Indigenous forest Management Fosters Diversity

To many the term "managed forest" conjures an image of trees planted in evenly measured, well-tended rows. Such a forest could be a mixture of carefully selected varieties, or possibly a monocrop. But the people of West Kalimantan (Borneo) practice a form of forest management that refutes this clinical image. The forests of the Dayak contain and encourage such a wealth of diversity that to the untrained eye these managed forest areas are practically indistinguishable.

Upon closer observation, the cultural practices of the Dayak reveal a fairly casual, but longstanding, system of forest management. Their system appears to be based more on coexistence and respect for plant diversity, than solely economic value.

The study population, called the Daret, inhabit the village of Tae, located in Balai, West Kalimantan. Population density for Balai is 54 people/km2.

Much of the area is wooded, although forested areas are often too steep to cultivate. Slash and burn agriculture is practiced in the subdistrict, but is waning. Conversely, intensive rice farming is becoming more important. With expansion of rainfed and permanent fields for rice, use of hillsides as forests, forest gardens, and agroforestry is being intensified. The Daret distinguish three main types of managed forests, each distinct in origin of stands, management priorities, rights of access, and inheritance. Many smaller management systems exist, but the three primary ones are called tembawan, tanah adat, and tanah usaha.

Fruit Gardens

Tembawan originate as fruit tree gardens, traditionally planted in broad bands around Darek dwellings. The Darek will remain in one site until the fruit trees grow so tall that they create too much shade, which usually takes about 20 years. At that point, the Darek move and build a new house around which they plant more fruit trees. Over time, this practice has left the landscape dotted with fruit tree stands, extending over hundreds of hectares. In addition to the planted fruit trees, these stands contain spontaneous plants that were spared during weeding at fruit harvest time.

Communal Reserves

The second type of managed forests, tenah adat, are community forest reserves. Manipulation of this system includes planting trees alongside existing plants, and selective clearing during fruit harvest. These areas have not been cleared.

Forest Market Gardens

The third category of managed forests in Tae, called tanah usaha, are primarily comprised of highly marketable species. Tanah usaha contain most importantly rubber, as well as cacao and other fruits. These plots are usually a 30-year swidden-fallow. Upon clearing, plots are planted to rice. As the rice ripens, rubber and fruit trees are planted. Years later when the rubber trees lose productivity, the area is cleared and left to fallow.

Each of these three systems is distinct in origin, management, and ownership. The most important management technique is slash weeding. Controlled burning is also used. Weeding is usually done to facilitate fruit harvest rather than to remove undesirable species. Nonetheless it has the latter effect. This casual species management is an important element of traditional management systems.

Management priorities also differ. The tenah usaha are dominated by rubber and other commercial crops. Composition and species diversity can vary and the more accessible plots are usually more diverse.

Tembawang, on the other hand, are richer in fruits. They contain a wide variety of domesticated fruits, but always the melon-like durian fruit which is marketed in large quantities. These plots are clearly managed for diversity. One 10m x 200m transect of tembawang revealed 224 trees or bamboo stands, representing 44 species. Thirty of these species had edible fruit or shoots.

Daret forest managers claim to plant 74 different fruits, and can identify more than 100 species. Many of these trees are also valued for timber and medicinal use.

Ownership, access, and inheritance rights differ among systems. Villagers have equal rights to the communal tanah adat. The village elder enforces rules of access. Tembawang belong to the family that first planted them, and are passed on through children. Tanah usaha, unlike the others, are bought and sold.

Upon closer examination, the Daret forest management system becomes even more complex. Specific rules apply to different plant species. The cutting of a durian tree merits a fine paid to the community, even if the owner himself cuts the tree. Cutting any tree from tenah adat carries a heavy fine.

State and regional government offices do not acknowledge these management schemes. They see only the slash and burn and agree that they must teach the Daret, and others like them, management techniques to better expoit their resources.

If people like the Daret are to gain control over their territories, it is important that their management practices and laws are recognized. When forest resources belong to the state and only agricultural or managed resources can be claimed, it is important to focus on management rather than extraction.

The Woodlands of Tae: Traditional Forest Management in the Forest of Kalimantan. Christine Padoch. New York Botanical Garden.

Forest Gardening, June, 1991. BioScience, Vol. 41, No. 6. 373-374.