What makes a difference in each individual’s life? – Purpose and Impact. Be inspired with the story of a forestry student who had his first international travel experience at age 16 and has traveled to 20 countries in less than 4 years.

Alex Onatunji (North African Regional representative) conducted this interview on on July 7, 2019 through whatsapp.

Can you introduce yourself?

Good evening from here everyone! My name is Mahtuf Ikhsan. I am currently in the third year of my undergraduate study in the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) Indonesia. My research topics are forest management, forest policy, and governance. I am currently IFSA LO for CIFOR which is based in Bogor and last year I was Head of Publications Sub Commission or the Editor-in-Chief of IFSA World Tree News. I am looking forward to a fruitful discussion with all of you. I am recently 20 years old and maybe we are on the same stage of life.

How many years are your undergraduate studies in Indonesia?

Its 4 years. I will be graduating next year.

Did you intend to study forestry initially?

I started to study forestry because i liked biology in my elementary school. After that, I went to Forestry Vocational School. This school is like the high school for students but specifically on forestry subject. When i was in the second year of my vocational school, I attend The 43rd IFSS 2016 in the Philippines at 16 years old. I was surprised that I was the only child at the symposium. Continuing from that event, I was passionate to learn more about forestry and took the subject again on the university degree level.

Can you tell us a bit about the struggle between Oil Palms and Forests in Indonesia?

Oil palm and Indonesian forests are currently the hot issues that are happening inside and outside the nation. We are struggling to increase our economic growth, while also conserving the remaining forests. Our government is currently taking action to combat oil palm problem by making a round table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as a required guideline for companies to open an oil palm plantation. This document is directing the private companies to allocate around 30% of their whole concession area to be conserved as natural forest. By implementing RSPO, we hope that we can pass the WTO standard on eco-friendly production of palm oil. There are around 150 oil palm companies now doing business in Indonesia who passed the certification.

You began winning the international essay competition since 2017, what prompted you to write?

The reason why I started to join an essay competition is my passion for journalism. I became a green student journalist when I was in a vocational school for a local newspaper in my city. And then, I was willing to enlarge my skill in the essay competition.

When did you begin writing and competing?

Approximately it was in 2014, I started my first essay competition in the mid of 2016. It was a national contest with the nuclear topic.

Many students from our region want to have an international experience like you have, what advice would you give to them on writing essays?

My pieces of advice are

1. Take as much as pieces of literature that you can read

2. Please take a deep meaning of your title.

3. Organize clearly the structures of your essay.

4. Insert one of the real examples from your chosen topic. It is best if you can pick it up from your personal activities or experiences.

5. Finish it with the bright or promising sentences that your words are really applicable or benefit able for our life.

You travel internationally an average of twice a month, how do you balance your academics?

It is really hard to balance my academics and extracurricular activities. But, these are my tips:

1. Prioritize the important academic schedule one such as exams than your personal activities.

2. I always take an additional class to replace the lost academic time when I leave the campus. So, no worries for GPA!

3. I often make an appointment with my lecturers to consult about study parts that I don’t understand it thoroughly.

4. Make a daily plan.

Many students are ridiculed by their peers because of studying forestry. What is the perception of society and government on studying forestry in Indonesia?

At the year 1945 – 2000, studying forestry was a great opportunity because many of the forest areas are still remaining. So, forestry subject was still at the favorite at that time. But now, it has been a slightly decline in prospective students interest to take forestry subject. This is different from the government while the government takes serious attention to forestry education in order to produce the next forester who will keep the forest sustainably. So, there are many scholarships now in my country targeting forestry students across the nation both from the government and private sectors.

How many essay award have you received?

I have obtained around 12 essay competition awards and prizes.

And can you tell us some of the countries you have visited too?

I have visited 20 countries which include France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, USA, Mexico, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Russia and Singapore.

What roles do parents and peers play in your career and development?

My parents and peers play a critical role in the development of myself. They always support me and be a comfortable place to share my thoughts or stories whenever and wherever.

How supportive has your University or Lecturer been to you?

My university especially my department and faculty often give me full funding support to attend the international conferences or competitions. In the case of partial funding, I got the rest of the funding from foundation or companies that is related to forestry.

Can you share a bit of your experience serving IFSA? And what are the exciting things you have done through your positions?

I am the co-founder of IFSA World Tree News in 2016 with Meike Siegner from LC UBC. After that, I served as Editor-in-Chief of IFSA World Tree News who coordinated all the submitted articles and published it on social media. Now, I am working as LO for CIFOR with some tasks already finished such as finalizing new IFSA-CIFOR MoU 2019-2024 and created IFSA-CIFOR weekly discussion in the headquarters.

What are some of the impacts your work has made that you are proud of?

I am proud of IFSA World Tree News which is continuing until today and sharing forestry students stories from all over the world. Moreover, the IFSA-CIFOR weekly discussion namely “[email protected]” is currently working and still giving the chances for forestry students to learn from the experts.

Do you have an idea of scholarships for International students willing to study forestry at Masters level in Indonesia?

You can check KNB scholarships or Darmasiswa. It is for African students.

Mahtuf Ikhsan what advice would you give to students of forestry like you?

Be the best version of yourself. Don’t hesitate to try something out way your capacity. Be brave to try something even it is impossible first, but finally you can find the true way to reach it now or someday,  As forestry student, you can also participate in many non-forestry events as this activity will expand your knowledge and networking and 3. Explore many opportunities also for your area (forestry). Good bye everyone.

Editor’s note: Personally, I once told students to “accept in your heart that you are studying forestry and want to make an impact and living through it” and when asked if there are any Future prospects for individual forestry student?, I do respond this way – The response is Yes and many are available to those who can discern them; Sit back and evaluate which aspect(s) of forestry that interest you and prepare to take future opportunities in them and DECIDE early, START early and SUCCEED early enough! Mahtuf Ikhsan is a shining example, challenge and inspiration to us all!

This report was written by Alex B. Onatunji, Northern Africa Regional Representative of the International Forestry Students Association. He can be reached via [email protected]; [email protected] and +2348102394713.