Last updated April 2010 
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Malinau, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Malinau KalimantanGunung Lumut - Kalimantan  |  Papua  |  Sumatra

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is committed to undertaking long-term research in Malinau, a well-forested district of East Kalimantan. Malinau’s forests are threatened by logging, mining and conversion. The area had scarcely been studied previously, but such a wet rugged and densely forested region was anticipated to possess a rich flora and fauna of global significance. Various indigenous communities depend on the forest as hunter-gatherers and swidden cultivators.

CIFOR and collaborators developed the MLA methods as a “biodiversity survey” and to identify key research issues as part of a larger project funded by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). Methods were applied at and evaluated with seven villages (Sheil et al., 2003).

Research focused on local communities. The interests of other major stakeholders were already obvious (e.g. logging companies value accessible timber). Local governments did not yet exist during the initial field studies, but subsequently emerged as significant local decision-makers. We worked with the Merap and Punan ethnic groups, which represent two distinct cultures. A Kalimantan based NGO Yayasan Biosfer Manusia (BIOMA) also collaborated, as well as staff from Mulawarman University of Samarinda (Unmul), Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), the Ministry of Forestry’s Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA) and government scientists from the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI).

Many results were surprising, insightful and helpful to improved forestry practices (Sheil et al., 2006). One example was an understanding of the various reasons why local people value logged over forest so much less than primary forest—amongst other things the post harvest clearing of forest undergrowth was seen as especially damaging. As this practice offers no clear silvicultural benefits we have proposed that it be stopped. Another example is that the damage often caused to local gravesites by timber harvesting equipment was a major cause of aggravation to the communities. The taboos surrounding the use of these sites made them valuable protection sites, but logging companies gave them no respect and saw all claims made against them purely in terms of ‘the communities asking for money’. Field visits however verified the gravesites were damaged. See also the example of sago given in the main text. Other problems included ritual use of some legally protected species.

The methods included an initial introduction followed by a month-long stay in each village and follow up visits. The logistic and operational problems encountered during the survey were mainly anticipated in advance. The study was well funded during the survey and the later synthesis and feedback stage. Significant post-survey costs included the soil analysis and botanical taxonomy; data handling, which included checking and revising in a large team; and the feedback activities with local communities.

The strength of the approach was that it allowed researchers to identify and study important components of a difficultly accessible landscape while gaining an appreciation of their significance for local people. However, the difficulty of getting some of these types of results into peer-reviewed journals reflects some academic prejudice against such research and may in itself reduce its academic interest (Sheil and Lawrence, 2004).

Ecologically and botanically the survey is the most complete in the region. The results proved rich and many issues were raised that still have to be adequately pursued. The small team quickly got locked into describing the surveys, promoting and refining the methods and employing them elsewhere, rather than addressing the highlighted research topics.

Research results have been disseminated through scientific and non-scientific media (reports; books; articles in journals, newspapers and magazines; presentations; posters; cards; films) and have had impact at local and regional scale. The survey results have also been used in the development of a new environmental education curriculum for the district.

An impact evaluation showed that the team’s poster campaign had statistically significantly improved factual knowledge of, and agreement with, concerns identified by the local communities amongst other communities, townspeople and even district government officials. It found unanimous support for conservation measures in the district (Padmanaba and Sheil, 2007).

Community members often comment that through their involvement they have learned to express what is important to them, and appreciate being better able to communicate their concerns to the local government and other stakeholders (Pye-Smith, 2005; Padmanaba and Sheil, 2007). The trust and dialogue that was built also ensured a sense of local ownership of the process. Researchers provided external perspectives and found that people were generally receptive to the global significance of local biodiversity. Elders and healers also communicated their knowledge to other members of the communities during the research and through the dissemination materials.

Impact on decision-making was most evident in the case of planned oil palm plantations (Basuki and Sheil, 2005). Survey results were influential in persuading the government to move or reconsider two oil palm plantation projects. In one case, NGOs used the study results to persuade the central government to reconsider their plan to convert more than 1 million hectares of Borneo’s forest area to oil palm (Kompas, 2006). The government of Indonesia has currently postponed this operation, put a moratorium on converting natural forest to plantations, and requires that full impact assessments should be undertaken for all such future projects.

The results have already been widely shared in the region and responses have been positive, but promotion is a continuous and uncertain process that depends on the availability of key stakeholders such as local campaigners. Unfortunately these seem to be lacking. The research team is still promoting the results to large-scale initiatives such as Heart of Borneo and national forest certification processes (involving various NGOs and national institutions). Perhaps the most significant impact is the fact that many related studies have been or are being undertaken as reported in this chapter.