“The HMPS can act as a partner for farmers and at the same time function as a forum to monitor the forest management activities,” said Panji, adding that the agency had limited resources for monitoring considering the vast forest area of the province.The province’s social forestry acceleration working group chairman, Rujito Agus Suwignyo, said that, as of February, 135 social forestry licenses had been issued in South Sumatra.He said of the 361,890 hectares of forest to be managed under the social forestry program, only 103,692.8 ha were managed, with 15,834 families as beneficiaries.Considering the huge number of beneficiaries involved, the association has thus far proven critical in helping members group together in a forum that allows them to learn from one another.“We initiated the HMPS,” said Rujito, who is also a professor in agriculture cultivation at Sriwijaya University, adding that HMPS was worth copying in other regions.Topics : Edi Susanto of Muara Medak, South Sumatra, can now cultivate a plot of land in the village forest without being afraid of being chased by officers. Every day he works there where he plants areca nut, jelutung (Dyera costulata), pineapple and crops.He is part of a farmers group comprising 879 families. The group was handed a social forestry license from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in November 2018. With the license, it has the authority to cultivate a forest area in Dusun IV in Muara Medak village, Musi Banyuasin regency.Yet, Edi said that owning the license did not mean the farmers were free from challenges in cultivating the fields, as many of them lacked knowledge, mainly in terms of financial capital and handling post-harvest issues. “We have never harvested before. Thus far, we can only cultivate with whatever knowledge we have,” Edi said recently.South Sumatra Forestry Agency head Panji Tjahjanto said the government-run social forestry program the group was a part of was aimed at improving people’s economic independence by giving them the authority to manage forests while at the same time involving them in forest preservation and protection. The program is also expected to help them control land conflicts.Panji said that raising capital had been a challenge for social forestry farmers in the province. Although funds were accessible through the micro credit program (KUR) at banks, most farmers did not have knowledge on the requirements needed to access the KUR, such as a business plan, he said.Assistance in accessing the KUR can be obtained through the Association of Social Forestry People (HMPS). Established on Feb. 13, it is said to be the first association of its kind in the country.