Gunung Tujuh, the site of several villages bordering on Kerinci Seblat National Park. I'd previous visited the villages a few months back and had been meaning to return, but the sabotage of the reforestration project I discussed in a previous post gave me immediate cause to make a repeat visit (1). As it turns out, somebody (or more likely, somebodies) took an industrial sprayer filled with herbicide to 500 hectares of tree seedlings, destroying approximately 1/3 of the 1500 hectare project. I wanted to find out who was responsible or at least why they did it, so I scheduled a meeting with some of the village heads.
I had a number of questions prepared for the village heads. I wanted to know about how land is managed in the villages. I also wanted to learn about social aspects of the villages, including the education system. I was curious about the history of the villages and wanted to hear their take on the conflicts with the park, since these villages have a particularly contentious history with the park authorities. I learned that the villages were founded back in the 1960s and were originally settled by people moving out of more crowded areas of Kerinci Valley. At that time there was no national park, and the Basic Forestry law, which gave the central government formal authority over all forested areas in Indonesia, had not yet been passed. Thus at that time migrating villagers, at least in this part of Sumatra, were free to open up new land for cultivation, as they'd been doing for hundreds of years previously.
I learned a great deal talking to the village heads. They were happy to talk to me about their troubles with the park and seemed glad that someone was paying attention to them. We talked about population dynamics, including birthrates and in/outmigration. We talked about schools and educational opportunties (or lack thereof) We also talked about the life of a farmer in here in the hills. All of the folks I spoke with felt that they were being treated unfairly by the park, while at the same time they didn't feel like anyone in the regional government was interested in their plight. One of the village officials I spoke with told me that, before the park was officially designated, the members of the village met with representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture to map out where the borders of the park ought to go. They went so far as to physically construct border markers on the ridge behind their ladangs (cultivated fields). According to the story, though, the park's planners had different ideas and drew the borders in such a way that 60% of the villages' cultivated land would fall inside the park's boundaries.
Then I headed to one of the small dry goods shops in the middle of one of the villages. As a foreigner in remote Sumatra I always draw a lot of attention from people that are milling about. People gather around because they are curious and want to know what I'm up to and where I'm from, and it's always a friendly interaction. At the same time this is a good way for me to get information as to what's going on in the area and how people are doing. I figured maybe I'd get the scuttlebutt on the aforementioned forest sabotage, but the topic didn't come up, though we did have a pretty good conversation about how women are like the weather. Maybe next time. But I did learn enough to formulate a theory as to why forest encroachment is so problematic in this area.
|Scale Diagram from Wilson, 2009 (see refs)|
So back to the farmers at Pesisir Bukit and Pauh Tinggi. The people I talked to said the local folks are locked into a specific pattern because they need to make money to eat. From the global perspective that pattern is a problem because it leads to the destruction of resources that are considered important at a global scale (trees and biodiversity). At the national level it's a problem because the local farmers encroach into an area that the national government has decided should be set aside. So the priorities of the global and national scale are expressed in the policies of the park, which prohibit farmers from moving in (2). However, if we look at the regional scale, the rules that keep people from farming in the park are more of a political issue. The leaders of the district say that the park is bad for people because it keeps them from making a living, and it also keeps the district from making money from things like plantations and production forests, which they could tax. The district headman has been very vocal about this; he often says that "the world cries out for us to protect the 'lungs of the earth', but they don't care about the lungs of the people of Kerinci'" ("Dunia berkoar-koar mengatakan TNKS paru-paru dunia, tapi mereka tidak memperhatikan paru-paru masyarakat Kerinci"). This has been a very effective strategy for the district headman because he has been able to portray the park as a common enemy, and so people in the district support him (3).
|New houses in Desa Harapan Jaya; Rawa Bento|
swamp (trees) and Gunung (Mt.) Kerinci in background
This is important because is creates a kind of trap for the farmers. Because they don't seem to have any options they continue to do what they are doing. But the conflict between the park and the district government has some important consequences for the farmers at the local scale. For one, as I mentioned in the previous post, the farmers don't have any formal title of ownership over their land. Rather it is governed by an adat (traditional law) system. Land transactions and conflicts are regulated rather harmoniously under this system, but there's a big defect. The farmers can never be absolutely certain that they will have access to the land in the distant future. Since they have no legal protections, they could be evicted next year, next month, next week, or even tomorrow (4). So instead of buying and selling land, they have a system they call ganti rugi. If you are in the village and you want to secure some land to cultivate, you don't buy it. Rather you pay the person that currently owns it compensation for the work they did to open up the land in the first place. But since there is always uncertainty, securing the rights to the land always carries the risk that the government will come in and kick you off. Thus the future value of the land is a lot lower than it otherwise would be if the farmers had clear title to it. This changes their long term calculations and affects how they use the land. In this situation it makes a lot of sense economically to clear land, cultivate on it a couple of years, flip it, and start the whole process over again.
Of course this has implications for conservation at the park. It encourages "unsustainable" agricultural practices, as the farmers in the area have neither reason or capacity to adapt less-damaging agricultural systems. And it effectively prevents the farmers from making investments in the land that would lead to long-term increases in productivity. No one really benefits from the situation except for the people exploiting it for political gain. For their part the people managing the park sympathize with the farmers, though their primary responsibility is to enforce the law. They have made some efforts to help farmers with alternative livelihoods, providing villagers with ducks to reduce their reliance on the land in the park, but villagers complain that these small-scale programs come nowhere close to compensating them for the loss of land.
I don't know how to solve this problem, but now I have a good idea of the processes driving the encroachment. Knowing about the social, economic, and political contexts surrounding environmentally destructive behavior helps us to understand what sorts of interventions definitely will not work, and points us in the direction of addressing causes rather than symptoms.
(1) I hate to say "I told you so", but I told you so.
(2) It should also be noted that although encroachment is against the law, the national park does not have the resources to enforce the law, which complicates the picture still further.
(3) I would say the bupati uses this to distract attention from other issues.
(4) The park has tried to evict encroaching farmers in the past; most recently in 2010 the park had an agreement with the district headman to expel the villagers, but the headman backed out and no action was taken.
Wilson, Geoff A. 2009. The Spatiality of Multifunctional Agriculture: A Human Geography Perspective. Geoforum 40:2 pp269-280.