Cultivated forests play important economic and ecological role in Indonesia
May 17, 2005
Old growth tropical forests are valuable and irreplaceable ecosystems that house the majority of Earth’s known terrestrial biological diversity. While these forests are rapidly disappearing, they are not necessarily being completely cleared without replacement. In some regions, primary forests are being replaced with “cultivated forests” or “forest gardens,” where useful trees are planted on farmlands after the removal of pre-existing natural forests. A new report Domesticating forests: How farmers manage forest resources by Geneviève Michon explores the characteristics and implications of these forests in Indonesia.
It is important to understand that “cultivated forests” are not “secondary forests,” plantations, or home gardens. The authors note,
“Unlike conventional forest plantations, which are physiognomically and ecologically quite distinct from natural forests,
these forests cultivated by smallholder farmers in the tropics do look like natural forests. But they are more than just
managed forests. They are not the result of any integration of economic tree species in natural forests through gradual
planting. They have evolved from the total clearing of the natural forest vegetation, usually through slash-and-burn agriculture,
and the planting of selected tree species on the cleared plot. They are socially defined by bundles of rights that clearly differ
from those concerning natural forests.”
Michon estimate that in Indonesia, these forests comprise a total of 6 million to 8 million hectares, generally extending between open farmlands and natural forests in blocks covering tens of thousands of hectares
Michon uses several examples of cultivated forests in southeast Asia to conclude what qualities make this form of agriculture an attractive alternative to forest extraction or specialized forest plantations:
On the island of Java, lands not under forestry regulations often bear more trees than forest lands’. These trees are
managed in forests planted by farmers. In many areas of Sumatra and Borneo the last patches of dense forest are located
on farmlands and constitute cultivated forest and agroforests, whereas natural forests are being overlogged or converted.
In the eastern lowlands of Sumatra, rubber forests planted during the twentieth century by swidden farmers constitute the
last large reservoir of forest biodiversity. All of Indonesia’s exported damar resin (an important non-timber forest product’
from Dipterocarps, the major constituents of South-east Asian forests) comes from cultivated dipterocarp forests.
The report notes that in many parts of the region, the majority of sustainable use occurs not in natural forest but in these cultivated forests. This is important given both the depletion of natural forests and that fact that these “cultivated forests” provide many of the ecological benefits of natural forests while generating economic returns for their managers/cultvators.
In Indonesia, in economic terms, “cultivated forests” provide
- 80% of the processed and exported rubber latex,
- 80% of the dipterocarp resin
- 95% of the benzoin resin
- 60% to 75% of the main tree spices (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg)
- about 95% of the various fruits and nuts sold in the country
- a significant propotion of bamboos, small cane rattan, fuel wood, handicraft material and medicinal plants traded or used domestically.
Ecologically, “cultivated forests” preserve many forest functions including soil protection and erosion reducton; the regulation of water flows; the maintenance of a significant proportion of original forest biodiversity; and the ongoing production of renewable forest products like timber, game, resins, fibers, medicines, and fruit and nuts.
Despite the economic and ecological value of these forests, their existence is not guaranteed under some legal systems. Often, “cultivated forests” are classified as “natural forests” and therefore they are essentially consider public lands. As such, they can be concessioned off to forest developers and the rights to use of small farmerholders are frequently ignored.
The report argues that it is critical for cultivated forests to be recognized as distinct entities apart from “natural forests” to both protect the rights of local users and ensure the ongoing economic and ecological functions these important lands.
The full report is available at http://www.cifor.cgiar.org/publications/pdf_files/Books/BMichon0501E1.pdf. The report was sponsored by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Center for International Forestry Research, and The World Agroforestry Centre.
This article used information and excepts from documents found on the CIFOR web site.