Traditional livelihoods decline in Borneo forests as communities rely on mining, logging jobs

Photo courtesy of Samuel L Wackson/flickr.

BOGOR, Indonesia (17 February, 2012)_Forest communities in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province are turning to jobs in mining, agriculture, construction and other sectors, as increasing tracts of forest are lost to logging and mining operations.

While tropical forests still cover more than 90% of the region, district authorities during the last decade have allocated most of the land to logging and mining concessions, resulting in a considerable decline in the role of forests in local livelihoods.

A new study by the Center for International Forestry Research has found that villages along the Malinau River, an area rich in valuable timber and mineral resources, are relying less on traditional livelihoods — typically a mixture of hunting, fishing, cultivating fruit gardens, collecting eaglewood and bird’s nests.

CIFOR researchers conducted surveys in seven villages to examine people’s perceptions of the changing role of forests in the local economy over the past decade. Interviews conducted with 83 people (52 men, 31 women) and discussions with group of men and women revealed that villagers are worried about the declining quality of their forests and environment. The majority  still consider forests the primary source of goods and services for the community and said forests were the most important land type (when compared to agricultural lands, gardens, mines, rivers, settlements, old villages, and swamps).

“Despite the declining role of forests in the local economy, forests remain highly valued by local communities,” said Imam Basuki, lead author of The Evolving Role of Tropical Forests for Local Livelihoods in Indonesia. “Giving villagers a say in forest management would provide greater protections for forest resources.”

The study found jobs in mining, agriculture, construction and services accelerated economic growth in the Malinau district from 1.24% in 2004 to 8.96% in 2009. Most of those interviewed said they supported development as beneficial to their quality of life.  Indeed, development projects in the last decade have brought jobs, health and education services and infrastructure improvements. But villagers said they were concerned such growth is threatening traditional livelihoods and comes at the expense of reduced access to their forests and forest resources.

“Jobs” has been highlighted as one of the seven critical issues for new sustainable development goals that will be released in Rio+20.  While many existing tools for assessing poverty and income – such as the World Bank’s Living Standard Measurement Survey – fall short in capturing the true value of forests in the livelihoods of the world’s rural poor, the concept of “green jobs” is an attempt to look for synergies in simultaneously addressing employment, energy and environment issues.

“Local knowledge, culture and livelihoods can be beneficially integrated with forest management to produce more sustainable, less damaging outcomes that benefit livelihoods without damaging the environment,” the study concluded.

“Villagers should be given greater control over development in the district to reverse the declining role of forests in the local economy and ensure greater protection for their forests,” said Basuki.

CIFOR’s ongoing research in Malinau, East Kalimantan exemplifies the value of long-term research sites, said Douglas Sheil, CIFOR Senior Associate and co-author of the study.

“Our research with these communities began over 10 years ago and over this time we been able to gain the trust of the communities, allowing us to work closely with them and better understand their views.  We have also seen many of the long-term trends directly allowing us to evaluate them in ways that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible to achieve.”

The new publication is part of CIFOR’s research program on Forest and Environment and was sponsored by the European Commission

To ensure that  Rio+20 delivers a global message that forests matter to sustainable development, CIFOR will coordinate one of the most important conferences on forests on 19 June, 2012. Forests: The 8th Roundtable at Rio+20 will discuss new research findings, remaining knowledge gaps and policy implications for integrating forests into the solutions to four key challenges to progress toward a green economy: energy, food and incomewater, and climate. Seats are limited so register here to avoid disappointment!