Farwiza Farhan was ten years old when her family went on a road trip across the west coast of Aceh. There were beautiful, rugged mountains on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. It was the most beautiful scenery she had ever seen. Her curiosity had her wondering about how to get to certain ecosystems that were far away and asked why she couldn’t go there. Her uncle told her there were no roads to those destinations.
This innocent question was a foreshadowing of her life as a nature conservationist.
Her youth was spent climbing trees and watching documentaries that intensified her passion for nature. Farhan dreamed of creating botanical gardens that brought species from all around the world to live in her front yard. This passion inspired her to study marine biology, which led her to work for a government agency that oversaw managing and protecting the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra.
It was here that she learned about the unregulated exploitation of forests, and this is when she realized that those roads that didn’t exist when she was a child were now created to bring destruction. Roads open access to illegal logging, large-scale expansion of agriculture, and for poachers to come in and take or kill wildlife.
When the governor at the time decided to dissolve her job, Farhan and some of her colleagues banded together to form HAkA. An Aceh-based NGO, HAkA stands for Hutan, Alam dan Lingkungan Aceh, meaning “Forest, Nature, and Environment of Aceh.”
HAkA’s mission is to assemble an empowered civil society whose members come together to contribute to the wellbeing of the rainforest. They achieve this by active participation to help protect and sustain the clean air, water, and earth, which are vital for the community’s development, resulting in a safer and stable forest for generations to come. In addition, they also bring the fight for nature into the courtrooms.
The Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh, Indonesia, is a 2.6 million-hectare forest that straddles the border of North Sumatra and Aceh provinces in Sumatra. It is one of the largest contiguous intact rainforests in the whole Southeast and is the last place on Earth where species like elephants, tigers, orangutans, and rhinoceros coexist.
When a palm oil company was in violation of land rights and illegal use of fires to burn and clear carbon-rich peatlands for development, Farhan and her team got involved. They achieved one of the greatest advantages for the Leuser Ecosystem by winning a legal victory against a concessionaire for palm oil production and secured an unprecedented amount of $26 million dollars to repair the forest.
In addition, HAkA also worked to repeal a hydropower dam that would run right through the habitat of the endangered Sumatran elephant.
HAkA works to empower communities that live on the frontlines of conservation work, believing anyone can be an activist. By inspiring these communities, they have launched multiple campaigns with grassroots environmental leaders.
Farhan’s work ranges from focusing on ground level species protection to high-level advocacy and managing the day-to-day of current campaigns. She has deployed a Wildlife Protection Team to destroy snares and intercept poachers in addition to a Mobile Monitoring Unit that tracks wildlife and forest crime to increase prosecution rates.
In 2016, Farhan was recognized for her impact on community conservation when she won the Whitley Award, which is known as the ‘Green Oscars’ for conservationists.
Farhan also serves as an Advisor to One Earth and Daughters For Earth.
In 2022, TIME magazine named Farhan a leader in Time 100 list, which recognizes 100 rising stars from across industries and around the world. In this piece, the world-famous conservationist Jane Goodall wrote about Farhan's dedication to education, forestry, agriculture, and education in the Leuser Ecosystem.