|“Dr. Willie Smits is a rainforest inventor who has revolutionized reforestation techniques and policies worldwide and is also the world’s most prominent protector of orangutans and their natural habitat.” Ashoka Fellowship
Dr. Willie Smits is a Dutch-born Indonesian environmentalist. He studied tropical forestry, tropical soil science and genetics for his Master of Science degree at Agricultural University, Wageningen in The Netherlands, where he also earned a doctorate in Environmental Sciences. Since 1980, Dr. Smits has been working in South East Asia, predominantly Indonesia.
Throughout the 1990s, Dr. Smits became gradually more involved with animal conservation and environmental activism. As director of the Gibbon Foundation, and in cooperation with local entities, he initiated more than one hundred conservation projects. These included opening several of the world’s largest animal rescue centres that collectively took in thousands of animals, representing over a hundred different protected species. He also founded the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), with centres in East and Central Kalimantan, to release hundreds of orangutans back into the wild. BOS has become the largest primate rehabilitation project in the world because there is still a great need—unfortunately— to help these innocent collateral victims of deforestation. More recently, Dr. Smits founded the Sintang Orangutan Centre Foundation in the interior of West Kalimantan.
From 1992 to 1998, Dr. Smits was the personal advisor to the Minister of Forestry in the Indonesian government, working on reforestation using local tree species; and also animal conservation, particularly orangutans. He has been a member of various national committees for sustainable forest management, eco-labeling, carbon offset projects and forestry research. He also advised the Indonesian parliament on forestry issues and, more recently, on energy issues.
In 2001, Dr. Smits founded the Masarang Foundation to support research on ways to preserve and protect nature through the empowerment of local people. Masarang Foundations based in The Netherlands and Masarang Society Hong Kong soon followed. Much of the focus has been on the optimal utilization of the sugar palms as an environmentally-friendly alternative to the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, which dramatically reduce biodiversity and adversely impact local communities.
Dr. Smits set up the world’s first Arenga palm sugar factory and developed zero waste systems for small communities living near forests (e.g., sugar palm-based village hubs, in part funded by a National Geography Energy Award; and integrated village Illipe nut mini-factories).
Dr. Smits was made a senior fellow of Ashoka, a global organization of social entrepreneurs, for his work to create sustainable income sources for local people from these mixed forest ecosystems.
Since 2012, Dr. Smits has been the director of an almost half-million acre reforestation concession in East Kalimantan where he has expanded his research in:
Developing systems for mixed reforestation.
Dr. Smits is also the founder and designer of the Schmutzer Primate centre in Jakarta, the world’s largest. He has designed other similar compounds throughout Indonesia, such as the Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue centre in North Sulawesi, and eco-lodges, such as the Samboja Lodge, to demonstrate how mixed reforestation can benefit the environment and local people.
Dr. Smits has lectured in dozens of different countries at universities and conferences such as TED. In 2008 he co-authored the book Thinkers of the Jungle. His work has been featured in more than 50 documentaries and in hundreds of publications.
Dr. Smits has received many awards for his work, including the prestigious “Satya Lencana Pembangunan” (Hero for the development of Indonesia award) from the president of Indonesia; and was knighted in The Netherlands for his conservation efforts.