Academic journal article Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Can Gaharu Be Harvested Sustainably? A Case Study from East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Academic journal article Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Can Gaharu Be Harvested Sustainably? A Case Study from East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the late 1980s, non-government organizations (NGOs), agricultural extension workers, and international development agencies have devoted increasingly more attention to the potential for managing and sustainably exploiting non-timber forest products (hereafter NTFPs). The underlying obejctive behind the efforts to promote NTFPs on the national and international levels was to create an alternative to the conventional exploitation of the forests (particularly in the tropics) - i.e., timber extraction and/or conversion (Prance et al. 1987; DeBeer and McDermott 1989; Panayotou and Ashton 1992; Plotkin and Famolare 1992). The gains (or positive impact) that could potentially arise from establishing the NTFPs as the main resources extracted from the forests are thought to be numerous. First, as imperative as ecological concerns are, the most important consideration relating to non-wood forest products seems to be their potential for providing greater financial benefits for local communities than extraction of timber or conversion to fulltime sedentary agriculture (Gradwohl and Greenberg 1988; Fearnside 1989; Peters et al. 1989). The second key assumption is that, in principle, the exploitadon of NTFPs will leave tree cover intact, thus providing a viable solution to the problem of deforestation. Cumulatively, it is hoped that extraction and marketing of non-woody species may provide a means to balance the concerns associated with both conservation and development in the rural areas (Schwartzman 1989;Allegretti 1990).

Economic and ecological studies carried out among the indigenous communities in South America (particularly in Amazonia) provided an early confirmation of the projections about the potentially high economic (marketing) value of fruit trees, saps, and latexes (Peters et al. 1989a; Peters et al. 1989b; Vasquez and Gentry 1989; Anderson and Jardim 1989). However, as the studies of the economic value of these resources became more numerous it became increasingly apparent that the estimates of the monetary incomes that indigenous collectors could obtain from NTFPs were grossly overestimated (Saw et al. 1991; Pinedo-Vasquez et al. 1990; Appasamy 1993; Chopra 1993; Godoy et al. 1993). In spite of this troubling revelation, it was assumed diat the economic success (however erratic) of certain Amazonian communities specializing in NTFPs was, however, an indication of ecological sustainability (i.e., steady income = steady supply of forest products = sustainable management of the species) (Fearnside 1989). Eventually, it became clear that economicecological compatibility was the exception rather than the rule and that rural communities exhibit a distinct tendency to over-exploit non-timber forest resources (Kahn 1988; Nepstad et al. 1992; Bodrner et. al 1993; Padoch 1988; Peluso 1992a and b).

It is important to point out that studies which have shown the ecological non-sustainability of the exploitation of forest products rarely mention the economic and political factors, such as influx of foreign capital and the importation of external labor force, as the primary causes of the negative ecological consequences. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the impact of these external interventions on the economic and ecological status of the Aquilana. spp. in the Berau River system, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The case of Aquilaria is bound to be somewhat controversial since the resource extracted from the trees of this species, a diseased fragrant heartwood, technically does not qualify as a nonwood forest product. Furthermore, as I will show, the extraction techniques used to obtain the heartwood invariably result in the destruction of the tree containing the resource. From the outset then the exploitation of the gaharu wood seems to be anything but sustainable. However, by drawing a clear distinction between the methods used to search, sample, and extract gaharu by local communities (particularly formerly nomadic Punan) and by opportunistic collectors (usually migrants from other islands employed by the pharmaceutical companies) I will argue that extraction of gaharu could be carried out in a sustainable manner. …

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