The indigenous people of Sungai Utik, a Dayak Iban community in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, have maintained a strong traditional connection to their forests despite continuous pressure from logging and palm oil companies intent on taking their land. Their forests remain intact and their traditional values are keeping their community together. If we want to keep forests we need to trust and support communities like the indigenous Dayak Iban. As they tackle the impacts of climate change, through the sustainable forestry traditional both to their culture and to their understanding of nature, they can offer us climate solutions and hope for the future.
Deforestation & Climate Change in Indonesia
Forest conservation in Indonesia is key to reducing its contribution to global warming. While agriculture, deforestation and land use related activities contributed 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, in Indonesia it contributed as much as 85% of total national greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to deforestation and peat fires. Since the early 1990s deforestation has been mainly driven by agricultural expansion, especially of oil palm plantations. Almost 90% of oil palm plantations in Kalimantan from 1990-2010 came at the expense of forest cover. Other drivers of deforestation include smallholder shifting cultivation and subsistence agriculture, mining, logging and forest fires – both natural and human induced to clear land for other uses.
Indonesia’s high population density and high levels of biodiversity makes it one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, including temperature increase, sea level rise, intense rainfall and threatened food security. Indigenous peoples in Indonesia offer climate solutions that can help avoid these effects.
About Sungai Utik
Sungai Utik is situated in Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan province and has a population of 308. A substantial proportion of the inhabitants of Sungai Utik, who have been living there since the early 1970s, reside in the longhouse (known as rumah betang or rumah panjai), while other residents live in small houses nearby.
The majority of the population share both ethnicity (indigenous Dayak Iban) and religion (Catholic, although they still strongly maintain their traditional religious beliefs), and there are limited social hierarchies. Most Dayak Iban in the area work as farmers, both from dry-field (umai pantai) and wet-rice (umai payak) farming.
‘Adat’ law & Sustainable Forest Management
Customary (adat) law is still the main system of governance in Sungai Utik. It involves a group of Adat leaders who guide the community according to the Adat laws, which include the management of natural resources in customary forests. This strong customary law plays a significant role in the success of community forest conservation.
According to AMAN’s records, the Sungai Utik customary forest covers 9,452.5 hectares, with 6,000 hectares designated as protected forest. The indigenous Dayak Iban residents cultivate the rest as orchards or swidden fields. The long-term vision of leaders like Apai Janggut, who compare the Adat forest to a supermarket or a bank, enables the community to resist offers by timber enterprises and illegal loggers, where other neighbouring hamlets have conceded. The community’s strong social cohesion also contributes significantly to the success of their forest conservation.
To recognise the community’s commitment to customary law and forest conservation, the Indonesian forestry ministry awarded Sungai Utik with an eco-label certification in August 2008, the first in Indonesia. The Sustainable Community Based Forest Management (SCBFM) certification was given considerable attention by the media and especially in the surrounding Dayak Iban communities. It represents national recognition for their sustainable forest management efforts and their contribution to tackling climate change.
Threats & Challenges
The maintenance of their customary forest has not always been easy. In 1979, the company PT Benua Indah obtained a timber concession in their customary forest, however, when they tried to harvest wood there was strong resistance from local people. The Iban of Sungai Utik also had to withstand the temptation of illegal logging. “They fruitlessly tried to test us with money,” said Remang, the community leader. “The role of customary law and knowledge is extremely strong in our community.”
The main threats to the community’s forest conservation are the lack of legal support from local government, the accessibility by a main road, potential developments towards commercial rather than subsistence extraction and pressure from both timber concessions and illegal logging.
The residents of Sungai Utik and Pulan mapped their customary forest through a participatory mapping process in 1998 with the help of PPSDAK (Empowerment of Community-based Natural Resource Management – a counter mapping unit). This helped them derive the size of the customary forest and adopt a zoning policy. It delineated the boundary between the primary forest and the area local people could cultivate, which was limited to that which had been traditionally cultivated up to 1998.
Several NGOs support community efforts to maintain their Adat forest and to obtain formal recognition from the government. For example, LEI (Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia) supports certification of Adat forest management as an SCBFM (Sustainable Community Based Forest Management), AMAN (Archipelago Indigenous People Alliance) is involved in supporting efforts to obtain formal recognition of the forest from the government, LBBT (Institute for Community Legal Resources Empowerment) focuses on law and legality issues, and PPSHK (Program for Strengthening Community Forestry) works to improve the management of natural resources.
About the Dayak Iban & Dayak Longhouses
The Dayak Iban are an indigenous peoples primarily concentrated in Malaysian Sarawak and Indonesian West Kalimantan. Dayak is the generic term used to describe any of the indigenous peoples of the interior of Borneo (as opposed to the largely Malay coastal population).. It was increasingly used during the colonial period by Europeans, however, it has been reappropriated since independence by indigenous political groups especially to distinguish themselves from the dominant Malay population.
Dayak longhouses are known as Rumah [meaning home] Betang in Indonesian or Rumah Panjang in Iban. The tuai is the head of the longhouse, which in Sungai Utik is a 28-door building. Inside the longhouse a wall runs along the length of the building with space along one side of it serving as a public corridor for guests to sleep, domestic work to be carried out and communal space, while on the other side of the wall are private areas where the ‘bilik’ family units live.
Life in the longhouse
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The longhouse is the centre of the community and family life; it is a place that fosters unity and solidarity. Working together, as the indigenous Dayak Iban have done for generations, is necessary to protect the forests. Overhead drone footage followed by shots of people working inside the longhouse. Interview with Lidia Sumbun while she weaves.
The forest provides
00:01:17 to 00:02:48
The forest provides everything people need to live from and a source of income as well; the forest and the communities help one another, a connection which is passed down through generations. As elders protected the forests, so must the younger generations do the same. Footage of walking in the forest, fishing in the river and interview with Apai Janggut.
Threats to both community and forest
00:02:49 to 00:04:13
The community began to struggle when companies arrived and started to clear the forests. They reject the palm oil plantations and demonstrate against the companies threatening the forests. Although they don’t reject money, they know they can live sufficiently and sustainably from the forests. Shots of Klaudius Kudi making fishing nets.
Rice production and climate change
00:04:14 to 00:05:17
Rice is an important crop for the Dayak Iban. However, they have noticed a change in the weather that is affecting crop yields and which could cause famine. They recognise the impacts of climate change on their agricultural practice. Shots of rice fields and interview with Kristiana Banang.
Addressing the Challenges
00:05:18 to 00:07:17
The community plants trees to restore forests cut down for farming, especially Petai and Agarwood. Protecting the forest is a way of showing gratitude for what it provides and we should all work together to protect both forests and human life. Footage of tree planting and interview with Raymondus Remang.
- Crevello, S. et al (2010) Community-Based Forest Management In Kalimantan, Indonesia: A Stocktaking of Lessons Learned, USAID https://rmportal.net/library/frame/PDF/CK2C-KALIMANTAN-COMMUNITY-BASED-FOREST-MGT-STOCKTAKING.pdf/view
- Pramono, A. H. et al. (2006) Ten years after: counter-mapping and the Dayak lands in West Kalimantan, Indonesia
- Measey, M., (2010) Indonesia: A Vulnerable Country in the Face of Climate Change Global Majority E-Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (June 2010), pp. 31-45 https://www.american.edu/cas/economics/ejournal/upload/global_majority_e_journal_1-1_measey.pdf
- Minority Rights Directory: Dayaks http://minorityrights.org/minorities/dayak/