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Indonesian group strikes unusual bargain to save forest

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Indonesia, like many developing nations, is trying to balance progress with forest preservation. The president recently pledged the remaining three years of his term to advancing conservation. But environmental groups call for more concerted action.

Health in Harmony, a US-based organization that has partnered with local nonprofit group ASRI to run a rural health-care clinic, has come up with a way to curb illegal logging. ASRI, meaning “harmoniously balanced,” sits in the shadow of Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, an area marred by water shortages and increasingly denuded land. Rising timber prices have been a boon to family incomes here, but cofounder Kinari Webb says providing access to cheap health care creates less dependency on the forest for income.

Communities that do not engage in illegal logging receive a 70 percent discount on their health care. Patients can also barter, exchanging woven baskets, seedlings, or even labor for treatment. In addition, ASRI staff teach locals skills for sustaninable livelihoods, such as organic farming.

Trust is key, says Ms. Webb. And in the four years ASRI has been operating, villagers have poured in, giving up the two-hour drive to reach the nearest hospital. What’s more, many have agreed to put down their chain saws.

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