Mahyuddin Pasaribu would never have imagined that he could comfortably feed his family and fund his children’s education through his successful business, which is in stark contrast to his past, when he had to work as an illegal logger in the forests of Pelalawan in Riau to make ends meet.
Similar to what many members of his community would do, Mahyuddin started working in the forest after graduating from high school in 1993.
“We earned a living from harvesting forest products, such as logs, rattan and fish. Collecting logs was seasonal – only when there was a buyer. If there was not, we would look for fish as an alternative,” said the 43-year-old resident of Pelalawan.
“Though the total amount we made from selling [logs] was quite large – up to Rp 100 million [$7,400] – it only happened once every three months. The money would also be divided among the team, which consisted of around 20 members,” he said. In addition, there was also a high risk of getting caught by law enforcement officials.
Indonesia has the third-largest rainforests in in the world, but they are also among the most endangered, due to overexploitation by the timber industry in the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2002, the government issued regulations on lumber exports, which made the harvesting of logs from the forest even harder for Mahyuddin and his fellow loggers.
Two years later, Mahyuddin was arrested by members of the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) after he was caught illegally collecting logs near a concession area owned by Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), a subsidiary of the April Group.
After his release three weeks later, Mahyuddin went to RAPP to ask for an opportunity to work together, stating that he only engaged in illegal activities because of his dire financial situation.
Mahyuddin Pasaribu standing on one of his pompong, or motorboats. (JG Photo/Muhamad Al Azhari)
Since then, RAPP has partnered with Mahyuddin after the company approved his proposal to provide a service transporting logs on water, which greatly reduced costs.
“The idea popped up after I saw a canal that could be used to transport the wood, instead of the usual land transportation,” Mahyuddin explained.
He began with five pompong, or small motorboats, coordinated by the local chapter of the Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI).
By 2012, he had developed the business into the company Mitra Pelalawan Setia, which now operates 45 boats and employs 47 people. The company, which has a monthly turnover of approximately Rp 250 million and gross income of Rp 50 million, provides a service transporting workers, seedlings and fertilizer within Pelalawan Estate.
Mahyuddin noted that the opportunity given to him by RAPP has transformed his life and he now owns a house, five cars, an excavator and a 30-hectare plantation.
“Looking back, I could never have imagined that my life would be this comfortable […] as I previously never had a regular income,” said the father of four.
Mahyuddin’s huge success in the pompong business has prompted him to be creative and further develop his business. He attributes this new way of thinking to the training he received from RAPP. This includes managerial and entrepreneurial skills and forest-fire prevention.
“I learned a lot from those training sessions because we are taught not only to think about today, but to also to plan for the future,” he said.
Mahyuddin is currently developing a new business that focuses on renting out his excavator for land clearing, which also encourages farmers to leave behind the old ways of using fire. He sees this as his contribution to ensure safety and prevent forest fires in the company’s operational areas.
RAPP community development manager Marzum said the company is fostering small and medium businesses to create opportunities for local entrepreneurs. RAPP currently partners with 12 local businesses in Pelalawan Estate, all of which are considered successful.