Conservation news

Cultivated forests play important economic and ecological role in Indonesia

Cultivated forests play important economic and ecological role in Indonesia

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,

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:

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

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 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.