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Traditional farming technique preserves soil, forest in Kalimantan

A kekalik fruit tree grows in an agroforestry plot in West Kalimantan. Photo by Andi Fachrizal.

A kekalik fruit tree grows in a “dahas” agroforestry plot in West Kalimantan. Photo by Andi Fachrizal.

The road winds five kilometers through a thick canopy of trees before ending abruptly at a stream and a small, stout wooden cabin in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Amid, the cabin’s owner, proudly explains that he constructed it from local hardwoods—high value trees still readily available in the surrounding hills.

Several years ago, Amid, a native Dayak, chose to move with his wife and family to this remote location in the forest, some distance away from his village, Petebang Jaya. Here, he grows or constructs most everything he needs. The few necessities that can’t be made or harvested from the forest he purchases during infrequent trips to town.

“Before, this area was a rice field. After the grain was harvested, we opened new land for rice, and planted the old field with fruit, rubber, and timber tree species,” Amid says, explaining what the locals call “dahas”—or managed forestry. “And this is the result: the forest remains intact.”

Petebang Jaya abuts lush forest in West Kalimantan. Photo by Andi Fachrizal.

Instead of abandoning fields after nutrients are diminished and productivity declines, farmers in this region replant them with a variety of fruit and timber species. These trees produce food and eventually lumber, while they regenerate the soil for future crops. After five to ten years the trees are cut and the area will be replanted with rice.

“For hundreds of years, our people have managed the forest like this,” says Amid. “My children already have families, and have their own dahas. We feel that the dahas are like our surrogate grandchildren—that is, it would be a sin to abandon them.”

Amid, like the other residents of Petebang Jaya, is keenly aware of the relationship between the forest, water quality and sustainable agriculture. He says that it is important to keep the land and water quality high in order to grow the rice upon which his village depends. To that end, the dahas serve as investment banks for the future.

As of June 2014, Indonesia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, with 840,000 hectares of forest lost in 2012 alone. According to Global Forest Watch, West Kalimantan – where Petebang Jaya is located – has been severely affected by plantation development and logging, with most of its standing primary forest now degraded. It should be noted that not all tree cover loss (pink) on the map represents deforestation; it also incorporates plantation harvesting. Click to enlarge.

The areas of forest that have been traditionally managed are abundant with a variety of fruit, ensuring that something can be harvested at nearly all times throughout the year. Some of the trees grew naturally and are cultivated to maximize production, while others were planted to enhance productivity.

There are currently 616 people living at Petebang Jaya. Collectively, the village manages 6,600 hectares of high conservation value (HCV) land. Through careful management, the community has divided the area into agricultural zones, rubber forests, fruit forests, and natural forest. In one area above the village, where springs flow year round, it is forbidden to disturb the forest in any way.

The residents of Petebang Jaya understand the need to protect the land to ensure that the spring flows. They understand the need to replant farmlands to keep the system in balance. They have a connection to, and understanding of the land rarely comprehended by outsiders. They live sustainably, continuing the practices established hundreds of years ago by their ancestors: take what one needs, maintain the diversity, and manage the forest for future generations.

SOURCE: Fachrizal, Andi. Dahas, Inilah Bank Hutan untuk Menjaga Sumber Air Kehidupan. Mongabay-Indonesia. September 17, 2014.



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