Contents - Previous - Next

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

Forest dwellers under forces of change

The changing use of forest products

People everywhere who live close to forests make use of wild products. In South-East Asia, especially in Sundaland and most particularly in Borneo, this use is developed to an unusually high degree, and this is why the use of fallow can so readily be intensified. The underlying reason is the great biodiversity of the rain forests, which offer such a wide range of food, medicinal, and tradable products that the extraction and export of the latter have involved this region in world trade for most of two millennia. The "non-timber forest products," until lately called "minor forest products," were, until the nineteenth century, among the most important export commodities of South-East Asia and a major element in life support of the region's people.

Almost all the forest and forest-fringe people of Borneo and the Peninsula still make use of wild foods, and all non-Muslims hunt every kind of wildlife, among which feral pigs are of major importance. For shifting cultivators in the sparsely peopled areas, wild foods remain an important part of the total diet and hunting is a frequent - and much enjoyed - activity. Caldecott (1992) provides considerable detail for Sarawak. However, only a very tiny proportion of the region's people still depend mainly on these wild foods for their livelihood except in rare times of famine. Among these are the 2,500 Semang of the northern Peninsula and some of the 10,000 or so Penan (and other groups) of Sarawak and adjacent parts of Kalimantan. The Semang, and some other Orang Asli, rely principally on wild yams as a staple food; the Penan on sago extracted from the upland palm Eugeissona utilis (Rambo, 1979, 1988; Brosius, 1986; Langub, 1988; Kavanagh, Abdullah, and Hails, 1989; Lian, 1993). Orang Asli on the Peninsula use up to 65 other plants for food, some of which they partly cultivate; this is fewer than one-third of the number of plants both used and at least partly cultivated by the Baram Kenyah of Borneo (Chin, 1985: 226). Hunting, using traps, blowpipes, and poison, and latterly some firearms, is also of major importance; Rambo (1988) cites information that one small Orang Asli group killed 102 animals belonging to 25 species in 146 days. It is not impossible that the enlargement of trade in non-timber forest products has reduced the amount of shifting cultivation also practised by some Orang Asli people, some of whom relied much more heavily on swidden rice in the past than they seem to do today (e.g. Westerhout, 1848).

Indeed, few forest people live by subsistence alone. Penan and other huntergatherer groups have long traded with their farming neighbours (Sellato, 1989). The Orang Asli have collected every product for which a market has existed among Malay and Chinese people, including gums and resins, medicinal plants, and rattan. Rambo (1988: 281) remarks that "it can plausibly be argued [of the Semang] that their way of life, far from being a survival from ancient pre-agricultural times, represents a modern adaptation to the niche created by the trade in forest products." In inland Sarawak, the sale of forest products - damar resin, gutta percha, rattan and camphor, illipe nuts, and bezaor stone,8 among others - was still the principal means of earning cash until the late 1950s. A number of examples of overexploitation of limited resources can be traced in the record, especially of gutta percha, which was in high demand around the turn of the twentieth century. A boom in the price of camphor (Dryobalanops sp.) in the Tinjar region of Sarawak led to overexploitation, and subsequent shortage, as recently as the early 1980s (Lien, 1987: 71). In Kalimantan, excessive utilization has resulted in the neardisappearance of the scented wood gaharu (found in the diseased heart of some species of Aquilaria) since the mid-1980s, even small saplings being destroyed before they have a chance to set seed. It should be added that traders, rather than collectors, have been the main beneficiaries in financial terms.

As numbers have grown, and perhaps more importantly as people have concentrated in areas closer to their trading partners, shortages of wild food have arisen. For both these reasons, food shortages among Penan preceded logging by some years, and the problem has been exacerbated by land sales from Penan to other groups (Lien, 1993). Since the 1950s, many Penan have settled in fixed villages and adopted shifting cultivation. Kavanagh, Abdullah, and Hails (1989), following a State Planning Department report of 1987, agree that few Penan are still wholly nomadic, but say that up to 70 per cent still spend a part of each year hunting and gathering, away from the shiftingcultivation settlements.

The effect of clearance and logging

The effect of development, and of logging in particular, has been profound. Hood Salleh (pers. comm.) has produced film showing the damage done to the livelihood of Senoi people, and to the ecology, at Tasek Bera in the Peninsula, following clearance of most of the surrounding land for oil-palm. With little record, several Orang Asli groups have been evicted from their habitat in the course of the conversion of forest to agriculture. However, Orang Asli have also made use of new commercial opportunities, and have preserved diversity, complexity, and adaptability in their economies by so doing (Gomes, 1989; Hood Salleh, 1989). Similarly, many Penan are now engaged in commercial pursuits, and only the older generations continue to cherish the traditional way of life (Langub, 1992). Lian (1993) argues that the widely publicized conflict between Penan, other forest groups, and the timber companies owes as much to maldistribution of the rewards from forestry as to the disruption of resources on which people depend for existence. None the less, it can still be written that "the livelihood of the Penan, as a nomadic people living in harmony with the environment, was being threatened" (Laird, 1991: 7). Lian's former colleagues at Universiti Brunei Darussalam also seem to accept the environmentalists' argument in a book published while this chapter was already in draft (Cleary and Eaton, 1992: 178-189).

Shifting cultivators and land tenure

A major problem facing shifting cultivators is that few of them have legal title to any or most of the land that they use. This is common in South-East Asia, where shifting cultivation has been frowned upon as wasteful of resources from the earliest days of formal land title registration. In Kalimantan most shifting cultivators are regarded as squatters on government land. When their lands are categorized by the official forest classification, 5 per cent are found to be in protection forest, or nature reserves, while 34 per cent are in production forest. The rest are in conversion or unclassed forest, destined eventually for non-forest use and therefore - at least on first principles- less likely to be the cause of concern (Weinstock, 1990). By definition, it is illegal for settlements to exist in protected forest, so people whose village lands fall within that boundary face problems, and will be pressured to resettle (Potter, 1990). For example, people living around the Riam Kanan dam in South Kalimantan are under that kind of pressure, even though their land - though designated "protection forest" - is mostly under Imperata cylindrica grass. Villagers have already been moved once when the dam was under construction, and in 1992 were resisting further relocation. In other parks and protected areas, however, settlements have persisted for many years, seemingly with impunity. One Bugis village inside Kutai National Park visited by Potter in 1990 had been established for 15 years.

More important (because much more land is involved) are the settlements within production forest, most of which is under logging concession and being actively exploited. Relations between logging companies and the indigenous villagers within their boundaries have often been tense, particularly as villagers' rights to planted fruit or illipe nut trees, or rattans growing in fallow areas, are often not acknowledged (Mayer, 1988; Potter, 1991). Vargas (1985) suggests that loggers commonly pay compensation for trees but not for annual crops; however, compensation for crops has been paid in some areas (Lien, 1987).9

The Indonesian government has begun a new programme in an attempt to improve relations between concessionaires and forest villagers, and the World Bank and some national aid projects are exploring ways by which forestry law might be changed to increase the participation of forest-dwelling peoples in forest land-use policy, planning, and management (C. Zerner, pers. comm.). This is as yet far from becoming policy, however, and the programme has not yet established any innovative strategies.

In Sabah, uniquely in this region, there has never been a problem. There are no restrictions on claims for native customary land, and access to land is easy for people who are only partially of Sabahan descent and even for other "Malaya," which includes both Indonesians and Filipinos. If the head of a village agrees, anyone in these categories may settle, clear land, and apply for title, which is quite readily granted. A number of immigrant forest and plantation workers have been able to take advantage of these provisions, and some who came in as labourers have bought land. However, changes may be in store owing to growing concern in Sabah over the massive dependence on immigrant labour, discussed in chapter 5 (J. Payne, pers. comm.).

In Sarawak on the other hand, where the sharpest conflicts have arisen, tenurial systems have been framed to deny title to land used for shifting cultivation since the Brooke period. The 1958 Land Code, revised from that initiated under the Brooke regime, is based on a Land Classification Ordinance of 1949. Only small areas defined as "Native Area Land" could be alienated, but the Code also defined larger areas of "Native Customary Land," in effect those occupied and used before 1958. In the "Interior Area" lying beyond these categories, together with reserve areas and the small amount of fully alienable "Mixed Zone Land," the state retained total rights. However, by a 1974 amendment, native customary rights could be extinguished if the land was required for "public purposes" or to facilitate alienation. All deep-inland areas were covered by this new provision, the only excluded areas being within "Native Area Land," none of which is far from the coast (Chin, 1985: 68-73).

Only some 15 per cent of all land in Sarawak has registered title (Cramb and Dixon, 1988). Little of this belongs to shifting cultivators, but an estimated 25 per cent, and in fact more, is claimed as customary land by these people. Chin (1985: 17-18) records the request of two villages on the Baram for a communal reserve, as the timber industry advanced upstream toward them. He thought it was unlikely that it would be granted and, until 1992, there have been no such reserves anywhere. However, the quasi-recognized "Native Customary Land" consists mainly of strips of varying width along the river banks, and this has been important since it gives shifting cultivators the means to charge timber companies rent in order to have access to this land and establish timber yards and rafting points. Some contractors also pay substantial compensation for access to customary land to which there is no legal title, and for damage to useful trees in such land in order to maintain the cooperation of the riverbank holders (Lien, 1987: 189). Conflicts and disagreements are, however, as common as good relations (Hurst, 1990; ITTC, 1990).

Shifting cultivators and the timber industry

The timber industry is not only in competition with shifting cultivators for the forest, it is also an important source of income and employment. In both the Peninsula and Sarawak all but a few of the contractors in the timber industry, and the majority of timber workers, are of Chinese origin and come from outside the forest. In Sabah, while the contractors may be Chinese, most of the labourers are Indonesian. In Kalimantan the Chinese element is much less significant. None the less, in most areas, indigenous people do have a share of the available employment, although many leave their work for a time each year to return to their farms and make new swiddens. Off-farm employment, overwhelmingly in the timber industry, absorbs most of the time of many males in one heavily logged area of Sarawak (Morrison, 1992). In one timber camp in the Tinjar valley in 1985, 28 per cent of the workforce was locally recruited, and 96 men from four villages, with a total of 71 households, were at work in the industry (Lien, 1987: 184). The great majority of these were in the lowest-paid category but, nevertheless, the cash incomes were unprecedentedly high and made possible major changes in lifestyle and in social stratification. Mayer (1988) reports that Dayaks in East Kalimantan were able to obtain only casual work, management arguing that local people had too many distractions with their own obligations. This is also reported from both Sarawak and Sabah (Chandler, 1987). In one district of Central Kalimantan, 44 per cent of the timber company workforce was hired locally, although not necessarily from people in the immediate vicinity (Curran and Kusneti, 1992). It is fair to say that, in all areas, the majority of workers are hired from a distance.

This has significant effects on the gender composition of the population as a whole in those sparsely populated inland areas where the timber industry is mainly concentrated.10 The 1991 census (Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia, 1992a) shows that in several sub-districts of eastern Sarawak there were over 120 males per 100 females, and in Belaga sub-district, at the head of the Rejang system, there were no fewer than 173 males per 100 females. In central Sabah, the main timber area of the state, the ratio was 143 males per 100 females in Kinabatangan district. Relatively high male/female ratios, but not of the same order as in the Sarawak inland, are also encountered in parts of inland East Kalimantan. In Kalimantan, however, many of the small-time illegal loggers are indigenous people (Potter, 1988). This is particularly so since the cancellation of the Forest Products Collection Right (HPHH), which had allowed local people to fell timber and collect forest products for their own use. The reason for cancellation was, at least ostensibly, abuses under which local people were in fact supplying contractors.

As yet, not many of the Dayak and other indigenous people of Borneo work in the towns and factories; the main exceptions are the small inland settlements, where they sometimes predominate. In the larger towns they are mainly in the government sector, and factory employment is dominated by Malays, Banjarese, and immigrants from other regions or, in Malaysian Borneo, other countries. In the Peninsula, Orang Asli who move to town become indistinguishable from the Malay population, often adopting Islam.

It is certain that by no means all the indigenous people who work in the timber industry, as casual employees or less frequently as entrepreneurs, are reckoned among the workforce of the industry. Those who serve the timber industry by running small shops or transporting timber workers in their boats, and who derive compensation from contractors for use of their land, are even less likely to be counted. Collectively, however, incomes from timber are now an important part of the life-support system of indigenes in many parts of Borneo, and also in a few areas of the Peninsula.

The disappearance of these incomes will not, as it will with many of the workers from outside, be accompanied by the departure of the people. Although a significant drift of young people to the towns must be anticipated, the loss of local incomes from timber is likely to be the occasion for major changes in the system of livelihood. Certain groups are already contemplating resettlement for cash-crop cultivation (F. Lian, pers. comm.), but the full nature of these changes cannot yet even be guessed. Much will depend on the success of plantation forestry, now being vigorously pressed in Kalimantan and Sabah, as we saw in chapter 5. Employees work on a subcontract basis and, in Kalimantan, a majority are drawn from among the transmigrants. At one plantation set up in 1984, and described by Mayer (1989), only 5 per cent of workers came from local Dayak communities. 11

Land and forest at risk?

The critics of shifting cultivators

Since the advent of the timber industry, the long-standing criticism of shifting cultivation as a system has taken on a new dimension and, at the very time that its defenders have become numerous, the criticisms have reached new levels of hostility. There are three main prongs to the complaint. Shifting cultivators are, by wide agreement, poor. On the basis of an income definition, discussed in more detail in chapter 10, a 1989 survey showed 34 per cent of the population of Sabah and 21 per cent of that of Sarawak as poor (Government of Malaysia, 1991a). Most poor households are rural in both states. With the stated aim of reducing poverty, the government of Sarawak has sought for over 20 years to resettle shifting cultivators in managed cash-crop blocks. King (1988) reports his own estimate that 40 per cent of Sarawak's population live below the poverty line, overwhelmingly in rural areas. In South Kalimantan the poorest people, in terms of the income available from all sources, seem to be in the most crowded rural areas and the tidal swamps. These people are not shifting cultivators, but then there are not many shifting cultivators in that small province. It is certain that there are many poor people in the rural areas of the other three provinces of Kalimantan who are indeed shifting cultivators. Their income is likely to vary greatly from year to year depending on the availability and price of other sources, such as particular forest products or small-scale mining.

Allied to the question of poverty is the complaint that shifting cultivation offers only low and uncertain productivity. The argument is an old one, but is supported by the nutritional studies of A. J. U. Anderson (1978, 1980). These suggested that only a few months'self sufficiency is provided by swiddengrown rice. We briefly examined some evidence above, and Chin (1985), Lian (1987), and Cramb (1989a, 1993) all question the alleged lack of selfsufficiency in basic foods, more so when cultivated foods supplementary to rice are taken into account. A considerable amount of food is also obtained from the fallow.

Burning down the forest?

The foresters' argument is that shifting cultivation annually consumes large areas of primary forest, which could better be used to earn export income. The locus classicus is a paper by Lau (1979: 419), in which it is stated that, for every tree profitably logged, another "goes up in smoke." This view has become orthodoxy, but critics have argued that Lau's estimate was based on erroneous data concerning the area under shifting cultivation at any one time. They have shown that in specific cases only quite small areas of primary forest are used, most swiddens being made in secondary growth of from 7 to 20 years (Hong, 1987; Lian, 1987; Sather, 1990). Cramb (1990) has produced data purporting to show that shifting cultivators annually increase the area cut by only 0.2 per cent, about as much as is logged each week. In a fairly lightly peopled area of southern West Kalimantan, however, Helliwell (1990: 53-54) clearly implies that a significant proportion of clearings are made each year in primary rather than secondary forest, and the labour requirements and timing are distinctively different in these gardens. The debate continues, and the evidence remains equivocal. No resolution is in sight.

Creation of grasslands and "critical lands"

The most crucial argument, however, is that the system is extremely destructive of natural resources as a whole. This view has an extensive literature, spearheaded in Sarawak by Freeman (1955), and challenged by a number of writers including Padoch (1982a, 1982b), Chin (1985), Lian (1987), Cramb (1989b), Sather (1990), and others. Much seems to depend on the area described by particular writers for, as we saw above, there is great variation in the resilience of the soils and forest under interference. There are, however, grasslands created by shifting cultivation, and there still is destruction. In describing what seems to be an extreme case, the authors of one RePPProT study in West Kalimantan warn that:

Pioneering shifting cultivation penetrates far into the ... forest areas and threatens to fragment and consume all remaining non-swampland lowland forests in the short to medium term. (RePPProT, 1987b, I: 30)

In Kalimantan, watersheds in which soil erosion has become severe are designated "critical land" (Tanah Kritis). A recent estimate by the Worldwide Fund for Nature of 20 million ha of such land for the whole of Indonesia has been reduced to 13 million by reforestation and rehabilitation work carried out, mainly in Java, by the Ministry of Forestry (MOF/FAO, 1991). These new studies resulted in an upward revision of critical lands in Kalimantan to almost 3 million ha, or 23 per cent of the total area - two-thirds of these lands being in West and Central Kalimantan (Statistik Indonesia, 1990). Later revisions have halved the area, making the whole exercise somewhat less than credible. In West Kalimantan the main problem area is said to lie in the hilly districts north of the Kapuas River. The RePPProT report describes "large areas of barren land" in this region. A further statement is more explicit:

Very steep ridge systems of the Western Plains and Mountains and the Middle Kapuas Basin have been degraded to grassland and scrub by overintensive shifting cultivation. The erosion of these areas is excessive. Present reforestation activities should concentrate on these areas first. (RePPProT, 1987b: 38)

The southern part of this zone is quite closely peopled, though it does contain some extensive stretches of Imperata grassland. The northern part is less wellpopulated and was, for decades or more, subject to raids by Iban and related people from the north. Grassland and forest intermingle. It is of interest to note that the areas with the widest extent of grassland in West Kalimantan are not the areas mentioned above, although there are indeed patches of alangalang (Imperata) occurring there (see chap. 9). In the western part is an area in which some of the pressure might have come from Chinese cultivators moving inland from the Sambas gold fields in the nineteenth century; a considerable number settled in the northern lower Kapuas valley. There are also degraded areas in western and central Sarawak, often on soils of poor quality, which may apply to parts of West Kalimantan. Recommendations regarding reforestation of degraded grasslands are also made for steep ridge systems in the Meratus mountain foothills of south-east Kalimantan, which are also said to be eroding excessively as a result of shifting cultivation (RePPProT, 1987a: 15). These latter areas are further discussed in chapter 9.

Toward an assessment

In approaching an assessment of the contribution of shifting cultivators to environmental degradation we need to recall the historical material discussed in chapter 2. There is strong presumptive evidence that, between one and three centuries ago, and perhaps earlier, there were many more people in parts of inland Borneo than there are today. Conversely, some present areas carry higher populations than in historical times. Some coastal areas too, especially in Sabah, became depopulated owing to the depredations of pirates. Although some inland areas of Imperata grassland, of which there are a number in parts of Borneo, may owe their origins to heavy cultivation in this earlier period, the evidence of higher population in the past also relates to areas that are now forest. These latter areas, or such of them as have not been logged, are now clothed in what looks superficially like primary forest, but in fact differs considerably in timber content from place to place. Many of the 104 concessions in East Kalimantan let between 1967 and 1984 were found to contain areas bare of the high-quality old-growth woods that were the principal merchantable species until lately (Brookfield et al., 1990: 502). This might, as suggested in chapter 1, be due to ecological differences, or even to the consequences of past fires, but it might also bear relation to occupation history.

We also need to note that cultivation systems themselves differ from place to place, and probably have done so from time to time. However, it does seem likely that substantial areas worked over by shifting cultivators in the past returned to mature forest once the pressure was relaxed for a sufficiently long period. This consideration should temper some of the criticism of shifting cultivators, and even dare one say - of loggers. None the less, assessment of the present situation has to take account of increasing pressure, both from population growth and, in significant areas, also from the demands of cashcropping. Moreover, "new" shifting cultivators are now in the Borneo forests, principally in East Kalimantan, paralleling in some measure what "new" shifting cultivators growing cassava and gambier did in the western Peninsula in the nineteenth century. There may, however, be fewer of these than the emphasis placed on them in parts of the literature (e.g. Kartawinata and Vayda, 1984) has led many writers to believe.

The question of the ecological consequences of shifting cultivation is complex. The effects depend not only on the length of the fallow period and hence on population pressure but also, and importantly, on soil, climate, and slope. On poor soils only a meagre forest recovers, even over a long time. When dry weather is prolonged, fire used to make swiddens close to the end of the dry period can more readily escape into the forest, and especially into secondary forest where it kills saplings. The convection created by fires leads them up slopes, and they are fired to take advantage of this assistance. Once grassland is created on hills, it can therefore persist and slowly extend by repeated burning. Large clearings recover much less readily than small clearings, where seed sources are close at hand. There is no doubt that such damage occurs. Its scale, however, varies greatly, and the chances of recovery are much lower where transformation is taking place over large areas. Among present changes, those leading to large clearings for commercial crops, especially in areas liable to drought, are the most likely to lead to degradation. On the other hand, trends toward agro-forestry making productive use of the fallow are far more likely to lead to improvement. Both trends are present in the region, and the future could go either or both ways. Chapter 9 will take this discussion further.

The future

Government policy and the forest people

Whatever the defence of the system in its classic form, there is a real problem when numbers increase and when commercial field crops, as opposed to tree crops, are grown on a large scale in swiddens. Unfortunately, most present solutions involve resettlement and a complete change, rather than adaptation, of farming methods. In Sarawak, two government authorities, first the Sarawak Land Development Board (SLDB) created to manage earlier initiatives in 1972, then the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA) set up in 1976, have both had the object of establishing cash-crop blocks for tribal people. By 1985 some 12,000 ha had been developed by SALCRA, principally in demonstrably impoverished areas of western Sarawak (Hong, 1987). However, whereas SALCRA has mainly established cash-crop blocks on indigenous land, SLDB has created new settlement on the FELDA model, but without anything approaching the large investment and skilled supervisory staff of this Peninsular model. Cramb (1992) has assessed the results and finds them generally poor. He criticizes the whole model of topdown directed agricultural transformation and the official preference for "a more organized and estate-type approach" (Government of Malaysia, 1991b: 136). Hatch (1982) and King (1988) both earlier concluded that few schemes had been truly successful. None the less, a major expansion is now proposed, especially in the eastern regions made sensitive by conflicts with the logging industry (Government of Malaysia, 1991a).

The Indonesian authorities have been more determined than the Malaysians in moving indigenous people to what are seen as betterlocated sites, usually in forest designated for conversion to agriculture, where they can, supposedly, learn more intensive agriculture. East Kalimantan was formerly most active in promoting such resettlement schemes, mainly food-crop schemes resembling transmigration projects. These were criticized as culturally insensitive and often economically unviable (Appell and Appell-Warren, 1985; Avé and King, 1986). Indeed, many proved to be unviable, and the programme, in this form, has virtually ended. Dayaks have sometimes been absorbed into the newer tree-crop schemes, sometimes simply because their land has been taken over, but sometimes on a voluntary basis.12

Resettlement of the smaller number of forest-dwelling people in the Peninsula was first tried during the "emergency" of the communist rebellion, and it was a failure (Stubbs, However, although a specialized government department has been responsible for the Orang Asli since that time, it has had limited positive impact (Lien, 1993). For some, this has not caused harm. Most of the 40 per cent of Orang Asli who live close to the densely settled west coast region are integrated economically with the Malays and Chinese. They trade fruit and forest products and work outside, and their range of incomes is comparable with that of the rural Malays; in 1982 in one northwestern Peninsular community, 88 per cent of food consumed was purchased (Gomes, 1989).13 Many of the larger number in the centre and east have been affected by land development; a significant number have themselves been resettled, but with very mixed success (Hasan Mat Nor, 1989). Others have had to move from areas with good land resources to more marginal sites, and many depend heavily on welfare support (Nicholas, 1989; Sham Kasim, Zulkifli Ismail, and Lailanor Ibrahim, 1989). Already there is a high degree of integration with national society, but across a wide range of economic and welfare conditions. Neither official nor academic research has really captured the full complexities of the situation, which is regrettable because of its potential implications for other tribal people in the region (Hood Salleh and Seguin, 1983; Benjamin, 1989).

Constraints on the future

The central problem is simply stated. The forest people of Borneo and the Peninsula are a small minority whose demand for land extends over a disproportionately large area. In the conditions of the 1960s, it was a not unreasonable decision on the part of the two national governments to take forest areas to resettle considerable numbers of poorer villagers from the national heartlands in the eastern Peninsula and Kalimantan. In principle, though not in practice, it was also by no means unreasonable to encourage large-scale timber extraction from the forests and, later, to develop a vertically integrated industrial system based on forest wood. These two decisions inevitably affected the forest people and, as we have seen above, only some of the consequences have been wholly adverse. The manner in which the conflict over resources has been managed, or not managed, is another question.

By the early 1990s, almost none of the forest people remain even partly out of contact with the new economy. Since the majority have traded forest products with the outside world for at least 1,000 years, many have been able to adapt quite successfully to the new conditions, taking advantage of opportunities. Only in the deep interior were there still, in the early 1980s, small groups who practiced a wellintegrated subsistence economy with minimal dependence on trade and employment. It now seems that, in the 1990s, the pressure to obtain more land for resettlement by outsiders may, at least for a time, become relaxed while, on the other hand, even a bettermanaged timber extraction will extend to reach its economic limits. These pressures will penetrate still further into the interior as roads continue to be built. A significant part of the Kalimantan interior may remain beyond these limits by the year 2000, but very little that is not preserved by enforced regulation will lie beyond them in any part of Malaysia.

Wider appreciation of the ecological merits of shifting cultivation as a system is not, therefore, likely to preserve it from change. Nor is a slowly growing recognition of minority rights likely to conserve subsistence ways of life. Two reserves and part of a national park have been made available to the Penan of Sarawak, in response to the huge international pressure. However, how far these will be used to preserve a nomadic hunter-gatherer economy remains to be seen.

The demographic and economic conditions of sustainable shifting cultivation are rigid (Lien, 1993). They include low population density and only very limited arable cash-cropping; they will increasingly be breached. Moreover, when timber income declines, continued satisfaction of needs and aspirations is unlikely to be met by a return to principal dependence on shifting cultivation of food crops. Demand for continued participation in the cash economy is therefore likely to intersect with outside pressures for change, both leading toward a restructured rural production system.

Contents - Previous - Next