. "The Punan Batu Benau Sajau Indigenous Law Community deserves protection, including the protection of the forest area they depend on. By protecting their life, the sustainability of the forest will also be maintained," she concluded.

Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) is a scientific-based non-profit organization that has been present in Indonesia since 2014. With the mission of protecting lands and waters as life support systems, we provide innovative solutions to realize the harmony of nature and humans through effective natural resource management, prioritizing a non-confrontational approach, and building a network of partnerships with all stakeholders for a sustainable Indonesia. For more information, visit