The heir to the British throne Prince Charles joined forest conservationists in restoring the ailing forest and ecosystem in Jambi province Sunday.
During his 90-minute visit, the Prince of Wales planted a Billian tree (eusideroxylon zwageri, also known as Borneo ironwood), a critically endangered endemic tree species.
Charles, accompanied by Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban, had to walk along a dirty path to visit the tree nurseries and talked to indigenous people living near the forest.
"The visit shows Princes Charles' commitment to saving the rainforest," the minister said. "Charles also praised the rich biodiversity of the Jambi forest."
The Prince of Wales arrived in Indonesia on Saturday, touching down in Jambi on Sunday morning. The prince is not accompanied by his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on this trip to Indonesia, his second since 1996. He did not issue a press statement Sunday.
The forest restoration project was jointly initiated by a consortium of local NGOs, Burung Indonesia, the London-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International. The prince plays no official role in the consortium.
The Harapan Rainforest project, said to be the world's first forest restoration, covers 101,000 hectares of low-lying forest in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces. More than half the area has been degraded during the past 30 years.
The Forestry Ministry granted the consortium a concession certificate for the forest restoration in April this year, thus prohibiting developers from cutting down the forest's remaining trees.
"The concession holders will restore the forest by planting trees and saving the forest's biodiversity. Forest restoration projects form a new model for healing our rainforests," Kaban said.
About 15 Sumatran tigers are believed to live in the forest, along with 69 endangered bird species, including the rhinoceros hornbill, according to Burung Indonesia chairwoman Professor Ani Mardiastuti.
BirdLife International said the consortium would trade carbon credits from the forest to finance the project.
Head of BirdLife International's global program department Dieter Hoffmann said the group was exploring the possibility of adopting the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism, an alternative emissions cutting scheme adopted at the Bali climate change conference last year.
He said the forest could absorb up to five millions tons of carbon per year.
"The total carbon absorbed by the project is equal to the annual emissions of Manchester," he said.
"We hope in long term, REDD could be used to finance forest management to ensure sustainability of the restoration project."
Forest carbons in the voluntary market are valued at US$3 per ton.
He said the consortium had set up a trust fund to raise money from potential donors, including companies and individuals from both Indonesia and overseas, which would be used to restore the forest.
RSPB chief executive Graham Wynne said Indonesia, with its 120 million hectares of forest, could play a major role in protecting rainforests and cutting global emissions.
"This trailblazing project will show how a precious site like Harapan rainforest can be preserved for wildlife and for people whose livelihood depends on the rainforest and how this can be used to cut the world's greenhouse gas emissions," he said.