Community Forestry Case Study 8:
The Impact of Social and Environmental Change on Forest Management: A Case Study from West Kalimantan, Indonesia

by Nancy Lee Peluso, Edited by Bernardine Atkinson


In recent years much has been learned about the dependency of people on forests for food security but much has yet to be understood so that forest policies can incorporate these aspects. Many people not only use forests but also depend upon them for their livelihoods, relying upon trees and forests for food, medicine and income. Forest and tree dependency can exist seasonally, year round or in times of crisis. People may be directly dependent on forests and trees for food or indirectly dependent because forest and tree resources provide crucial income. It is essential that the nature of dependency be well understood to make food security more assured and to provide more effective support to local people in their efforts to improve their well-being via forest and tree management.

This case study by anthropologist Nancy Peluso is the result of research which was undertaken to explore several questions: how can we better understand situations of households which depend for all or part of their livelihood on forest and tree products, how do social, political and economic events affect the degree and nature of dependency on forests, and what are the variations in dependence within, and possibly between, villages?

The monograph focuses on two forest villages in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The men and women of both villages are dependent upon their forests but the nature and extent of their dependence differs. One village clearly depends on intensively managed tree gardens while the other remains directly dependent on mature forest and forest swiddens. Various political and economic changes have had social and environmental impacts, including the creation of national reserves, the placement of transmigration sites and the siting of private plantations. All of these changes have resulted in restricted access to resources, which in turn has increased local vulnerability.

The publication of this case study was funded by the multi-donor Forests, Trees and People Trust Fund, which is devoted to increasing the sustainability of women's and men's livelihoods through self-help management of tree and forest resources. Within the FAO Forestry Department, the Programme is coordinated by Marilyn W. Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer, Forestry Policy and Planning Division.

Executive Summary

This study explores some of the ways in which socio-cultural, political, economic and environmental changes have affected West Kalimantan's swidden cultivators' resource management practices, particularly their management of forests and trees.

Field studies were undertaken in two villages over a total period of two months in 1990 and 1991. The first case study village, Bagak, is located in the Sambas District, the second, Sungai Bongkang, is in the Sanggau District of West Kalimantan. Both villages are predominantly occupied by indigenous Bornean peoples who have historically practiced swidden agriculture in old growth and secondary forest and both have traditions of planting fruit trees around their longhouses and old longhouse sites. In both villages, a variety of rights and claims to particular trees, products and land use types are recognized. These include village common property rights, descent group common property and private property.

The main difference between the villages is that Sungai Bongkang villagers remain highly dependent on their traditional old growth forest territory, while the villagers of Bagak are now more dependent on intensively managed species.

This monograph focuses primarily on how and why resource rights and patterns of forest use have changed in each village over the past 75 years.

In part, these changes are due to the two primary differences which exist between the two groups, apart from their different languages. First, their geographic locations relative to extensive mature forest and to roads, markets, schools and health services vary greatly. These differences in location have significantly influenced both the degree of commercial exploitation of particular forest and tree resources and the nature of the rights to these resources. Second, each has historically unique local experiences of the regionally significant political and economic events. These factors have helped to dictate the speed of the changes made to traditional practices.

The study helps to develop further an appreciation of the intricate web of human dependence on forest resources. As demand increases human beings are presented with a choice - that of allowing the resource to dwindle and dissipate, or to conserve that which remains by developing more sophisticated management practices.

Through an improved understanding of the responses made by swidden cultivators to a variety of socio-cultural, political and economic circumstances, we may learn how forest resources can be more equitably and sustainably managed for the future.