International Satoyama Intiative

IPSI, the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative, promotes collaboration in the conservation and restoration of sustainable human-influenced natural environments (Socio-Ecological Production Landscapes and Seascapes: SEPLS) through broader global recognition of their value.

COMDEKS Project: Semau Island, Indonesia

SUBMITTED ORGANISATION : United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Ministry of the Environment, Japan; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; United Nations University (UNU)
  • Group:Agricultural
  • Group:Coastal
  • Group:Forest
  • Group:Water
REGION : South-eastern Asia
COUNTRY : Indonesia (Kupang District)
Google map: Google Map link to region
SUMMARY : The Community Development and Knowledge Management for the Satoyama Initiative Programme (COMDEKS) was launched in 2011 to support local community activities that maintain and rebuild target production landscapes and seascapes, and to collect and disseminate knowledge and experiences from successful on-the-ground actions so that, if feasible, they can be adapted by other communities throughout the world to their specific conditions. The programme provides small-scale finance to local community organizations in developing countries to support sound biodiversity and ecosystem management as well as to develop or strengthen sustainable livelihood activities planned and executed by community members themselves. The target area selected as the focus of the COMDEKS project in Indonesia is Semau Island, which is a 265-km2 island located in the western portion of Kupang District, the Capitol of East Nusa Tenggara Province.
KEYWORD : Coastal management, Reforestation, Fisheries management, Agrochemical-use reduction
AUTHOR: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.


The Landscape


The target area selected as the focus of the COMDEKS project in Indonesia is Semau Island, which is a 265-km2 island located in the western portion of Kupang District, the Capitol of East Nusa Tenggara Province. Semau Island borders the Sawu Sea in the south, west and north, and the Semau Strait to the east. Administratively, the Island is part of Kupang District and is divided into two areas: the Semau Sub-District in the North, consisting of eight villages, and the South Semau Sub-District in the South, consisting of six villages.

Semau Island is a lowland island with the average highest points at 50 m above sea level. It consists of coral and limestone, with a thin layer of soil on the surface. Most soil types found in Semau Island are Mediterranean, latosol, and alluvial with alkali saturation and limited clay content, particularly kaolinite, making it nutrient poor.

For generations, the communities of these 14 villages have survived on the available agricultural and marine resources of the small island.  Located in the Wallace bioregion, the island is host to rich marine, terrestrial, and coastal biodiversity. However, given the limited freshwater supply and thin soil layer, both agriculture and biodiversity are increasingly threatened, and the island faces a disproportionate risk from climate change and extreme weather.

Biological Resources and Land Use

Semau Island is a rich ecological habitat hosting monsoon forests, and the surrounding Sawu Sea is home to one of the world’s richest coral reef covers. The Sawu Sea is also a critical habitat and migration corridor for 18 sea mammal species, including two endangered species: the blue whale and the sperm whale.

The local monsoon forest consists of tree species shedding their leaves during the dry season and growing new foliage during the rainy season.  Some of these species are particularly significant to the lives of the Semau people, as they are used to build houses and boats, and are also sources of food and medicines.  In addition to threats from climate change, biodiversity on the island and the surrounding sea is threatened by the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture, which decreases soil fertility and results in chemicals in the soil being carried to the oceans through rainwater. The use of chemicals in agriculture rose in the last two decades and has increased ever since the community was introduced to vegetable seedlings and hybrid corn. Because land cultivation with mechanical equipment is difficult on the karst terrain, farmers rely on herbicides and pesticides to assist with land clearing and weed control. After the land is utilized for farming for 5-6 years, farmers are forced to abandon it with the expectation that the soil fertility will gradually recover. Additionally, deforestation is a serious threat, with trees being cut faster than they can be replenished.

Semau Island coral reefs, COMDEKS Indonesia

Semau Island coral reefs, COMDEKS Indonesia

Socioeconomic Context

In 2013, the population in Semau Island numbered 11,756, with an average population density of 44 people per square kilometer. The majority of the island’s inhabitants belong to two ethnic groups with different cultures and languages: the Helong and the Rote. Until a few years ago, clan leaders governed the distribution of land. Today, the Village Government regulates the utilization of the coast and adjacent shallow waters (extending several hundred meters from the coastline). The people of Semau Island largely depend on farming and fishing for their livelihoods. Seaweed farming, which only started in 2001, has become the main source of income for communities living along the coast. When freshwater from wells is available, short-term cash crops such as fruits and vegetables provide another source of income besides fishing and seaweed farming. Rice and corn, on the other hand, are the community’s primary source of food, and these locally grown staple crops are largely kept for family consumption. In addition to farming, raising livestock is important to the people of the island.  Fishing occurs throughout the year, except for the rainy season when the monsoon brings high waves and strong winds. Development in Semau Island has been slow, as a number of people believe that the Semau people have magical powers, and prior to 2000, government officials were often reluctant to be sent to Semau Island, resulting in a lack of development initiatives in this region.

Key Environmental and Social Challenges

The principal environmental and social vulnerabilities in the target landscape are related to the availability of water and inappropriate agricultural practices and land use. Particular challenges include the following:

  • Limited supply of fresh water for both agricultural and domestic uses:  Rainfall, which is the primary source of water for agriculture, is limited, with an annual precipitation of only 700-1,000 mm. Moreover, there is an insufficient number of wells, which are the primary source of water for drinking and bathing. While the government has constructed dams in several villages, a number of them are malfunctioning or experiencing siltation.
  • Limited knowledge of agricultural practices and extension services:  The District Government has a limited number of agricultural extension staff and rarely conducts any extension services on the island, such as scientific research and dissemination of information on agricultural practices through farmer education. This has resulted in a low level of knowledge on agriculture and sustainable, innovative practices that can increase productivity and income.
  • Soil degradation and pollution due to the inappropriate use of chemicals: In order to speed the cultivation of farm fields, the community relies heavily on herbicides and pesticides. Unfortunately, the soil types on the island are naturally nutrient poor, and the excessive use of chemicals further degrades soil quality. The result is that farmers are forced to abandon the farmland after 5 to 6 years to let the soil recover. In addition, overuse of chemicals harms local biodiversity, both on land and in the surrounding sea when these chemicals are carried to the ocean in rainwater.
  • Climate change and extreme weather:  The biodiversity and human communities of the island are threatened due to a disproportionate risk from climate change and extreme weather events, which have increased in frequency in recent years.
  • Lack of knowledge and skills to improve livelihoods: Community groups currently lack the skills and knowledge base to spur local innovation, improve economic activity and increase the local standard of living. Lack of capacity often limits the activity of these groups to constructing basic village infrastructure.
  • Deforestation:  Increasing deforestation in the area, particularly from land clearance for agricultural use, has further threatened biodiversity and sustainable land management.

COMDEKS Activities, Achievements, and Impacts

Community Consultation and Baseline Assessment

On November 14-20, and December 14-17, 2013, the Bingkai Indonesia Foundation conducted a baseline survey to determine conditions in the target landscape. Active participation of local communities and other key stakeholders in the Baseline Assessment was assured through literature reviews, field observations, community interviews, and a participatory assessment of community resilience. The assessment used indicators of socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes (SEPLS), developed by Bioversity International and the United Nations University, to help measure and understand the resilience of the target landscape. Indicators were adjusted to reflect coastal and sea areas, and one indicator was added to adopt characteristics of small islands and climate risk. Nine small group discussions and six individual interviews with village leaders were initially held. To foster women’s empowerment and their effective participation in the planning process, 24 of the participants were women, and two of the small group discussions were attended exclusively by women.

A workshop assessment was subsequently held to assess the SEPLS indicators, consisting of 25 participants, five of whom were women.  Following this, a second consultation was conducted (33 men, 4 women) to present the results, to discuss key problems and to identify activities that could contribute to the long-term sustainability of the target landscape. Some of the main areas of concern identified were the lack of access to freshwater, the adverse impacts of overuse of chemicals, the need for greater ecosystem protection, and the need for increased agricultural/aquaculture innovation and knowledge.

Mapping Semau Island resources and communities during the baseline assessment, COMDEKS Indonesia

Mapping Semau Island resources and communities during the baseline assessment, COMDEKS Indonesia

Landscape Strategy

The Baseline Assessment and Community Consultation gave rise to the COMDEKS Indonesia Landscape and Seascape Strategy, which sets out a slate of four Landscape Outcomes and associated indicators to measure progress toward these outcomes. This long-term plan strives to improve the social and ecological resilience of small island and coastal communities through community-based activities.

Table I-1 lists the four Landscape Outcomes around which the strategy is built, as well as the performance indicators that will be used to measure progress toward these outcomes.

Table I-1. Landscape Outcomes and Indicators from the Indonesia Landscape and Seascape Strategy

Landscape/Seascape Outcomes              Key Performance Indicators

Outcome 1:


Preservation of island ecosystem functions through the maintenance of forest cover, as well as coastal, marine, and coral reef systems, and the promotion of sustainable resource use practices.



  • Number of hectares of forest land under protection or sustainable use.
  • Number of hectares of seascape (coastal, marine, coral reef) under protection or sustainable use.



Outcome 2: 


Enhancement of the resilience of agriculture and mariculture systems through improved and sustainable cultivation practices, diversification of crops, and improved management of water sources.



  • Number of community members adopting sustainable agricultural and maricultural management practices, and number of methods implemented.

·         Number of community organizations managing water resources efficiently and effectively.

  • Number and variety of new resilient crops and maricultural products promoted.



Outcome 3: 


Community livelihood improvement through sustainable income generation.



  • Number of sustainable livelihoods and income generation opportunities adopted.
  • Increased household income as a result of supported livelihood activities.



Outcome 4:


Creation of institutional governance systems for effective participatory decision making and knowledge sharing at the landscape level.



  • Number of community-based institutions created or strengthened that are engaged in integrated seascape/landscape management.
  • Number and type of policies influenced at the local and landscape levels.
  • Number of best practices and lessons learned shared among landscape stakeholders.


Yarn dyed with natural colors, COMDEKS Indonesia

Yarn dyed with natural colors, COMDEKS Indonesia

Community-Led Landscape Projects

To guide the selection of local projects, the Landscape Strategy for Semau Island suggests a number of activities that would contribute to the accomplishment of each Resilience Outcome:

Outcome 1: Preservation of island ecosystem functions through the maintenance of forest cover, as well as coastal, marine, and coral reef systems, and the promotion of sustainable resource use practices:

  • Community education on the benefits of maintaining and conserving clan forests, protected state forests, and coastal and marine ecosystems;
  • Introduction to the benefits of coral reefs and fish aggregating devices (FAD) in fishing;
  • Training of community groups and village governments on raising and planting artificial coral reefs and using FAD in shallow coastal waters.

Outcome 2: Enhancement of the resilience of agriculture and mariculture systems through improved and sustainable cultivation practices, diversification of crops, and improved management of water sources:

  • Training on seed preparation and community education on medicinal plant species and natural plant herbicides;
  • Training of village governments on establishing zones for marine aquaculture, fishing, and coastal and marine protection;
  • Establishment of a water resources management organization for springs and lakes in and between villages, as well as construction of new water canals or wells;
  • Introduction to and demonstration plots for plants that are more resistant to inundations, droughts, high salinity, and extreme weather, as well as for better seaweed cultivation methods;
  • Community education on the long-term impacts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on soil fertility, harvest quality, groundwater, and health;
  • Training of community groups on organic fertilizers and pesticides as well as their development and use;
  • Facilitating regular experience-sharing sessions and extension services for agriculture and aquaculture in collaboration with experts from the Kupang District Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Agencies;
  • Introduction to the benefits of weather and climate forecast information for agriculture, aquaculture and fishing, along with the dissemination of forecasts to the community to make agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing decisions;
  • Introduction to and demonstrations of chemical-free land cultivation;
  • Development of a study on the ideal land cover, and on water supply and water demand on the Island.

Outcome 3:  Community livelihood improvement through sustainable income generation:

  • Developing studies and trainings on beekeeping for community groups, as well as increasing awareness on the importance of planting hardwood trees for honey production;
  • Training in agriculture and aquaculture product manufacturing, packaging and seed storage methods;
  • Introduction of sustainable and efficient fishing gear, particularly for seasons of extreme weather, such as the west monsoon period;
  • Conducting studies on the opportunities for marketing agriculture and aquaculture commodities from Semau Island on the Kupang and East Nusa Tenggara markets.

Outcome 4Creation of institutional governance systems for effective participatory decision making and knowledge sharing at the landscape level:

  • Promotion of village government regulations or agreements between clan leaders for the maintenance of biodiversity in the target landscape/seascape;
  • Lobbying and supporting village governments and clan leaders to make prudent and forwarding-thinking decisions regarding the protection of the remaining clan forests;
  • Supporting village governments and clan leaders in the implementation of regulations that prohibit the logging of large trees, as well as with establishing criteria for afforestation.
Training workshop on honey processing, COMDEKS Indonesia

Training workshop on honey processing, COMDEKS Indonesia

Landscape Project Portfolio

Based on this guidance, six local projects were chosen as COMDEKS Indonesia’s portfolio of landscape initiatives in Semau Island, with grant amounts ranging from US$5,000 to US$50,000.

Table I-2.  COMDEKS Community-Led Projects on Semau Island, Indonesia

Project Grantee (NGO/Civic Association)


Contribution to Landscape Resilience Outcomes


Strengthening Sustainability of Drinking Water Access in Semau Island Perkumpulan Relawan CIS Timor


Outcomes 2, 4 Strengthen  access to and management of water resources by rehabilitating pipes and  wells,  establishing agricultural demonstration plots, and conducting workshops and studies on the quality and quantity of water available. Facilitate the establishment of organizations that regulate and manage sustainable water resources in each village.
Strengthening Farmers’ Capacity for Organic Farming Perkumpulan Geng Motor IMUT


Outcomes 2, 3, 4 Increase farmers’ knowledge of the negative impacts of using non-organic methods of farming. Improve land, water and health quality through sample gardens, planting local food crops and training. Increase the capacity of institutions that practice organic farming through knowledge sharing.


Strengthening  Local Governance System for Environmental Protection Yayasan PIKUL




Outcomes 1, 4 Using focus groups, workshops and lobbying, support local community leaders and local governments to develop a vision based on environmental protection. Create model environment protection programs in five villages, and document success stories from these programs.
Strengthening Communities’ Capacity to Improve Environmental Conditions Yayasan Pengembangan Pesisir Dan Laut


Outcomes 1, 2, 4 Promote environmental conservation of the seascape and landscape in 5 villages through: workshops; community training; reforestation and revegetation; demonstration plots; cultivation and conservation of sea grass; and increasing local organizational capacity for environmental preservation.
Strengthening Initiatives and Creative Actions of Communities for Semau Island Protection Koperasi Tapaleuk (KOTAK)



Outcomes 1,2,4 Support creative collective action of groups/communities for the protection of seascapes and landscapes through training in sustainable resource management in an accountable and transparent manner. Training focuses on technical and financial reporting, documentation, and sharing of lessons learned.


Menulis Semau (Writing Semau): Training in  Documenting Local Experiences and Best Practices Lopulalan Institute


Outcome 4 Collect stories of best practices and experiences of communities in Semau Island by providing writing and documentation training as skills of communication and information dissemination, as well as introducing the concept of island journalism. Lopulalan Institute, based in Bali, is supporting the villagers to write about their COMDEKS-related experiences, including the current situation, challenges and aspirations.
Farming red onions as a climate-resilient crop, COMDEKS Indonesia

Farming red onions as a climate-resilient crop, COMDEKS Indonesia

Achievements and Impacts to Date

  • Improving water management practices and promoting organic agriculture: COMDEKS interventions have brought improved agricultural practices that increase water access and decrease the use of agricultural chemicals.  These include the establishment of a water conservation area that integrates tree planting with increased access to water by communities and improved irrigation systems.  Village water committees have also been formed in each participating village.  At the same time, 12 organic agriculture demonstration plots have been established, with crops including bananas, eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes, watermelon, sorghum, and red onions. A concerted effort to increase market access for organic crops in off-island markets is also underway.  The combination of better irrigation (using both sprinklers and hand-held devices) and organic culture has led to zero chemical inputs, a reduction in time spent irrigating crops, production of two crops per year instead of one, as well as higher prices for organic produce. Adding to the success of these farm interventions has been the introduction of biogas systems in communities, which has resulted in reduced fuelwood use.
  • Improving marine management and seaweed culture: COMDEKS marine interventions have focused on better management of the shoreline, improvements in seaweed cultivation, and restoration of mangroves, which were heavily cut to expand seaweed farming.  One major advance in terms of decreasing environmental impacts has been the imposition of restrictions on the extraction of beach sand, particularly in Batuinan Village, where a portal was installed to limit sand mining. Meanwhile, improvements in the growth and processing of seaweed have led to higher quality and quantity of seaweed for wholesale, and the development of seaweed-related secondary products has added value to the seaweed farming enterprise. Mangrove restoration is just beginning.
  • Establishing new institutions and networks: A range of new institutions and networks have been established in different Semau Island communities. These, along with environmental education in schools, have acted as a key mechanism to increase local environmental awareness and planning. More importantly, these new institutions have created governance platforms for community members to act on this increased awareness. Perhaps the most important new institutions are local Environmental Forums, which have been formed in seven communities. These forums include participation of customary authorities, community leaders, community groups and government authorities. They were established at the village level to ensure restoration of damaged ecosystems and to build a system for continuing sustainability of these ecosystems. These local forums also participate in inter-village meetings so that issues of broader concern can be discussed and planned for in a collaborative manner. A number of other new partnerships and groups have also been formed in addition to the village Environmental Forums. These include the Springs Management Agency, the Institute of Village Community Empowerment (LPMD), the Village Water Management Institute, organic farming groups, and a women’s group focusing on hand weaving. In Uiboa Village, villagers established a nursery group to raise endemic tree seedlings, which will be distributed to families for their home gardens. The producers cooperative KOTAK also expanded its membership.
  • Negotiating new agreements to protect community resources: The formation of Environmental Forums and other new institutions has resulted in a variety of new environmental commitments by local clan leaders, village governments, and community members. These agreements cover a wide range of activities from watershed protection, to irrigation and agricultural production, to seaweed farming and mangrove restoration.  For example, in Batuinan Village, community members have agreed to hold a 3-ha water catchment area as a conservation zone, with the land owners agreeing not to lease this land for other purposes and community members agreeing to limit the number of private wells in the surrounding area in order to raise the water table.  In addition, village members have agreed to plant some 1,650 mahogany trees in their family gardens to regenerate local forest cover.  Village churches in Batuinan have even agreed that couples getting married or baptized should each plant two trees in their home gardens.  In Uitiuhana Village, villagers established a nursery to raise endemic tree seedlings to be planted on an 11-ha area donated by the clan leader. A draft agreement accompanying this tree-planting effort specifies nursery and forest management rules (trees can’t be cut for 20 years) and a monitoring system.
  • Mapping local environmental governance leaders:  Little time has passed since the implementation of COMDEKS projects, so changes in the quality of local environmental governance cannot be assessed yet, although it can be said that the inclusion of women and youth has improved. To help in assessing governance changes, PIKUL (a local NGO) has produced a comprehensive baseline that, among other things, mapped 93 local leaders and social innovators (69 men and 24 women), including landowners, clan leaders, community leaders, community groups and government. The map provides an important overview of the ecosystem of actors with decision-making power regarding the utilization of resources in villages, gardens, forests, water, coasts and marine areas and will support a future assessment of changes in governance quality.
Fishing and seaweed farming are the major sources of income in Semau Island, COMDEKS Indonesia

Fishing and seaweed farming are the major sources of income in Semau Island, COMDEKS Indonesia

Progress at the Landscape Level

The establishment of so many local environment-focused community groups and the forging of a considerable number of formal, written environmental commitments at the village level is evidence of a strong participatory trend among Semau Island communities in environmental governance. As yet, this interest is mostly confined to local village matters, and is also mostly segregated into clan and ethnic groups. To date there has been little mixing among the two different ethnic groups, who tend to live in different areas and work in different enterprises. This is also true of COMDEKS projects, which tend to be focused within one ethnic group or the other.  On the other hand, the seven different Environmental Forums have established a mechanism for inter-village meetings to discuss issues that reach beyond the village level, which could be considered the beginning of an island-wide landscape community. In addition, COMDEKS groups have also met to share lessons among themselves, and there has been robust support from government and clan leaders of all COMDEKS projects, creating a fertile environment for future collaboration.

Community briefing on the SEPLS concept, COMDEKS Indonesia

Community briefing on the SEPLS concept, COMDEKS Indonesia

Lessons Learned

  • Some terminology used in the baseline assessment does not have any similar terms in the Indonesian language, which caused communication issues. Other terms, such as “ecological link” and “environmental service,” do have similar terms, but are not familiar to the local community. Thus, preparing pictures and illustrations was helpful for explaining such unfamiliar terms. Also, presenting the SEPLS table on large-scale paper was useful in facilitating communication and discussion, particularly when it was not possible to project slides due to a lack of electricity.
  • With regard to the scoring mechanism for SEPLS Resilience Indicators, facilitators (and participants) had difficulties in assigning scores when questions had more than one subject to be scored. Therefore, some questions that contain more than one subject to be scored should be separated into two (or more) questions. Similarly, when assessing landscapes and seascapes together, questions and indicators should be kept separate between ‘land’ and ‘coastal-marine’. Dividing the indicators and criteria helps participants to differentiate between subjects for scoring.
  • The baseline assessment highlighted that addressing current problems seemed more important to the local community than anticipating future risk. Farmers were more eager when describing their current situation than assessing SEPLS indicators.
  • Discussions with individuals and groups were more dynamic than assessing SEPLS scores. Scoring seemed to distract people from participation as they were spending considerable time trying to understand the purpose, the terms and the process.
  • When presenting the results of the baseline assessment, participants expected more quantitative data on natural resources (such as coverage area of coral reefs and mangroves, as well as distribution and types) and more detailed economic and livelihoods data, as compared to the conventional survey. Such requests were voiced by the National Steering Committee.
  • Assigning facilitators from grantee NGOs and CSOs to small groups, and arranging individual and group discussions throughout project implementation, significantly helps with the collection of data, which can be used as supporting elements to facilitate SEPLS resilience assessment.
  • For monitoring and evaluation in the future, baseline data should be collected for every activity of the project. For example, a project related to increasing the number of honeybee farms requires information on the number of existing honeybee farms in every village for monitoring and evaluation. The baseline assessment of the current project does not provide such detailed quantitative information.
  • Actor mapping to understand responsibilities and roles of stakeholders in the target landscape significantly contributes to successful project design and implementation.
Corn is a local staple crop, Semau Island, COMDEKS Indonesia

Corn is a local staple crop, Semau Island, COMDEKS Indonesia