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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 169-172

Land Use, Nature Conservation and the Stability of Rainforest Margins in Southeast Asia

Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development(CISED), Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Nagarbhavi, Bangalore 560 072, India

Correspondence Address:
Sharachchandra Lele
Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development(CISED), Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Nagarbhavi, Bangalore 560 072
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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009

How to cite this article:
Lele S. Land Use, Nature Conservation and the Stability of Rainforest Margins in Southeast Asia. Conservat Soc 2006;4:169-72

How to cite this URL:
Lele S. Land Use, Nature Conservation and the Stability of Rainforest Margins in Southeast Asia. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2006 [cited 2019 Jul 19];4:169-72. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2006/4/1/169/55798

Gerhard Gerold, Michael Fremerey and Edi Guhardja (editors), Land Use, Nature Conservation and the Stability of Rainforest Margins in Southeast Asia, Springer, Environmental Science Series, Pages: XXXII+ 534 pages. 87 illus., Hardcover, 2004, 99.9 Euros, ISBN: 3-540-00603-6.

Debates on deforestation in general and the degradation of rainforests in southeast Asia in particular have moved beyond simplistic claims about the role of shifting cultivation or population growth into a more nuanced and complex realm. Recognising this, the German-Indonesian research programme on 'Stability of Rainforest Margins' (STORMA), started in 2000, has attempted to explore many dimensions of the drivers, processes and consequences of changes in rainforest condition. The book under review is primarily a presentation of results from STORMA, along with a few other papers that were presented at an international symposium organised under this programme in 2002.

The book is divided into 3 sections (misleadingly called 'chapters'). Section 1 largely on the socio-economic context and drivers of land-use change on the rainforest margins. This includes an overview of the literature on tropical deforestation and several fascinating studies on the role of socio-cultural social institutions, political capital, technical progress in agriculture, etc. on land-use and forest use decisions in Sulawesi (which is the focus of the STORMA programme) and a few other southeast Asian locations. Section 2 is mainly about the ecological impacts of such changes at the micro-scale, such as the composition of the tree layer, butterfly and bird communities, or individual charismatic species such as the Tonkean macaque. Section 3 is a bit of a mish-mash, including not only studies of the impacts of forest change on hydrology and nutrient cycling (what might be called the larger ecosystem level impact), but also some agronomic and fertiliser application experiments in cultivated landscapes, studies of agroforestry systems, and two papers on spatially explicit land use change analysis and modelling and one on water tenure that would have fitted much better into section 1. Given the large number of articles (29) contained in the book, I shall only discuss a few papers chosen eclectically and then provide some overall impressions.

Sven Wunder's review of the literature on causes of deforestation provides a useful beginning, with his typology of 'immiseration', 'neo-classical' and 'political ecology' explanations. He points out that, in the Indonesian context, processes falling under the last two categories-cash-crop expansion and logging under vast concessions-explain most of the deforestation that has occurred since 1980. But his conclusion that reducing investments in rural development in forest margin areas is the way to conserve forests is, as he admits, controversial and will hopefully spark further debate.

Satyawan Sumito's article contains a detailed description of the 'traditional' social organisation in mutual-help groups for shifting cultivation and the important role of water buffaloes in the local economy and culture in Central Sulawesi. He then argues that the breakdown of these traditions is linked to several changes in the economy that have occurred over the past few decades, such as introduction of private land ownership and hand tractor technology. He perceptively points out that the problem is not the loss of 'tradition' per se, but that "the changes that bring about fragmentation in almost all aspects of life do not produce, as a compensation, institutions and social organisations that allow… [perception] of the resources and environment…as a whole". Recent attempts to promote environmental protection by reifying ethnic identity and glorifying the past need to be tempered by the recognition that "the community at present is undergoing a rapid process of pluralisation in ethnic and religious [terms]" and therefore a more broad-based concept of the human-nature relationship may be essential-a conclusion that certainly has relevance far beyond Central Sulawesi. Not unexpectedly, this analysis differs significantly from the econometric one by Maertens et al., which argues that "improved irrigation systems for paddy cultivation could benefit the environment by reducing agricultural land expansion at the forest margin". In the latter, as in Wunder's overview, there is no room for forests being complementary to agriculture or being seen as important by local people themselves, whereas Sumito's approach allows for such a possibility and focuses on institutions that might reconcile different links between resources and local livelihoods.

In the section on ecological impacts, Deborah Lawrence's article on the impact of shifting cultivation on tree diversity and soil nutrients in West Kalimantan summarises several years of detailed research to show that changes from primary to secondary forest entail a major loss of tree diversity but phosphorus stocks and other soil parameters remain intact, whereas the conversion to rubber plantations may have a more deleterious impact on soil parameters and hence raises questions about long-term sustainability of that land-use. The study by Schulze et al. shows that butterfly diversity does not differ between natural forest sites and old secondary forest fragments, and the decline is limited in numbers, although distinct in species composition, as one moves to younger forests and plantations. It would be useful to explore whether the 'persistence' of high levels of diversity is because neighbouring forest fragments act as reservoirs for the mobile butterfly population.

Compared to the effects of forest cover change on plants and animals, the effects on ecosystem functions such as hydrological regulation have been poorly studied. The lone study on this topic by Kleinhans and Gerold thus acquires much significance. Their preliminary results suggest that mean annual evapotranspiration is higher (by about 8% of rainfall) and hence total annual streamflow is that much lower in mature forest catchments than in a catchment with a mixture of secondary forest and agriculture. As the authors point out, much more work is required to separate out deep drainage or leakage losses and soil storage changes before firm conclusions can be drawn, but this paper serves to whet one's appetite.

The paper by Muller and Zeller on spatially explicit modelling of land use change in the central highlands of Vietnam is one of the lengthiest in the collection, and presents a detailed analysis using multi-level geophysical, socioeconomic and policy-level explanatory variables and satellite imagery at three points in time. The authors use some innovative techniques, such as a 'costdistance' algorithm to identify the resource catchments of villages in the absence of village boundary data (although one wonders whether tenurial or administrative boundaries follow simple cost-distance relationships). However, the use of a pixel as a unit of analysis (and the consequent sample size of 15,000) is problematic. First, the socio-economic and policy variables are all available only village-wise, and even the association of a pixel with a particular village is uncertain, given the artificially created village boundaries. Second, although the geophysical data are estimated at the pixel scale using surface interpolation, the actual data on which these interpolations are based (raingauge stations, soil samples) are generally quite sparse, rendering pixellevel resolution a case of bogus precision introduced by GIS technology. The results of the regression are therefore somewhat suspect, but the basic trend of stabilising forest cover and even some regeneration in erstwhile grasslands is interesting and that this is the result of agricultural intensification seems quite plausible in an area where conversion of forests on slopes to coffee and pepper plantations was not practically possible.

I was elated to see a 'postscript' article by Fremerey and Panggabean that sought to reflect on the issues in doing research in a cross-cultural context, i.e., German scientists working with Indonesian scientists under the STORMA programme. As the authors of that article say, cultural values, views and behaviour have a profound impact on the research process. They identified 3 dimensions along with crucial differences cropped up between Germans and Indonesians in the programme, viz., styles of communication, work-ethic and the distribution of power. The authors appeared to shy away from giving tangible examples to illustrate their points, and the 'problems' identified seemed largely on the Indonesian side! Nevertheless, the willingness to reflect upon these issues-a rare commodity amongst natural scientists-needs to be congratulated.

Given the importance of the topic and the multi-disciplinary richness of the collection of papers, I would have strongly recommended this book, but for three reservations. First, several papers are still work in progress, giving one a feeling of a meal with lots of appetisers but no main course. The attempt to accommodate too many papers makes the book a bit incoherent. Second, the book is surprisingly poorly edited, starting from a cursory introduction and poor allocation of chapters to sections to gross errors such as missing figures and tables in a paper by Langi et al. and several instances of poor copyediting. Third, the price is prohibitive, which is particularly inexcusable for a book that presumably includes tropical country readers in its audience. One hopes the leaders of the STORMA programme will address these issues when they bring out the final results of what is potentially a fascinating research programme.


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