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Earthworm: Transforming raw material value chains

Earthworm: Transforming raw material value chains
Earthworm: Transforming raw material value chains

Earthworm Foundation is a non-profit organisation built on values and driven by the desire to positively impact the relationship between people and nature. With most of its staff operating directly on the ground where the issues are, Earthworm Foundation collaborates with members and partners to transform value chains into engines of prosperity for communities and ecosystems.

Earthworm Foundation envisions a world where forests serve as an inexhaustible source of materials and a sanctuary for biodiversity. It aims for communities to have their rights respected and to have opportunities for development. The foundation views workers as productive partners and sees agriculture as a tool to feed a hungry planet while maintaining climate stability.

Transforming raw material value chains: Four insights into landscape-scale actions in Indonesia

Over the past decade, extensive work in the Aceh region of Indonesia has shed light on the complexities of balancing raw material production with environmental conservation. Initially studied as a region renowned for its primary forests and post-disaster reconstruction efforts, Aceh, located in northern Sumatra, has a tumultuous history. This history includes a pro-independence movement and subsequent conflict with Indonesian armed forces until a peace deal in 2005. The region also faces recurring natural disasters, such as the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Despite these challenges, Aceh boasts some of Southeast Asia's most biodiverse tropical forests and mineral-rich soil, attracting loggers and artisanal mining activities.

Investigating socio-economic factors

In 2015, an international research cluster investigated the socio-economic factors driving informal gold and semi-precious gemstone mining in the forest periphery of Aceh. Researchers quickly formed a profound connection with the forest, much like the local miners, loggers, and smallholders. Amidst the lush forests and stunning coastline, they witnessed a rural Aceh transitioning to small-scale plantation agriculture, devoid of large palm and pulp and paper estates.

Observing industrial transformation

Recent visits to Aceh and Riau, another province in Sumatra, revealed significant industrial transformation. The area had transformed drastically, dominated by sprawling plantations, yet pockets of untouched virgin forest remained. The Earthworm Foundation, working to support the regeneration of key sourcing areas for commodities like palm oil and pulp and paper, plays a pivotal role in this landscape. These commodities are essential for global brands and producer companies such as Mars, Hershey, and Nestlé. Earthworm’s Landscape work aims to resolve the tension between commodity production, nature conservation, and community consciousness in Indonesia.

Balancing production and protection

Balancing these objectives often seems daunting. However, during a recent field assignment in Aceh, Earthworm Foundation representatives were taken to a location within the Aceh Landscape that epitomised the coexistence of production and natural beauty. Just a kilometre from a palm oil plantation, they found virgin forests and stunning waterfalls. This experience reinforced the belief that the trade-off between production and protection is possible.

The evolution of the Aceh and Riau landscapes reflects broader challenges and opportunities in balancing commodity production with environmental conservation. Through sustainable practices and community engagement, it is possible to achieve a harmonious coexistence between industry and nature.

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