Humans have depended on forests since the beginning of their existence on earth. Changes in time and civilization bring new dynamics in their relationship with forest ecosystems. This study on community-forest relationships was conducted in 6 villages, in Jambi and Papua. We explored what beyond the success and failure of community-based forest conservation practices. A strong connection between people and nature is a key factor in building community resilience to various threatening shocks. This stems from within – the way they see themselves as part of social-ecological whole.
Ecosystems in Papua
Papua's ecosystems harbor unique biodiversity, including many species of birds (including birds of paradise), wallabies and kangaroos, snakes, a variety of butterflies and thousands of plants. Most Papuans live in villages surrounded by forests, coexisting with, and sustainably managing, forest resources.
Towards new patterns of relations. In Papua, livelihood strategies are built on what is around them: some are subsistence, some are connected to longer value chains, and some come in the form of creative economies. These ways of utilizing natural resources are manifestations of the socio-ecological relations that have existed for generations, along with their encounters with new patterns of relations.
Socio-ecological relations in Jambi. People in Jambi depend on smallholder plantations, growing industrial commodities such as rubber, coffee and cinnamon. Some also nurture honey bees, as well as growing rice, secondary crops and vegetables. Their sources of income are in contact with the forest, thus requiring the community to build a good balance between conservation and livelihoods.
Coconut in Aruswar. The expanse of coconut trees along the coast of Aruswar not only acts as a protection from the ocean waves, but is also a source of livelihood for the community. Coconuts are processed into oil in a simple way, with men climbing, reaping and splitting the coconuts, while women grind, squeeze and process the coconut milk into oil.
The relationship between community and sago. Sago (Metroxylon sago) is an inseparable part of people in Papua. Sago processing is done collectively, through a long process. Some community members expressed concern over the younger generation’s loss of interest in sago, but we still see the enthusiasm of young people to process sago, some exploring new, innovative ways.
Adding value through crafts. Local artisans, mainly women, make crafts from local resources such as nibun (Oncosperma tigillarium), sago fronds, or rattan. These crafts are used in their daily lives, sold in the local markets, or hawked to those who visit. Crafts are a way for communities to add value to their abundant natural resources, while opening up new livelihood opportunities.
Shocks: People’s lives are not immune to various shocks – ecological, socio-economic, and even technology. The internet, for example, is a double-edged sword; on one hand, it provides unlimited access to information, while on the other, it erodes cultural values. Highways are no different, drawing resources out from villages to cities while bringing in junk food to children. It is important for communities to adapt if they do not want to be overtaken by these changes.
Social life in Jambi. In Jambi, rural life looks humble, painted with wooden stilt houses, school activities in simple classrooms, and children playing freely in the streams and hills. Occasionally, they fish in the river with their harpoons and swimming goggles. Mothers cooking together at community events, or working in arisan kebun, color the spirit of gotong royong that is still commonly seen.
Social life in Papua. Papua gives a sentimental color to the village life: children playing football in a large field, worship activities are held warmly, and school is still fun, even with limited facilities. Gotong royong is also still a strong feature, exemplified by how dozens of people come together, bringing various building materials, to help repairing the house of one of the residents in need.
Market and local economy in Papua. Markets have a crucial social role in rural Papuan communities. Not only as a place for economic transactions, markets are a vehicle to build social capital, where distant families meeting each other. Gon, a barter market in Sarmi, occurs every three months, bringing together residents of Aruswar and their agricultural products (as well as consumer goods such as sugar and salt) with people from other coastal villages who bring along fish products. In other villages, markets are local, with short supply chains, small scale, and produces from their local gardens.
Value chain and household economy in Jambi. The economy in Jambi is based on industrial commodities with long supply chains. Rubber, cinnamon and coffee are sold to middlemen (tauke), who then sell to large traders. On the other hand, basic foodstuffs are sold through itinerant vegetable vendors, given the distance of the villages from the central . The small-scale local economy is provided by, and for, local people. Rice, chilies and other vegetables are sold in the local market, but they do not generate as much income as rubber or cinnamon.
Governance and social leadership in Papua. In Papua, leadership is driven by two axes, namely customary leaders (ondoafi and chiefs) and formal government officials. Youth often acts as the third axis that plays a critical role in driving social changes. One thing that is often overlooked is the role of women, who fill in the social spaces, such as through their roles in health services, education and the local markets.
Drivers for social change in Jambi. In Jambi, formal leaders are young people who drive change and innovation, including in the utilization of forest ecosystem services. This is balanced with inputs from the adat leaders, who maintain local wisdom, such as in the management of Lubuk Larangan. Religious activities are often a vehicle for building communication between leaders and commoners.
Pressures on forest ecosystems. In Papua, pressure on forest ecosystems in the form of logging and large-scale plantations has begun to affect local communities, such as through the decline in wild hunt and access to clean water. While the economic benefits are clear, the ecological impacts are a turning point towards community-focused and sustainability-oriented initiatives.
The fragility of commodity value chains. The strongest shock felt in Jambi was perhaps the fluctuating prices of plantation commodities, which led to land abandonment in some areas. As global commodities, the prices of rubber, cinnamon and coffee are notably volatile, impacting the fragility of the value chain, and the vulnerability of farmers as price takers at the end of the chain. This is exacerbated by increases in fuel price and agricultural inputs.
Pests, diseases, and loss of income. Shocks have driven changes in the relationships between people and nature. Cocoa pests and diseases, for example, destroyed most of the cocoa trees that were once a source of livelihood for the community. In the past, children could easily earn pocket money from picking cocoa, while adults earned even more. This has long gone after the outbreaks.
Building resilience in Papua and Jambi
Social resilience in Papua is reflected in two important aspects: the flexibility with which people develop diverse livelihood strategies, and the way they view the future. How people move from one economic mode (subsistence) to another (market economy), from global value chains to local food systems, has been shown to reduce their vulnerability to shocks. People also see their gardens, livestock and especially their vast forests as savings, which are not always clearly valued, but which they believe will always be there as a safety net in times of uncertainty.
The community in Jambi look to the future with optimism. Over the past four decades, the community has experienced several major shocks – falling rubber and cinnamon prices, economic crises, forest encroachment from the outside – and in those periods the community has always been able to adapt. Agroforestry patterns provided a buffer when commodity prices fell, as did household farms. A key factor in resilience lies in maintaining local wisdom and values, such as through the collectively managed Lubuk Larangan.
Community resilience is built like a love story – between spouses, parents and children, leaders and commoners, the older and younger generations, and particularly between people and nature. Here, resilience is built through strong social (ecological) bonds, mutual openness and respect, and a positive outlook on the future. The values inherent in this love story help the community to be resilient in the face of various shocks.
In the end, it boils down to how we answer this question:
What do you consider most important in your life?