Reviving Eco-Tourism: Wonosobo, Central Java

Wonosobo, a regency in the hills of Central Java, is striving to revive its eco-tourism industry by focusing on a regreening program. To achieve this, the regency administration launched the “Wonosobo Planting” campaign back in 2006. At least 810,000 people, primarily farmers and students living in 264 villages in 14 districts, have been involved in the project according to Suherdjoko.

The regency depends heavily on agriculture, especially potato growing, as its main source of revenue, but agricultural expansion has hurt its tourism sector, which used to be one of the regency’s mainstays. The administration has allocated around Rp 5 billion (US$550,000) to replant 984.68 square kilometers of unproductive land, which is supposed to be under forest cover by 2010. The administration is focusing on the planting of hardwood species, such as mahogany, “albasia” and “suren”. The young saplings are first grown on vacant land and roadsides before being transplanted in the mountains.

Wonosobo regent Kholiq Arif said that the trees would help prevent erosion on the steep slopes surrounding the Dieng plateau. He further said that the beauty of Dieng had been impaired by overexploitation. This had undermined the attractiveness of the Dieng temples and other tourist attractions, like Telaga Warna and Pengilon, Kawah Sikidang, Kawah Sileri, Kawah Candradimuka and Sumur Jalatunda.

Local legislature member Abdul Arif said that the regreening scheme was not only ecological in nature. “It’s also intended to increase the incomes of local residents, thereby enabling them to live in harmony with the environment,” he said.

Dieng, which once was famous for its fresh air and visited by thousands of tourists, has recently been left off the tourist trail. The area has turned dry due to rampant logging and other forms of exploitation. About 3,000 out of 7,000 hectares of forest have been cleared for agriculture by local potato farmers. Local people have been growing potatoes since the 1980s when the plant was first introduced.

“I want to regreen Dieng. I realize that it will not be easy to increase people’s awareness about the significance of forests as they make a lot of money from potatoes,” Kholiq said recently.

Kholiq said that he had tried hard to encourage people to change their methods of farming, and had introduced cacao and carica ( family caricaceae ), a kind of papaya from Central America, to replace potatoes. He said that farmers who agreed to cultivate the two new plant species were allowed to practice intercropping between the hardwood stands. By doing so, they would be able to earn money while at the same time restore the natural environment. He hoped that by regreening Dieng, the number of tourists would increase gradually. He expressed optimism that tourism would contribute significantly to local people’s incomes.

According to the Wonosobo Cultural and Tourism Agency, tourism in the area reached its peak in the period between 1985 and 1995. Some 50,000 foreign 70,000 domestic tourists visited the area every year. The number of foreign tourists, however, fell to only 3,000 in 2002 due to the ecological damage in the region and the Bali bomb attacks.