Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

The Riam Kiwa and the Ela Hulu: Contrasts and similarities in study sites

There are several fundamental differences between the two areas selected for detailed study. First to be considered is their ethnic mix, relative remoteness, and exposure to outside influences. Although all upland areas in Kalimantan have problems of access in the wettest months, the Riam Kiwa valley and its associated villages, from its period as a princely appanage estate for the Banjarmasin sultanate (pre-1860), have always been within reasonable distance of the centres of administration in South Kalimantan and reported upon regularly. The furthest village studied in detail by Potter is about 140 km by road, east of Banjarmasin. The valley was the site in 1938 of one of the first colonization schemes (precursors of transmigration), bringing Madurese to settle the grassy uplands. During the 1960s, Javanese also began moving into the area - refugees from failed transmigration attempts in the tidal swamps. There remain hill (Bukit) Dayak in the mountainous and forested upper reaches of the river, but indigenous Banjarese are dominant over the rest of the valley, where they have lived in permanent villages for many generations. There are growing minorities of Madurese and Javanese, including spontaneous arrivals joining established friends or relatives. A number of entirely Madurese villages now exist in the lower valley, offshoots of the original settlement with additions from Madura. Although some of the Dayak groups in the mountains still practice animism, the population of the Riam Kiwa valley may otherwise be described as completely Islamic.

The second district is more remote. It lies about 320 km east-southeast of Pontianak (West Kalimantan), the Ela Hulu river forming a tributary of the Melawi. Travel to the area from Pontianak used to be via the Kapuas and Melawi rivers, which would take several days. A road connection between Pontianak and Sintang has improved the situation, but there is no regular public transport beyond the small market town of Nanga Pinoh on the Melawi (also served by light aircraft). Private speedboats and logging trucks provide access, but the former are expensive and the latter unreliable. The area has suffered from isolation, at least in terms of local people's movement to and knowledge of other districts, and in the entry of government services. However, Malay and Chinese merchants have always been active, particularly in the small towns.

If anything, there was more offlcial knowledge of the district in Dutch times, as the "Pinohlands," which formerly belonged to South and East Borneo, were directly administered by the Dutch from 1894. The Ela Hulu lies just outside this region and remained nominally under the Sultan of Sintang, although these Dayak groups were classified by Enthoven (1903) as "Mardaheka," meaning free, as opposed to "Serah" Dayaks, who had closer links with the sultanate, including the need to pay taxes. The population mix now indudes Melayu (Malay) villages along the Melawi river, and Islamicized Dayaks who regard themselves as orang ulu, interior people (Sellato, 1986). In the Ela Hulu itself, people are Limbai, Kenyilu, and Ransa Dayak (Potter, fieldwork, 1992). The villages are long established, with several appearing in Enthoven (1903), which reflects the situation existing between 1885 and 1890 when he observed them in the field. Dayak groups now are nominally Christian, but animistic beliefs and adat rules are still strong.

There are some differences in the condition and age of the grasslands. The lower Riam Kiwa basin appeared to have been largely deforested by 1893, according to the geologist Hooze (1893). A comparison of available maps dated 1926 and 1972 indicated considerable grassland incursion into the upper valley over the latter period. By 1982, when Potter first observed the Riam Kiwa, not only was the alang-alang very extensive, it appeared very well established, with only a few trees able to persist in deeper valleys. Chromolaena odorata, a weed introduced in the 1940s, formed a dense thicket along the forest edge but did not invade the main expanse of grassland. Earlier government attempts at reforestation had left a few straggling eucalypts as survivors. In his description of the neighbour ing Riam Kanan watershed, regarded as a higher priority for reforestation because of the existence of an important reservoir, Dove (1986) noted that Banjarese actively sabotaged the strips of Pinus merkusii planted through the Imperata, because they felt that they would receive no benefit from land planted in trees by the government. Since 1990 the transformation of much of the upper Riam Kiwa district into forest plantations (HTI) has brought about a decline in the area of grassland. It will be interesting to see whether this transformation is permanent.

Although the alang-alang in the Ela Hulu is also extensive, it appears more recent than much of that of the Riam Kiwa. Not only do stretches of secondary forest persist, especially further inland from the Melawi river, but the grass itself is mixed with trees, especially keleban (Vitex pubescens), which has the advantage of being fireresistant. There is no Chromolaena in the area. Village oral history suggests that more grassland began to make its appearance during and after World War II, gradually extending inland from the river. A village 28 km inland, near the forest edge, partially blamed the drought of 1982/83 with its accompanying fires for the present appearance of the landscape. The grassland here seems to lie on the eastward boundary of a gradually extending block. Historical accounts of the 1920s suggested an already alarming extent of grassland (about 200,000 ha) in the whole district of Sintang, though undifferentiated as to precise region. It was claimed that this resulted from the soil-exhausting methods of the people, accompanied by repeated burning (Schuitemaker, 1932).

The final difference between the two research sites is the amount of data available. Potter worked in the Riam Kiwa at intervals from 1983 to 1986, studying a sample of farmers in three villages of different ethnic background and agricultural system: Banjarese, Javanese, and Madurese. The same farmers were visited over four cropping seasons and information was assembled on various aspects of both farm economy and ecology, while historical sources were collected from archives in Holland and Jakarta (Potter, 1987a, 1987b). A short follow-up visit was made to the district in 1991 to observe the impact of reforestation activities.

The Ela Hulu was studied for three weeks in October 1992 (Potter, 1992). Material presented here is drawn from that visit, plus a much briefer and therefore incomplete look at historical sources for the district. For these reasons some questions remain unanswered and the likelihood of errors in interpretation is greater. Nevertheless, it is of interest as an example of a Dayak area on an expanding frontier of alang-alang, and a population whose situation was considered so "critical" during the 1982/83 drought that a large, newly arrived logging company decided to "improve" the existing farming system.

The historical record

Riam Kiwa

Many shifting-cultivation sites, when viewed from the air, reveal a mosaic of forest at differing stages of regrowth and often include small patches of grassland, but really extensive alang-alang fields may be symptomatic of much wider and longer-lasting disturbance. A1though it is known that the western Meratus foothills were used to grow pepper for export in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forest regrowth would be likely to have later recolonized most former cultivation sites, unless they were deliberately maintained. Cattle in earlier times simply ran free, with individuals being rounded up for slaughter to mark special occasions. The practice of burning the grass at the end of the dry season to provide fresh feed might have been instrumental in removing remaining tree seeds from some areas and ensuring the perpetuation of alang-alang. Hunting activities that focused on deer (not forbidden to Muslims) also involved firing the grasslands. Contemporary hunting practices are of minor importance, but, as both the Riams (Kiwa and Kanan) were apanage lands pre1860 for nobles of the Banjarmasin sultanate, hunting might then have led to annual burning of areas not far from the site of the palace at Martapura. At that time, pressure on the foothills would have been light and some kind of forest cover likely to be retained.

Droughts in the late 1870s, and again in the 1880s, which caused outmigration from the main agricultural district of the Hulu Sungai, probably signalled a build-up of population seeking farming sites in the mountains. Hooze (1893) noted that large parts of "the Riams" were at that time under alang-alang. This was in contrast to the position in 1869, when mining engineer Verbeek (1875) complained of the "extraordinarily luxuriant vegetation" that impeded his survey. Hooze (1893: 22) described "ever-increasing deforestation" caused by the laying out of dry fields "for which over large areas the forest is felled and burnt and by the enormous field and bush fires which in the dry season sometimes cover the whole of the divisions of Martapura and Banjarmasin with smoke." Schophuys (1933) noted the introduction of smallholder cash-cropping, particularly tobacco and pepper, during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Both were grown in a shifting system, with a year or two of rice being followed by some years of tobacco or pepper, until falling yields necessitated relocation. Pepper plants were supported by ironwood stakes, which caused rapid cutting of this tree, once very common at the lower end of the Riam Kiwa valley. Hooze commented that there was little ironwood left along the river, where it had been plentiful a few years before. It is particularly this type of cash-cropping that would leave alang-alang in its wake.

The next big rush of people into the foothills area seems to have occurred from about 1906 (when the last tobacco estate in the Hulu Sungai closed and its accompanying employment ceased), through the drought of 1914, and during World War I, when interruptions to the rice trade brought local shortages. New waves of people, many from the southern Hulu Sungai, sought swidden sites in the uplands. Government officers complained that, unlike the Dayaks, Banjarese would not protect young secondary growth from fire. Vergonwen (1916) noted a "spreading plague of alang-alang," which had occurred over the previous 10 years. Perhaps people were also deliberately assisting the spread of grassland at the time. There were 617 cattle, "running day and night in the alang-alang fields without supervision" (Berkholst, 1913), while seasonal hunting of deer was also practiced. The population outside the mountainous Dayak areas was around 8,500 in 1913, which is below one-third of its present number. Comparison of vegetation maps for the Riam Kiwa dated 1926 and 1972 reveals a notable increase in alang-alang for the upper valley, as secondary forest has gradually been displaced.

It was not entirely a one-way process, however, as large amounts of rubber were planted from about 1913, to be substituted during the 1930s with fruit trees, especially bananas. The Dutch authorities also attempted reforestation, particularly in the upper valley, insisting that shifting cultivators must protect an equivalent area of grassland from fire and seed it with fast-growing trees. Extensive areas of such regrowth were noted in 1938 (Van Soelen and Razoux Schultz, 1938) and it was observed that this offered hope for the future (Wentholt, 1938). Various other controls were instituted, including the creation of a large forest reserve area, in which cutting was to be forbidden, and restriction on further movement of Banjarese up the valley into Dayak lands.

By 1929 people had begun to develop grassland farming techniques. Betterthan-average soils in some hilly areas could be cultiv ated for periods of five years, as against the single year that was normal for forest fields. One Javanese immigrant was seen using a plough to turn the grass sod, an activity quite foreign to Banjarese. In 1938, following the appointment of an agricultural officer to the district, this grassland farming was studied in detail. Gerlach (1938) described a number of different methods, of which the main two were the Banjarese system and the Javanese/Madurese system. The Banjarese would use their scythe-shaped hoe or tajak to peel a layer of grass, together with part of its rhizome system, from the ground. The rhizomes would be broken up and spread over the surface to suppress new grass growth and a catch crop of cassava or rice would be planted. Such activities were usually a prelude to the establishment of pepper gardens, but required fairly intensive weeding for cultivation to succeed. The Javanese would use the cangkul for shallow hoeing, followed by deeper hoeing some days later. This system was usually quite successful in suppressing grass growth. It could be replaced by a plough, enabling a larger area to be worked. Gerlach (1938) stated that Banjarese found the double-hoeing system too labour intensive, but sometimes hired Javanese to do it. These fields were destined eventually to become fruit-tree gardens after a few crops of rice.

In all these cultivations, a permanent crop was envisaged as the end point because that was regarded as proof of land ownership. Among the Dayaks, the original feller of primary forest had ownership rights, but, with the rapid disappearance of the forest and the withdrawal of the original Dayak owners into more remote districts, such rights tended to lapse. Anybody could clear grassland with the approval of the village head. It was up to the individual to prove permanence by growing a long-term crop. Such a way of claiming rights over grassland is still current today, although earlier claims may sometimes still surface.

The establishment in 1938 of a Madurese grassland-based colonization settlement on the best soils began the further ethnic diversification of the area. Madurese were chosen because of their dryfarming experience and it was hoped that such a settlement would prove a useful model for local farmers. Cattle were to be used for ploughing and to assist in fertility maintenance, while it was expected that the steep hillsides would be terraced to avoid erosion (Kolonisatie Bulletin, 1939). Four hundred colonists arrived just before the Japanese invasion. They somehow survived the difficult years of the war, quickly establishing daughter settlements on nearby hills.

During the war the Dutch restrictions on burning and rules for reforestation were forgotten and it is certain that grassland expanded. The weed Chromolaena odorata entered the district during this period and is locally named "Japanese weed." (Dove, 1984, provides discussion of the local mythology surrounding this plant.) It proved capable of shading out the grass on shifting-cultivation sites and, being easy to clear, was seen as a boon by farmers. Zaman gerombolan (bandit time) followed during the 1950s, when the upper valley was partly depopulated. People were forced to move to nearby towns, their villages being destroyed so that Ibnu Hajar's men could not find sustenance there. Some more remote villages never regained their former populations. Reduction of human pressure on the area may have produced a resurgence of secondary forest, which disappeared again as numbers built up. The likely importance of particular dry years, such as 1972 and 1982/83, in extending the grassland through more widespread burning must also be borne in mind.

The major fact to emerge from the historical record of the Riam Kiwa is that whereas the lower valley has experienced long-term development of alang-alang, which has remained stable as the predominant vegetation, the secondary forest-grassland boundary in the upper valley may well have fluctuated from 1926 to 1972, though showing an overall retreat of forest. Although successful reforestation can lead to a shading out of alang-alang, this must be constantly maintained. Human pressure has also fluctuated, with the indigenous population now stable or declining. Population increases have certainly occurred in the lower valley, in particular through the influx of Madurese and Javanese. In areas of the upper valley directly affected by logging operations, there was an in-migration along the logging roads, when the extraction was at its peak, of forest workers, sawmill employees, and pioneer agriculturalists, many of whom lived in grassland villages. When Potter visited one such village in 1983, there was much new activity, with a large sawmill in full operation and farmers opening the alang-alang along the road and planting rice and cash crops such as peanuts, pepper, and bananas. Many transmigrants were among these pioneer settlers. In 1991 the concessionaire and the sawmill had gone and the bridges on the road had been allowed to fall into disrepair. A few farmers still persisted but the ephemeral settlers had disappeared, as had the accompanying shops and other services. The alang-alang had returned and all was quiet.

Ela Hulu

In his two-volume work on West Kalimantan, Enthoven (1903) includes a detailed study of the Melawi basin, with all of its major tributaries, which he visited at some time between 1885 and 1890, then updated with statistical and other information to about 1896. Of interest is his description of the vegetation in the Ela Hulu, which he noted as being "low forest and shrubs," with scattered ladangs. The original forest was said to have all disappeared as a result of shifting cultivation. However, high forest was still common nearby in the Schwaner mountains. There was no mention of alang-alang in the area, although Malay settlers along the river were said to use the grass for roof thatch, whereas Dayaks preferred bark or ironwood shingles. Also of importance is the fact that both Dayaks and Melayu were reported to raise cattle, which were not tended but allowed to run free, finding feed on the outskirts of the village. Although deliberate creation of grassland fields was not discussed, it is likely that this was in fact done, unless the grass simply grew in open areas around the villages. The Melawi was said to be unusual in its large number of cattle, around 1,400 in total. The middle Melawi was described as the best populated section of the region, with fertile soil and generally good harvests. The Limbai Dayaks were known for both their dry padi cultivation and their collection of forest products such as rattan, gaharu, and illipe nuts, which were sent to Nanga Pinch. Hunger years did nevertheless occur; Enthoven reported that there had been two of these in the 10 years prior to his visit, in which people had died of want.

Cattle-raising, associated as it is with annual burning of alang-alang, has been blamed for the present extent of grassland in the Ela Hulu and similar areas of the middle Melawi. Both Uljee (1925) and Ozinga (1940) wrote of cattle-raising as being unimportant in West Kalimantan except in a very few areas, in which the Pinoh lands and part of the Melawi stand out as exceptions. Uljee specifically noted that the only place where one would find grass sufficient for cattle feed was on a few sites where garrisons had formerly existed; the Pinoh lands was one such area, but the middle Melawi was not. In 1932 the Dutch administrator Scheuer (1932) considered there was not much worth reporting about cattle-raising, although the Melawi and Pinoh lands had the largest livestock numbers for the Sintang district - a total of 1,863. Before the 1930s depression, Madurese regularly brought cattle into the area, travelling in their own boats from Madura. A further clue is furnished by Kuik (1936) who noted that the largest amount of rubber for the Sintang region was in the Melawi district, chiefly in the hands of Melayu. Cattle were allowed to run free in the rubber holdings, which stretched along the river banks. The inference is that the cattle were mainly owned by Melayu, because all writers noted by way of contrast that Dayaks possessed pigs. These circumstantial pieces of evidence support the stories of local informants that the spread of the grasslands as far as the Ela Hulu, which local Dayaks blame on the cattle-keeping practices of the Melayu, is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Current farming systems in the alang-alang

The Riam Kiwa

In fieldwork between 1983 and 1986, Potter studied the agricultural practices of Banjarese, Madurese, and Javanese farmers in the Riam Kiwa valley. Although the Banjarese system was forest based and technically shifting cultivation (fallow periods being longer than cultivation periods), it was fairly intensive, with a subsistence crop of dry rice being followed by cash crops of peanuts and bananas before the plot was fallowed for about five years. Some areas of grassland were utilized by wealthier farmers, who hired Javanese ploughing teams to prepare the land, there being no cows in the village owned by Banjarese. One or two Javanese were also trying patches of wet rice in the narrow valleys, but there was no Banjarese involvement in sawah cultivation. The resources of the grassland were recognized but not generally utilized; yields were better from the forest plots, and clearing and working them was easier with existing tools of axe and digging stick, especially as Chromolaena odorata formed a major part of the secondary regrowth and was easily disposed of. With alternative sources of funds in the dry season, such as smallscale mining and collection of forest products, the Banjarese were not inclined to undertake the heavy work of preparing sawah.

The Javanese and Madurese systems, as found in their villages, were both entirely grassland based; they made use of plough cattle to clear the grassy uplands for dry rice and to make sawah. In addition, the Javanese ploughed large expanses for peanuts. The Madurese concentrated on bananas and other tree crops such as cloves and had much smaller field-crop areas. They worked their sawah more intensively, with the narrow valleys being carefully terraced.

The time that has elapsed since the formation of the Madurese and Javanese villages enables some conclusions to be drawn regarding the long-term sustainability of permanent farming on the alang-alang lands. In the Madurese village, founded in 1941, soil fertility had declined drastically on the slopes, so that yields of dry rice, even with fertilizer, were very low. Although the wet-rice fields remained productive, areas of sawah were limited and most families had to sell bananas and buy rice, in addition to other household needs. The concentration on tree crops reduced the dangers of erosion, although this was still visible when sloping areas were ploughed up. The intensive nature of the farming system had effectively removed the alangalang, so that both cattle feed and roof thatch had to be brought from further afield. In this situation, alang-alang was perceived to be a valuable resource. Although the system was reasonably sustainable, especially when banana prices were high, population increase meant that the next generation would have to seek a new village site further up the valley. Continuous spontaneous migration from Madura had ensured a proliferation of such settlements.

The Javanese system, based on field crops, left much larger areas of sloping land exposed to the new season's rains, because the ploughing technique involved turning the grass sod, leaving it exposed to the elements for a month, then removing the rhizomes and ploughing a second and third time until the seed was able to be sown into the bare soil. Under these conditions erosion could be severe as the protective function of the grass was removed. The Javanese settlement was started in 1965; once again fertility had declined considerably on the flatter lands closer to the village, so that fertilizer was necessary to produce dry rice. On the slopes, yields were maintained through periodic fallowing, which restored the grass cover, and fertilizer was not needed. The rice-peanuts rotation assisted in maintaining nitrogen supplies. This village was relatively well off in terms of availability of both land and cattle but its population was increasing quickly, again largely through spontaneous migration, so that position may not continue for long. It was also being pressed by new Madurese villages encroaching or. its hill lands. Although the Javanese have maintained the alang-alang through the fallow system, and supported more cattle than their Madurese equivalents, the amount of soil erosion was worrying as it seemed an inevitable part of the system, which might lead to drastic declines in future crop yields. No terracing had appeared and no erosion protection measures were undertaken, other than small slits made along the slope to enable the water to escape more quickly.

Comparative soil analyses in the three villages revealed that the hill slopes under scrub and secondary forest had by far the best nutrient status: pH values reached 6 or more, organic carbon lay between 9 and 11 per cent, and there were high levels of exchangeable bases. Samples from the alangalang showed a pH status uniformly below 5, with the short grasses in the Madurese village dropping to less than 4. Organic carbon levels had all declined to around 3-4 per cent, although fallowing of the grass did raise these somewhat. A few samples were taken under Chromolaena; the differences between that shrub and Imperata were not significant. A recent African study found considerable improvements in the nutrient status of soils under Chromolaena. It was claimed that the soil fertility was greater than that under undisturbed forest, including a rise of two points in the pH (de Foresta and Schwartz, 1991). The authors were sanguine about the possibilities of the new invasion (which had occurred much faster than in the Asian tropics) for the maintenance of the shiftingcultivation system. The problem with Chromolaena in Kalimantan is that it can shade out alang-alang but cattle cannot eat it, so there is a basic conflict between the needs of the farmers and those of the graziers operating within and at the periphery of the grassland ecosystem.

A final aspect of the study of the three agricultural systems was a comparison over three years (1984-1986) of the incomes available to the sample farmers from all sources, including the imputed value of the rice produced for household consumption. These incomes were categorized according to the poverty levels in the well-known model of Sayogyo (1975) in which income was converted to rice equivalents available for consumption. The overall results showed marked decreases in the proportions of the sample populations defined as being "in poverty" in all three villages, although the Javanese showed the most marked improvement. There was little difference in poverty levels between the least intensively farmed village of Banjarese shifting cultivators and the most intensively farmed settlement of the Madurese. The Banjarese received less income from agriculture, but compensated by involvement in a range of off-farm activities.

These results indicate that, using purely economic indicators, farming systems that are alang-alang based can be "successful," if raising their populations above recognized poverty levels is considered a sign of success. They also show that shifting-cultivation systems can do about as well as the permanent settlements if their participants are involved in cash-cropping and can secure reliable sources of non-farm income. The ecological cost of the systems is not included in those figures nor are the differences in population density or rates of population increase. All are at risk from drought because their cultivation is entirely based on natural rainfall; thus they might expect to have severe fluctuations in income, somewhat offset by "savings" in the form of permanent tree crops, cattle, or sawah. Unfortunately, shortages of land such as now occur in the Madurese settlement have tended to nullify the benefits of such savings. In the Banjarese village there is no real population pressure but higher all-round levels of risk (in collection of forest products and in mining, the major alternative income sources). Farming the boundary of the forest and grassland has been made easier by the existence of Chromolaena, which now prevents the grass from extending into the forest.

The Ela Hulu

The Dayak farmers of the Ela Hulu are basically shifting cultivators who have been gradually running out of forested land suitable for making swidden, as the alang-alang takes over more of the available area. Although officials have stated that the problem is due to population pressure, this does not appear to be the case. Village populations are basically stable, with little movement in or out, and rates of increase have declined since the enthusiastic adoption of family planning in the district. The prevalence of alang-alang varies as one moves south from the Melawi River, with the greatest incidence nearer to the river. Along the river are Melayu villages, all with large numbers of cattle and permanent rubber gardens, in addition to dry fields, which must be fenced to keep the cattle out. Here the Imperata has been intensively cropped and appears to be giving way to short grasses in some places. Dayaks also possess cattle but they are not grown for sale as in the Melayu villages; they are regarded more as capital to be used up on special occasions such as a wedding, and their numbers are not so great as to warrant fencing of fields. Cattle are allowed to run free but often graze quite close to their owners' villages. Although Dayaks see the fires set by cattle owners as the main reason for the rapid spread of alang-alang, they say they do not have time to tether or otherwise care for their cattle so let them run on their own.

Shifting-cultivation systems in this part of West Kalimantan are aimed basically at production of upland rice for subsistence purposes. Yields tend to be low and variable, much affected by periodic drought. Even in nearby forest villages, where fallows were longer, yields were said to be sufficient to feed a family in only about three out of every five years. The short fallow periods, now common throughout the Ela Hulu as a result of the scarcity of good forest, have exacerbated the problem, although plots were seen that had been under fallow for 12 or more years. The likelihood of swidden fires escaping and causing wider conflagrations is enhanced by the prevalence of so much inflammable grass. There is talk of reactivating old adat sanctions, including fines once levied on those who allowed fires to escape. Although nearby villages in Central Kalimantan turn their plots over to rattan after working them for about two years, rattan cultivation is not common in the Ela Hulu. Rubber may be planted on the swidden, depending on the location of the plot, but rubber gardens are often in a separate area close to the village. This is especially the case in those villages nearer to the Melawi River and further from the forest edge. Other villages rely on income from the collection of forest products, formerly aloe wood or gaharu (Aquilaria sp.) and now especially ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri), for which there is a controlled market in the district centre. Other timbers are also collected and sold, primarily for house and boat construction, and illipe nuts are harvested following the irregular fruiting of this tree. A number of forest animals and birds are hunted.

Here and there through the rolling grass-covered hills, patches of remnant forest may be seen; this is hutan mali, in which some untoward event such as a death has at one time occurred. People would not dare to touch that forest for fear of bringing bad luck upon themselves. Miraculously these forest patches have survived the dry season conflagrations that sweep the area and have destroyed many rubber trees.

Recent change in the Riam Kiwa

No longer is there such a push to create agricultural settlements on the grasslands, at least in South Kalimantan. The reason is that priority has shifted to reforestation, to the creation of industrial forest plantations of fast-growing species, mainly Acacia mangium. Although all forest concessions must devote a section of their land to replanting, private concerns outside the concessions, particularly on the Imperata grassland, have also been encouraged. Such estates have recently been established along the upper Riam Kiwa, where they have resulted in much anxiety among shifting cultivators. The people are under pressure from forestry authorities because fires are forbidden close to the new plantation areas, making it necessary for farmers to travel much further to find suitable sites. The boundaries of the estates have been drawn to exclude permanent village cultivation, but the grasslands, regarded by farmers as a kind of common for sporadic use, have been removed from village control. As one farmer commented, "The trees are healthy but the people are sick at heart." Some arson had been reported where plantations lay close to villages and such responses are likely to recur. Considerable stretches of these forests were destroyed by fire during the drought of 1991; whether deliberate human action was involved is not known, but a lack of any feelings of responsibility by local people toward forest protection seemed very clear.

Recent change in the Ela Hulu

A large nearby logging company has been attempting to change farming systems in the Ela Hulu district through a government-supported project called HPH Bina Desa Hutan ("Concessionnaires rehabilitating forest villages"). Management of the logging company, whose northern boundaries in part correspond with the forest/grassland edge, felt concern at the likely extension of alang-alang into "their" forest and determined to introduce permanent farming systems, presuming shifting cultivation to be responsible for the grassland. Staff also believed that new farming techniques were necessary to assist the people, whom they had found suffering from food shortages during the 1982/83 drought. A demonstration plot of irrigated sawah was established and some families were granted small areas on which to try the new technique. All inputs, such as improved seed, hoes, fertilizer, and pesticide, were supplied by the company. Outside the wet-rice lands, more extensive areas were set aside for dry rice close to the main settlements in the valley. Again, farmers were provided with free inputs but they had to clear the grassland themselves, using hoes. The main characteristic of the system was that it was paternalistic, with farmers not being involved in making the important decisions and simply being passive recipients of large amounts of seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. Yields on these dry fields are higher than on the traditional swiddens, but only because of the fertilizer inputs. After the rice harvest, banana, corn, and cassava are usually planted.

This system is now five years old. Farmers appreciate not having to walk several kilometres to reach their plots, but report reduced food security owing to the difficulty of clearing a large enough area of grassland to feed their families. Weeds are also very prevalent and occupy much time and effort. The labour situation that has developed to work these lands is leading to growing inequities in the villages. The owners of the rice plots are increasingly the wealthier villagers, who hire others to carry out the back-breaking hoeing, planting, and weeding as day labourers. This at least secures the labourers' food, but means they are no longer landowners, as in the more egalitarian swidden system. Some groups within the villages are beginning to rebel against these changes, with a move to abandon the new system and return to the old, which involves an active search for suitable forested swidden sites. It is planned to open some of these in an area of the Bukit Baka/Bukit Raya National Park, which also borders the district, even though such activity is illegal.

The Natural Resources Management Project (NRMP), a joint USAID/Indonesian government initiative, although primarily interested in park management and improved logging systems, is attempting more of an agroforestry approach, encouraging tree crops, napier grass enrichment of alangalang pastures, and reduced reliance on chemical inputs. It is working with the logging company staff, while aiming to shift the emphasis from paternalism. The villagers are primarily interested in food security and do not yet distinguish the activities of the second project from the first. Although the philosophy of the NRMP is more geared to ensuring a sustainable system, it is unlikely to have much impact because it has not become involved with the basic problem of rice production. The system as introduced through the HPH Bina Desa Hutan programme does not appear sustainable and already has produced reaction from villagers who believe in the greater productivity and usefulness of swiddens. It seemed to Potter that more study of the cattlebased systems and provision of alternative methods of husbandry to cut down on grassland fires might be a way to stop the spread of alang-alang while at the same time allowing the villagers to evolve their own changed farming systems, as change there must be. Although the NRMP has briefly attacked the fire problem, it has been done from the point of view of fires escaping from farms, rather than burning for cattle feed. Given the already large expanse of grassland, some permanent farming and animal husbandry techniques will have to evolve, but not necessarily along the lines tried so far. Forest plantations have been tried further along the Melawi and provide another technique for managing the grassland environment, but are again likely to produce land-use clashes with existing interest groups.

Contents - Previous - Next