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The forest people: Endangerment or criticality?

The issues
Deconstructing shifting cultivation
Different ways of farming the forests
Forest dwellers under forces of change
Land and forest at risk?
The future
Criticality, or crisis of adaptation?

The issues

People at risk?

An abundant semi-popular literature recounts the severe pressures on the indigenous (Dayak and other) peoples of Borneo brought about by timber extraction and conversion of forest for land settlement (e.g. Hong, 1987; Sahabat Alam Malaysia, 1987, 1990; Pura, 1990).šIn the more dramatic versions of the complaint, it is stated that some of the forest people are at grave risk of extinction, at least as distinctive tribal groups, in consequence of the destruction of resources on which they depend. Less alarmist accounts point to serious conflict between the people on the one hand, and logging companies supported by government on the other; the widely publicized blockades of timber roads in Sarawak in 1987-1989 are the principal expression of this conflict (Sahabat Alam Malaysia, 1990; World Rainforest Movement, 1992). Still others point simply to the indisputable fact that the land claims of forest people, being either unrecognized or only partly recognized by the authorities, are often ignored when logging concessions are issued (e.g. Hurst, 1990; ITTC, 1990) or when new land settlement is planned. Although a high proportion of this literature focuses on Sarawak, the same problems are also present in Kalimantan and parts of Sabah, and quite seriously affect the Orang Asli in the Peninsula. On the face of it, there seems to be something very like true criticality in the PROCEZ sense, which makes a close examination important.

Forest and land at risk?

There is also a second set of issues, considerably older than the recent concern for the forest people. Shifting cultivators require a multiple of the amount of land they use in any given year; and they employ fire as an integral part of site preparation.2 Massive and multi-faceted criticism of the "primitive" practices of these "forest eaters" goes back long before the beginning of the twentieth century, and much of Spencer's (1966: 3) statement concerning reactions to the "destruction and waste" can still stand:

Almost a priori the modern forester uses a standard vocabulary on the subject, whether he is a commercial timberman, a government civil servant, or a member of an international organization. Many soils men use a somewhat similar vocabulary. Agronomists normally stress the low productivity rather than the waste and destruction. Conservationists normally decry the destruction of flora, fauna and wild landscapes, but express less concern for the economic problems of the peoples involved. Anthropologists sometimes tend to apologize for the alleged destruction, if they acknowledge it at all ... Here and there a dissenting voice has been raised.

In some quarters it continues quite unhesitatingly to be stated that shifting cultivators are the major cause of forest destruction (e.g. Laird, 1991). However, changes must now be made to parts of Spencer's statement. Since almost the time at which he wrote, a majority of anthropologists have maintained that, under certain conditions, the system is sustainable, while reading and re-reading of the classic study by Nye and Greenland (1960), together with recent work in northern Amazonia (Jordan, 1989) and elsewhere, has tempered the view of at least some "soils men." Nowadays, many forest biologists as well as conservationists argue that the system can be in harmony with the environment under clearly defined conditions, though this acceptance does not go so far as to achieve explicit recognition in the UNCED document, Agenda 21 (United Nations, 1993). Certainly, few among foresters and officials have changed their views, and the two national governments - like most in the tropics - remain committed to eliminating shifting cultivation in all its forms, "because it is against our policy of planting forests and preserving the environment" (President Suharto of Indonesia, quoted in Laird, 1991: 6). When those of different persuasions meet, the outcome is more often conflict than compromise. It is necessary that we seek a way out of the maze.

Deconstructing shifting cultivation

A problem of definition

"Shifting cultivation" is among the least satisfactory of all descriptors for a set of farming systems in which almost the only common factor is reliance on natural regeneration of capability under fallow as a major element in management. Within the South-East Asian tropics, Spencer (1966: 164-165), following and elaborating Conklin (1957) and Watters (1960), distinguished 18 sub-types without exhausting all possibilities. Rather than attempt further to classify it is better simply to note some of the main sources of variation within this "one system." As emphasized by Pelzer (1978), it is a "system" of great variety and flexibility.

First, the fallow period can range from a few months to many years, and it may be much longer than the cultivation period, no longer, or even shorter. Ruthenberg (1980) suggests that, where the ratio of land under cultivation to land under fallow exceeds 33 per cent, "shifting cultivation" passes into a "fallow system," and that where it exceeds 70 per cent we are dealing with "permanent upland cultivation"; however, not even this simple rule of thumb seems to have gained wide adoption. Secondly, and importantly, the landrotational element is complicated by the widely differing nature of the non-arable land cover, which is not always just naturally regenerating bush fallow or grass; some systems might be better described as including deliberate elements of agroforestry. Thirdly, many systems are mixed, and include permanent-field as well as shifting-field arable areas. Fourthly, a considerable number incorporate a range of agro-technical practices for the management of land, its biota, and water. Moreover, many systems are so far from being static that they undergo significant change even within one human generation.

Though clearance of primary forest was almost certainly a pioneering phase in all systems, only a minority still rely wholly or even mainly on the annual invasion of new areas previously untouched, or untouched for so long as to have reverted to a forest structurally similar to the "virgin" stands. Such a "pioneering" phase inevitably has a limited duration in all areas other than those of extremely low population density. We refer here back to the discussion in chapter 2, where it was noted that parts of the Borneo interior have suffered heavy depopulation over the past one to two centuries. The present concentration on secondary forest, rather than primary forest, in most shifting cultivation regions of Borneo might thus be a consequence of demographic history. For a small minority of forest people, cultivation is only supplementary to the collection and hunting of wild foods, yet for what may be a majority of all farmers with access to forests, such collection and hunting remain an important source of food - especially in times of shortage - and of tradable goods.

The basis of sustainable shifting cultivation in its pure form is identical with that of a true sustainable forestry. The biomass is allowed to recover to the level at which it will, after clearance, permit a new harvest as good as the previous one. Two elements are involved in the case of farming: the biomass itself and also the action of growing trees in drawing on mineral resources unavailable for food crops, so that these can in turn be released to the soil.3 Padoch (1986) introduces a useful diagnostic element by distinguishing between farmers to whom the state and content of the vegetation are the main determinant of which land to cultivate next, and those who are more concerned with the inherent qualities of the soil and water. This might be overdrawn, because many forest farmers will take both into account, but the polar distinction is between the true shifting cultivator, whose crops rely principally on the short-term nutrient supply provided by the biomass, and the longer-term cultivator who farms the soil, and sometimes irrigates or drains it. Another basis of differentiation, important in this region, could lie in the management of the forest itself, for some communities have large forest tracts composed principally of either conserved or planted useful trees, while others have little but the natural regrowth. These contrasts may be underlain by others, often though not necessarily reflected in the system of resource management, such as the longevity of settlement on the same general site, and the density of population.

Who and where are the shifting cultivators?

Definition is clearly difficult, and available data on numbers of shifting cultivators tend to group all types together. For Indonesia as a whole, studies carried out in the early 1980s and used by Soewardi (1983) estimated 985,000 families, not including three of the country's provinces, Irian Jaya being one of them. An FAO (1982) estimate reached 12 million people, or 2.4 million families. For Kalimantan alone, more recent figures suggest that around 5.5 million ha of land used for shifting cultivation is occupied by 228,000 families or 1.1 million people, including 338,000 in West Kalimantan and 434,000 in Central Kalimantan (FAO/GOI, 1990). The area of shifting cultivation land used in this estimate included all regrowth forest up to about five years of age (Weinstock, 1989). These data are derived largely from the RePPProT (1985, 1987a, 1987b) studies, using all available remote-sensing, aerial photography, and cartographic information, and may provide the most useful figures. It is, however, far from clear how a distinction of "up to five years' forest regrowth" can adequately be drawn from currently available remote-sensing imagery or from cloud-infested air photography of the resolution generally encountered in this region. On forest data derived from remote-sensing imagery, specifically in the South-East Asian context, Blasco and Achard (1990) write of "ambiguities and impossibilities" that should cast serious doubt on figures of considerably less precision than this. Sidewise-looking radar data, not affected by cloud cover, were available for some areas but do not solve the problem of estimating tree age. In terms of land occupied, these data show that shifting cultivation is most important in West and Central Kalimantan, where it is estimated to take up 24 per cent and 22 per cent of the forest area respectively.

Data for Malaysian Borneo are of even lower reliability. Thus, in Sarawak, 19 per cent of the state was estimated as used for shifting cultivation at about the end of the 1970s by Hatch (1982). Colchester (1989: 49) cites studies using aerial photography as showing a rather larger area of 3.2 million ha cleared and burnt at some stage. This was further raised to 3.5 million ha (28 per cent of the country) by Kavanagh, Abdullah, and Hails (1989), using an estimate by Marajan and Dimin (1989) based on 1985 Landsat imagery. Estimates of the area actually cleared and planted in any one year, however, range from 158,900 ha (WWF Malaysia, 1985, quoted by Colchester, 1989) to 72,000 ha (Chin, 1985). As we shall see below, estimates of the primary forest area invaded differ by even greater margins. In terms of numbers of people, Zuraina Majid (1983) estimated "at least" 260,000 people cultivating 2.15 million ha; this is about half the indigenous non-Malay and non-Chinese population. Some clearly erroneous estimates classify all these people as "shifting cultivators."

For Sabah, official data suggest that around 30 per cent of the population, or 350,000 people, practice shifting cultivation on an area of 1.1 million ha. Of this, 37 per cent is "current," 58 per cent "regrowth," and 5 per cent grassland (Sabah Forestry Department, 1990). This corresponds roughly with the main areas occupied by three specific ethnic groups. If we were to follow Ruthenberg's (1980) rule of thumb discussed above, they would, on the basis of the figures given, be practicing "fallow" rather than "shifting" cultivation. Zuraina Majid (1983) estimated only 430 km˛of swidden land in Sabah in the 1970s. For the Peninsula, where everyone agrees that there is little shifting cultivation, the same study estimates about 36,00040,000 shifting cultivation people among the Orang Asli. In the Peninsula, however, the land area actually cultivated under swidden is found by land-use survey to be under 50 km2, possibly because mapping from air photographs would fail to pick up any but large clearings. The same problem probably affects Zuraina Majid's figures for Sabah. Her estimate of numbers in the Peninsula is essentially "about 60 per cent" of "about 60,000," to paraphrase her explanation. Rambo (1988), using data by Benjamin (1985) and others, notes that shifting cultivation is central to the economy only of the Senoi of the main range, who number about 40,000. Most of those in the south are horticulturalists, with some shifting fields. All depend heavily on foraging and hunting for tradable goods and for either supplementary or (among a minority) principal sources of food.

All these estimates must be treated with great caution. Both the numbers of shifting cultivators and the area they use are politically loaded data, to be employed in support of one or another argument in a fairly virulent debate. Some of the recent estimates based on remote sensing may include some land cut over for timber in the area estimated as affected by shifting cultivation. We shall see more of this below. Moreover, it would be strange if precise figures could be obtained in regard to such an ill-defined and diverse set of cultivation systems. Perhaps it is best to fall back on only the crudest of bases for estimation. Within the whole island of Borneo about one-third of the people, more than 3 million, are broadly classed as Dayak - indigenous tribal people (Aye and King, 1986: 13).4 Probably a majority among these practices various forms of shifting, fallow, and mixed systems of cultivation, in Ruthenberg's (1980) sense. For the Peninsula, we can probably say only that the figure is larger than it was once thought to be, but is unlikely to exceed 50,000.

Except for these estimates of land area that are derived from aerial photography and remote sensing, all numerical data relate only to the swidden land of tribal people. Shifting cultivation by other peoples Malay, Banjarese, other Islamic people, and Chinese - has waxed and waned through time. Swiddens in the true sense were common in the Peninsula in the nineteenth century (Jackson, 1968a), and were still very significant early in the twentieth century when, for example, 30 per cent of rice in one eastern state was grown in swiddens (Hood Salleh and Seguin, 1983: 169). Later, with the progress of land registration and the development of rubber, most rural Malays became concentrated into valley villages, and the use of swiddens almost ceased.

In the Peninsula, there was a renewed increase in shifting cultivation during the disturbed period of the Japanese war, when many people escaped the hardships of the occupation by moving into the forests. This might also be true of parts of Kalimantan, especially West Kalimantan. Most of this new dispersion was forcibly ended in the Peninsula during 1950-1954 by the use of emergency powers to concentrate scattered people, in an attempt to deny rebels access to food, supporters, and information (Stubbs, 1989). Most were Chinese "squatters," but they included Malay villagers in small forest communities and some Orang Asli. By no means all those forcibly moved had practiced shifting cultivation, but a total of about 570,000 people were resettled in confined "new villages" between 1950 and 1954. In Kalimantan, shifting cultivation by non-indigenous people increased substantially during the 1980s as a result of spontaneous settlement and also the failure of some transmigrant schemes, as discussed in chapter 5.

Different ways of farming the forests

Classic shifting cultivation

In the region as a whole, the great majority of "shifting cultivators" are indeed tribal people, but their practices include the whole range of variations reviewed above. In Sarawak, about which there is the greatest concentration of completed and published research concerning indigenous people, it is probable that many fewer than half the Dayak and other tribal people practice shifting cultivation in anything like its simple and classic form. In the more densely occupied western areas, the pioneering stage made famous by Freeman (1955, 1970) is long past. The true swiddeners occupy the more sparsely populated eastern parts of Sarawak, and are composed of several ethnic groups. Most have a history of migration in recent centuries, especially the numerous Iban and the other groups whom they drove out and slaughtered ahead of them (Padoch, 1982b; Lian, 1987, 1993). They live and cultivate along and close to the rivers, penetrating only a limited way into the surrounding forests.

There is considerable similarity between the methods of cultivation adopted by all these people, involving clearing of secondary growth, with a general preference for growth between 10 and 20 years old (Lien, 1987), burning, then dibbling the seed. Weeding practices vary. Swiddens endure from one to three seasons, depending largely on the quality of the soil. Harvests vary greatly, the most important factors being timing of the clearance and success of the burn in relation to the weather, and the care spent on weeding. Yields are rarely bountiful but, although not infrequently less than 0.5 t/ha, may attain more than 3 t/ha of hill rice by a fortunate combination of weather and skill. A "good" harvest is estimated in the range 0.8-1.4 t/ha in the Baram (Chin, 1985: 196), and reported mean yields range from 0.25 to 1.7 t/ha in different parts of Sarawak (Lien, 1987: 130). The methods are described in most of the sources discussed above, and in a larger literature. They are set out clearly by Dove (1981), Chin (1985), Lian (1987), and Padoch (1988). Chin's study, by an ethnobotanist who adopted anthropological field methods to supplement his own, is a classic in terms of its depth of analysis. In a sparsely peopled region, he has no doubt of the sustainability of a system in which almost 90 per cent of plots are fallowed for 15 or more years, and only 10 per cent are used for more than a single year (Chin, 1985: 210).

The range of differences has not been fully explored, except to some degree by Padoch (1982a, 1982b), but is very substantial. The rapacious onward progress into primary forest encountered in the middle Rejang system of Sarawak by Freeman (1955, 1970) might still characterize a minority. Some elements of it, though modified by partial adoption of the more intensive practices of southern neighbours, may be seen in areas close to the Sarawak border in West Kalimantan, still being reoccupied by people decimated by or forced to flee from Iban raiders in the nineteenth century (C. Padoch, pers. comm.). It is perhaps even resurgent in parts of East Kalimantan (Coffer, 1983; Kartawinata and Vayda, 1984), where, sometimes under government direction, people from remote districts are moving closer to the developing areas near the coast in search of markets, and are reducing fallow periods; possessing or hiring chain-saws, they clear larger areas than under subsistence conditions in order to grow cash crops. This has led observers to query whether forest recovery is likely still to occur when areas cleared by several adjacent families reach as much as 300 ha, as compared with 30 ha in the more remote villages (Kartawinata et al., 1984; Inoue and Lahjie, 1990). The reason for a mid-1980s shortening of fallow in the Tinjar valley of Sarawak is different. Shortage of labour existed because so many men were at work in the timber camps, and a higher proportion of the farm work was done by women. More gardens were made in young fallow, especially close to the village, and fewer in the old secondary forest (Lien, 1987). Although population densities along the Tinjar are as low as those on the Baram, where Chin worked a few years before the timber industry had penetrated thus far inland, a substantial number of Tinjar gardens were being used into a second year.

Sustainability of the system depends very heavily on the length of the fallow. This was made very clear by Nye and Greenland (1960), and recent studies elsewhere in the world (e.g. Jordan, 1989; Ramakrishnan, 1992) demonstrate a common characteristic of soil nutrients during the fallow stage. As secondary species put on rapid growth, available nutrients in the soil continue to decline for several years, and it is only as litter fall becomes substantial that nutrients again begin to accumulate. Rarely does this happen in less than 10 years, so that shortening of the fallow below this critical limit leads to cumulative pauperization of the soil. If time is sufficient, however, the system is efficient, and Ramakrishnan (1992: 370) remarks that:

In fact, modern agricultural technology has not been able to develop a more efficient way of maintaining soil fertility in the humid tropics than that possible through natural processes during the secondary successional fallow phase after jhum [swidden cultivation]. With rapid shortening of the jhum cycle during the recent past that has resulted in an average cycle length of about 5 years, this land use system has become untenable because adequate soil fertility cannot be recovered over this shortened fallow phase, and weed potential of the site is aggravated with arrested succession at the weed stage.

This does not, however, mean that an irreparable situation develops. What it does mean is that important modifications must be made.

More intensive use of the fallow

Some regional and local differences between cultivation systems do seem to be related to population pressure bringing about a shortening of fallow periods, and leading in some areas to degradation of the forest (Padoch, 1982b; Jessup and Vayda, 1988). These conditions often evoke the response of more intensive use of the fallow, which, even without population pressure, provides a wide range of food and household products. Chin (1985) and especially Lian (1987) stress the great importance of crops and other useful plants remaining in, planted in, or naturally arising in the fallow, to the total subsistence and cash economies of the communities with which they worked. Under growing pressure of population, sections of fallow increasingly become converted into farmed forests, with a range of fruit trees, including citrus and other marketable fruits (Coffer, 1983; Padoch, 1988; Sather, 1990). They thus supplement the swiddens and relieve pressure on the system. As well as the unfortunate enlargement of swiddens noted above, this intensification of the fallow has also occurred as part of the search for cash incomes. A good deal of rubber is planted in former swidden sites, and this rubber now sometimes survives among a wide range of other useful trees. Almost all Borneo rubber is grown by smallholders. For the Dayaks, it was the first "modern" cash crop, as distinct from the forest produce that has such an ancient history. Usually it is the most important cash crop, but a Dayak rubber grove, in which rubber is intermingled with other trees in an open but multi-storeyed forest, bears very little resemblance to the characteristic regularity of rubber plantings around Malay villages on the Peninsula.5

Further intensification
Complex agro-forests

In more closely settled parts of both western and eastern Borneo, substantial areas close to long-settled villages have been converted into what Hadley and Kartawinata (1993: 43-49) describe as "complex agroforests." They have local names, and in West Kalimantan where they are particularly common they are known as tembawang. Their composition derives, by selective planting and management, from the species of a natural forest that is particularly rich in edible fruits, oil seeds, rattans, medicinal plants, resins, and other useful species. They were reported before 1850 in the hinterland of Pontianak ("Kalamatan," 1848), already in fully developed form. Early in the twentieth century they were described more fully by a Dutch writer as a distinctive form of land use (Later, 1919). This form of intensification, essentially a reconstitution of the forest with similar structure, has a high degree of efficiency in relation to light capture, nutrient turnover, biomass storage, and soil conservation (Gleissman, 1990). Moreover, it provides both seasonal and year-round production for fruit, nuts, and other useful produce.

Three distinct methods of management by Dayak people long res ident in the country north of the Kapuas River and living at fairly high population densities are described by Padoch and Peters (1993). Most common and most complex are forest gardens on former house sites. These originated by planting around the houses, and were then allowed to persist when houses were moved away from the shade of the growing trees. Over a period of several centuries, forest gardens totalling several hundred hectares have been developed in the 1,600 ha area occupied by the people of the village of Tae, whose land retains very little natural forest. Older gardens, however, also contain many volunteer natural species, in addition to those that are planted. One sampled area of 0.2 ha contained 224 trees pertaining to 44 different species, of which 30 produce edible fruits or shoots. In these multistoreyed, planted forests the canopy is usually formed of fruit and nut trees, of which the principal are durian (Durio spp.) and illipe (or tengkawang) nut trees (Shorea macrophylla), together with sugar palms (Arenga), langsat (Lansium), jackfruit, rambutan, and mangosteen. Rubber is also important, and there are bamboos and forest species that provide wood and from which resin (damar) may be tapped. Planted species also include the slow-growing Borneo ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri). Rattan, of which Borneo has the world's richest range of species (Dransfield, 1992), is also planted, though because of the thorns on many varieties - usually away from useful trees that need to be tended frequently or harvested. In some areas they are planted in swidden sites where, taking up to 20 years to mature, they occupy the whole non-cultivation period. Wild relatives of many planted species also occur, and there are a considerable number of medicinal plants.6 As in many other parts of Borneo, illipe nuts are an important sale commodity but, since modern reconstruction of a nearby feeder road between 1975 and 1978 and its more recent tar-sealing, very large quantities of durians have been marketed during the short annual season. Rubber provides a constant, though smaller, source of income. The motor cycle, both on the road and on the 5km earth track joining it to the village, is the means of transport to market for all these commodities.

Padoch and Peters (1993) describe two further types of managed forest in the same community land. Some forest was set aside many generations ago and has never been cleared. Its products, which include a higher proportion of wood and rattan as well as fruit and nuts, are, however, collected. Third are cyclic forests developed from swidden plots by planting of rubber and fruit trees while the hill rice is ripening. When these trees have ended their useful life, the land may again be cleared for swidden. However, in 1992, only half the inhabitants of Tae farmed any swiddens at all; a great deal of effort was also going into the expansion of the wet-rice area, to which we turn again below.

We may, perhaps, see complex agro-forests in the course of development in other parts of the region, as home gardens are enlarged and fruit trees augment and replace rubber on the Peninsula, and as greater value is obtained from the fallow even in sparsely peopled parts of Borneo. A simpler version, where clusters of durians were encouraged by cutting out unwanted species so as to create a durian grove, was described among Orang Asli of the Peninsula in the nineteenth century (Westerhout, 1848). Colfer (1983) regards the East Kalimantan Kenyah as practicing agro-forestry, rather than agriculture alone. Lahjie and Seibert (1988) describe similar systems in other parts of East Kalimantan. In Sarawak, Lian (1987: 156) maps a considerable area of "rubber, coffee and fruit gardens" along the Tinjar River, and Chin (1985) details the large number of useful trees conserved and cultivated by other Kenyah on the Baram. Farmers in almost all parts of Borneo cultivate at the very least fruit trees, such as durian and rambutan, and oil-bearing nuts - illipe or tengkawang in the west, kemiri or candle nut in the east and south. Illipe nut trees are mainly Shorea macrophylla, but some other Shorea spp. also bear nuts. In parts of the forest these trees are numerous. However, they yield timber of high quality and Lian (1987: 71) records that, in the Tinjar valley of Sarawak, some of these trees have been felled by contractors, and even by their local employees. "Among the timber rafts which I checked with the help of persons who could recognize the species, there was no raft that did not have at least 10 logs from this tree." Despite official prohibitions, the same has been observed by Potter in Central Kalimantan, where jelutong (Dyera costulata) was also among species felled.


The cultivation of wet rice in sawahs is not new among the Dayaks; the Lun Dayeh case in East Kalimantan may be the only one to have been thoroughly described, but a similar technology is practiced by the Kelabit in Sarawak (Padoch, 1985, 1986). The Lun Dayeh occupy an area of steep hills and broad, flat valleys with a high proportion of kerangas land; their skilful use of wet rice in preference to swidden, which is of only supplementary significance, would seem to be an adaptation to the conditions of the site and a matter of preference.

They regularly obtain yields up to 2 t/ha (C. Padoch, pers.comm.). Certainly, Lun Dayeh sawah has nothing to do with modern population pressure. Ngaju Dayak in the swampy lands of Central Kalimantan also plant extensive areas of wet rice, again with no pressure from high population density to cause them to do so. Outside the Dayak regions, there is extensive wet-rice cultivation among coastal and riverine Malay and Chinese, and especially among the Banjarese of the Hulu Sungai region of South Kalimantan.

Widely scattered through a considerable area, especially, but not only, of western Borneo, is the paya (swamp rice) system, in which wet patches by springs and along flood plains are only roughly levelled after being cleared and burnt. Rice is broadcast, dibbled into them directly, and thinned after establishment; seedlings are also obtained from dry-land nurseries. The sites are used on a short-fallow rotation (Dove, 1980; Padoch, 1982a, 1988). Paya economizes on land but requires more labour than dry-field cultivation and, for this reason, is unpopular with some. However, yields are more reliable and, since land can be used frequently and is usually accessible, there are countervailing advantages. In several parts of closely settled western Borneo, plots occupy any small wetland depression. Often, paya plots are immediately adjacent to dry swiddens so that, when the crops are in full growth, the rice seems to rise up from the flat onto the slope without a break.

In areas of higher population density, however, there is an observable or researchable transition from semi-wetland conditions to full sawah. One form that this takes, briefly mentioned in chapter 2, has been observed by both Brookfield and Potter, in western and eastern Borneo respectively. Swamp forest is cleared to make temporary wet fields ("wet swiddens") still with stumps and logs, and surrounding secondary forest at various heights indicates the location of former wet-rice clearings. Especially close to natural watercourses and thus in lines, some of these fields are bunded, and over time become permanent sawah. One stage in this transition is described by Goodall (1929) and another by Padoch (1982a). Along the northern coast of West Kalimantan, Seavoy (1973, 1980) described a particularly rapid transition to sawah under pressure of growing population among the Melayu people of this region; a similar transition has recently been observed by Potter in the southern part of West Kalimantan. However, it must be added that, although paya and sawah are readily recognizable as archetypes, the widely observable transi tion between them does not readily admit of any clear break from one to the other.

Often, the transition requires a great deal of work over a long period. In the same West Kalimantan community discussed in detail above, with a present population density of 88/km2, C. Padoch (pers. comm.) has traced the development of a sawah belt along a principal stream from swidden and paya half a century ago. A critical stage was the construction of a small diversionary canal in the later days of Dutch administration. At the sides of the valley, fields are being progressively dug down to a level at which they can be irrigated, and are meanwhile being worked on a wet/dry basis, rice being dibbled into still-dry ground early in the wet season. Seedlings are grown in dry beds, as for swidden, and planted out in the sawah, which are prepared by hoe and not with the aid of livestock. The stream is small, and three times in remembered history it has dried to a level too low to provide irrigation; in these years, the most recent of which was the ENSO year 1982/1983, all rice had to be dibbled.

The regional landscape suggests that this example is common to quite a large area. The labour input is heavy and yields are low but, by degrees, sawah and complex agro-forestry are progressively replacing shifting cultivation. Few swiddens now remain. Even some terracing for sawah formation has begun to emerge, as well as the management of small valleys in stepped sawah with field-to-field flow of water. All this has taken place virtually without external intervention, barring a little support in the colonial period.

Elsewhere, government assistance has been more actively instrumental in the development of sawah, with assistance schemes taken up in a very small way even in remote communities (Chin, 1985). Lian (1987) reports two waves of sawah innovation in the Tinjar valley of Sarawak, the first unsuccessful and the latter rather more promising, being adopted under the incentive of the need to reduce male labour requirements for land clearing, in an economy rendered short of labour by participation in the timber industry. In a few localities in Kalimantan, logging companies have assisted the development of sawah in order to reduce shifting cultivation and hence free the land for their own activities. Assisting forest villagers to eliminate shifting cultivation by helping them become permanent farmers is now official government policy and must be attempted by all logging companies. This is known as the Bina Desa Hutan (rehabilitating forest villages) programme and is discussed in chapter 9.

Unlike the spontaneous transformation of farming systems essentially under population pressure in West Kalimantan, however, the success of these sponsored innovations remains uncertain.

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