New research helps map better future for Papuan communities

A truly collaborative approach to land use planning. Mokhammad Edliadi/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 December, 2012)_Researchers working with forest communities in northern Papua have developed a series of maps pinpointing the location of natural resources, which are being used to bridge the information gap between local communities needs and government resource requirements.

“Maps are powerful tools – rather than having to delve through reports, people can quickly understand what the resources are, where they are, and how people use particular areas – where they plant sago, where they hunt, where they fish and where the sacred places are,” said Michael Padmanaba, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and co-author of the research.

The maps, developed on a scale of 1:50,000 (similar to the scale required for official spatial planning), will be used to assist land-use planning by the government of Mamberamo Raya Regency by incorporating the knowledge and needs of local people, said Padmanaba.

With an area of 7.8 million hectares (90% is forested), forests in Mamberamo are considered to be vital to their livelihoods of local communities living in the region. Each regency is tied to its commitment to adhere to the Papua Green Policy to have forest maintained at 70% of the total land area, by still giving space for village activities.

Everybody likes to talk about participatory approaches, but on the ground it’s difficult to implement.

However plans for future land use, such as infrastructure development, mining extraction, new capital development, or urbanisation, have been rarely informed local knowledge of land tenure and forest resource needs.

“Villagers know which places contain plants that are useful for medicine, which places are good for growing crops. This information would be useful for governments to know when deciding which areas to protect and which to schedule for development,” Padmanaba said.

Local governments seldom have the financial or human resources to gather information, typically due to the high costs involved in sending mapping officials to remote villages. As a result, local perceptions are frequently ignored by the government.

“Everybody likes to talk about participatory approaches, but on the ground it’s difficult to implement,” he said.

Padmanaba, CIFOR-CIRAD colleague Manuel Boissière, and Ermayanti, a researcher with Conservational International Indonesia have been working in six villages in the regency for the past two years: one which is located in a logging production forest (Burmeso), and the others in a wildlife reserve.

They have developed a set of guidelines that lay out the minimum requirements for local involvement in land-use planning of the region.

“The guidelines provide step-by-step methods such as interviews, focus group discussion, participatory mapping for government officials to also collect data required for land use planning,” Padmanaba explained.

The researchers also documented how local people’s use of the land may change in future development projects. They found that in Burmeso, the villagers’ current gardens and part of the hunting areas will be used for the development of the new regency capital city. Consequently, gardens will be moved to several places in each clan territory, and a portion of the local community will have to change their livelihoods to become regency officials or company workers.

Development is creeping into Papua’s forested land. Mokhammad Edliadi/CIFOR

In many of villages located in conservation areas however, the people did not want extreme changes in land use, but keenly expressed their wishes to keep their forests and lands protected.

“According to the people in these villages, there is still space available in their garden areas to accommodate local needs for the next ten or even twenty years as well as development plans,” Padmanaba said.

This information has been incorporated into a land-use map for the present and another showing local people’s future expectations.

“We wanted to document all the local knowledge in this area to produce a map of how people use their land at present and what they plan for the future,” he said.

Following the presentation of the maps to the Mamberamo government earlier this year, regent, Bapak Demianus Kyew-kyew has expressed keenness to work with the researchers to train government staff in collaborative land-use planning.  

“Training begun in October and we’ll continue with field work and data analysis training for the rest of this year,” Padmanaba said.

“This has been a true collaborative approach to land use planning.”

This work is part of CGIAR program on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by l’Agence Française pour le Développement (AFD).

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  • Bishnu Prasad Mohapatra

    Thanks to Padmanaba and team for in-depth and intensive research work on mapping the Community Forest Resources in Six Villages. As there is already stated that”participatory approach is difficult to implement in the Field” however the team has proved that “Mapping of Natural Resources like Forests needs close and intensive rapport building exercise between the community members and Research team.

    However, is the proposed research work should try to bring about the process, steps and tools followed while doing such exercise.Challenges and Limitations should also mention.

  • Tim Upham

    For centuries, the Asmat people of Papua used their land wisely. It was too swampy to performed agriculture, so with the sago palm they made bread and pudding. Then the wood-boring beetle larvae in the fallen trees provided protein. I am sure that roads into the forest, has changed that all now.