A Global concern has risen in the concept of sustainability, particularly in forest sector. The Convention of Biological Diversity has planned to implement more than a hundred programs related to forest biodiversity which aimed at reducing deforestation and forest degradation while creating and maintaining sustainable livelihoods. One of the elements of the convention is titled ‘Conservation, sustainable use and benefit-sharing’ which includes reforestation, wildlife conservation, sustainable wood extraction, recognition of indigenous and local rights, and profit sharing (SCBD 2009).

Indigenous knowledge and system has been increasingly recognized has important role in promoting sustainable forest management, conservation efforts as well as a basis in managing the natural resources in many developing countries (Crevello 2004, p.69; Mulyoutami et al. 2009, p.2054). Furthermore, Crevello (2004, p.70) explained that many indigenous communities in tropics areas continuously use land use system which in line with the concept of sustainability to ensure the availability of natural resources for their future generations. There are many examples that indigenous communities, through customary laws, tried to limit the extraction of natural resources and develop reserves area to protect their land and forests.

Dayak are indigenous communities living in innermost Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) who has their own traditions and practices related to sustainable forest management. The Dayak communities have been studied by many researchers for their sustainable tradition and practices (Crevello 2004; Mulyoutami et al. 2009, p.2055). Although their livelihood are depend on forest resources, the Dayak communities are aware that they need to conserve the natural resources to make sure there is no degradation of resources that will cause negative implication to them and their future generation (Crevello 2003, p.10; Mulyoutami et al. 2009, p.2055).  At this point, I believe that Dayak people have many potentialities in supporting sustainable forest management in Kalimantan Indonesia. It can be achieved if Dayak community are engaged and taken into consideration in forest management and policy making process.

This article seeks to explore the potentialities of Dayak people in promoting sustainable forest management in Kalimantan, Indonesia by identifying their traditions that in line with the criteria of sustainable forest management. The first part of this paper defines and describes the criteria of sustainable forest management and how it can be measured. The second part explains about how Dayak people exemplify those criteria by giving some examples of their traditions and practices that promote sustainable forest management. The third and fourth parts will examine the opportunity and constraint of Dayak’s forest management in relation with broader government policy in Indonesia and present some recommendations for improvement.

Background on Sustainable Forest Management

Sustainable forest management aims to ensure the balance between social, economic and environmental services of forest. Ideally, sustainable forest management should emphasize the balance of quantifiable and unquantifiable aspects of forest such as biodiversity, social value and forest ecosystem health (Lanly 1995 in Kuusipalo 1997 p.96).
In the past, definition of sustainable forest management only focused on sustaining the yield of timber product which steadily declined. Recently, this definition has been critiqued and undergone some changes such as wider recognition of the significance of other forest products and services and social concern. For example, nowadays, any actions related to forest management that causes eviction and marginalization of local communities can be regarded as unsustainable. Moreover, the concept of sustainable forest now also covers the protection of water sources, soils and cultural sites (Higman et al. 2005, p.4).
There are many definitions of sustainable forest management but essentially they are not much different. One definition comes from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which defines sustainable forest management as the effort to preserve and utilize forest resources while keeping their biodiversity, productivity and ability to regenerate and meet the needs of the present and future generation, and also combining environmental, social and economic function at global, national and local levels (FAO n.d.). In Indonesia, sustainable forest management has been regarded as an approach used in forest production activities which is concerned not only to extract forest product, but also to ensure the continuity of forest productivity and balance between environmental and social functions (Kusuma 2005, p.19).
Sustainable Forest Management can be measured using a set of Criteria and Indicators (C&I). The C&I are developed to provide a tool for assessing, monitoring and reporting the forest condition and management. There are many institutions and organizations that have developed indicator systems for sustainable forest management which cover a wide range of level from the international, national, regional level. However, none of those criteria can be applied for assessing sustainable forest management in every level and situation. To measure a unit or particular forest will need more site-specific indicators (Gough et al. 2008, p.429).
One set of indicators for sustainable forest management in country level is developed by The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). According to the ITTO (2005 p.10-13), sustainable forest management can be measured using seven criteria as key elements of sustainable forest management. Criterion 1, ‘Enabling conditions for sustainable forest management’, emphasizes on the extent of a country’s commitment in achieving sustainable forest management with attention to the availability of policy, regulation and institutional requirement that are needed to promote the achievement of sustainable forest management. Criterion 2 and 3 are ‘Extent and condition of forest’ and ‘Forest ecosystem health’ respectively, consider the permanence and security of a country’s forest area by considering the extent of forest and the health of biological function of forest ecosystems.
Criterion 4, ‘Forest production’, concerns with the sustainability of forest production including timber and non-timber product. The remaining three criteria (5, 6, 7) are ‘Biological diversity’, ‘Soil and water protection’ and ‘Economic, social and cultural aspects’. The latter three criteria emphasize the importance of the conservation and maintenance of biodiversity, soil, and water as well as consider the socio-cultural aspects of forests including the fulfillment of the basic needs of forest dweller and forest dependent people. These criteria will be used to measure how the Dayak people can exemplify some criteria of sustainable forest management

Dayak People and Sustainable Forest Management

Dayak People (Photography by Alain Compost, from

Dayak is indigenous tribes living in innermost Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. Dayak community can also be found in Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak). There are some major groups in Dayak community, such as Kenyah, Punan, Benuaq, and Bentian (Abberger et al. 2002, p.55). Even though there are diverse groups and languages among the Dayak, there are common characteristics that link them together such as tradition, worldviews, symbolisms, burial ceremony, rituals, and social institution (King 1993 in Crevello 2003 p.56).
The term Dayak usually used to distinguish them from Malay people who usually live near the coasts (Crevello 2003, p.56). Based on their research, Joshi et al. (2004, p.ii) explained that the Dayak are traditionally forest inhabitants. The environment has influenced their cultures and beliefs, and vice versa, their culture and beliefs also influence the environment. Their customary law shapes the landscape and regulates the extraction of forest resources from community owned and individual property to ensure that those activities would not compromise the conservation and sustainability. Moreover, the Dayak people are rich in understanding about value and knowledge of biodiversity.
This section focuses on some examples of Dayak traditions and practices which through community management and implemented customary laws can maintain a balance between fulfilling their needs and preserving the environment. Based on the criteria of sustainable forest management developed by the ITTO, Dayak community has traditions and practices that in line with a range of criteria of sustainable forest management.

Tana Ulen
Dayak communities secure the extent and condition of forests which support the criterion 2 of sustainable forest management by conserving the biological diversity through Dayak’s tana ulen system. Tana ulen can simply be defined as protected sites or reserved area. This term is derived from Dayak language: tana/h means land and m/ulen means restricted. Tana ulen is a forested land, usually represented by natural primary forest that protected and regulated by custom (adat).
In Dayak custom, any activities, access and extraction of natural resources from tana ulen is prohibited except the permission from the community leader is issued (Eghenter 2000, p.335; Wahyuni 2003). Exploitation of resources in this area is usually limited to attain food for certain event such as traditional ritual and celebrations held by the community or private affairs. Penalty for the violation of this rule can be pay a fine, acquisition of rice or give other possessions (Simon Devung and Rudy 1998 in Eghenter 2000, p.337).
Tana ulen is divided into some categories, comprising forest groves (ba’i pulong) which include primary forest (pulong mpa’), funeral sites (pulong liyang) and dangerous area (pulong jaka) which are places where accidents or death often occur. Sometimes tana ulen can also in the form of rice fields (uma) and fallow land used for agricultural purposes (jekkau) (Eghenter 2000, p.337).
Generally, the area of tana ulen is located in the upper stream or along the river which is strategically located near the village to make its management and control easier. This area is rich of forest product which is regarded as valuable asset for local communities, such as rattan, hardwood for building house and boats and fish (Eghenter 2000, p.337)
The fact that Dayak conserve as well as sustain the forest is recognized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in its publication titled Beyond Belief. WWF mentioned a location which regarded can promote the conservation effort and regarded as sacred site by The Dayak Tribe, namely The Tembawang Garden in West Kalimantan. This is a forest which functions as cemetery area and also has been planted as fruit garden by Dayak people with approximately 400 different plants and animals (Dudley 2005, p.19).

Sustainable Harvesting
Dayak communities support the sustainable forest production which in line with the Criterion 4 through their sustainable harvesting rules. For example, in their custom, cutting trees that are too small is forbidden and regarded as outlaw. A tree is considered small if less than seven hand-spans (kilan) and may not be cut in protected forest. This measurement corresponds approximately to the 50 cm dbh (diameter at breast height) limit of Indonesian selective logging and planting system (Bennett 2002, p.73). This restriction is may ensure the continuity and availability of forest resources in the future.

Simpukng (Forest garden)
Dayak communities support biological diversity (criterion 5) through simpukng system. In simple term, simpukng is a mixed fruit forest garden which usually located in and formed secondary forest. In their forest garden, Dayak communities plant a variety of trees, crops and herbs which has economic value, such as fruit trees, honey trees, rattan, medicinal plants and other useful vegetation. This practice aims not only to provide an important income source for their livelihood and household but also to provide food, firewood, medicinal plants for daily use as well as for cultural and religious activities. In addition, this practice can also unwittingly promote biodiversity of the forest because it can enrich variety of plants in secondary forest. The simpukng system is also an example how Dayak people through a stage of agriculture intensification, domesticate their forest. However, until now, their traditional knowledge about valuable medicinal plants has not been studied in depth (Mulyoutami et al. 2009, p.2055).

Water Protection
Dayak communities also support the soil and water protection in forest area (criterion 6). Dayak customary law prohibits tree logging around the rivers. Their custom commonly states that people may not cut the trees at the headwaters of rivers. In addition, they also prohibit cutting and damaging the trees around the spring, which is usually used for hunting grounds by Dayak People. This regulation related with the tana ulen system that commonly located at the upper stream or along the river in the Dayak Village. According to this customary law, it can be seen that Dayak communities has a strategy to protect the water catchment area and to safeguard the availability of water for the community. It can also highlight their awareness about the importance of saving the habitat from harm to make sure the balance between ecological and economic functions (Eghenter 2006, p.167).

Socio-cultural aspects
Dayak people can also promote Social and cultural aspects of the forest (Criterion 7). In Dayak communities, the forest is used as a media and place to teach their knowledge and tradition. For example, in the forest, parents teach their children about eatable plants, medicines, poisonous plants, how to hunt, how to avoid wild animals, catch a fish, and others to maintain their sustainable lives. This inherited knowledge and culture will become a valuable asset not only for Dayak communities but also for wider communities if it is studied and developed further. However, until now their traditional medicine is have not been developed and widely utilized for the benefit of wider humankind (Uluk et al. 2001, p.57).

Forest Policy and Management in Indonesia

The legal, policy and institutional aspects are important requirements in the implementation of sustainable forest management because the first criterion of sustainable forest management is ‘Enabling conditions for sustainable forest management’ which draws attention to the needs of policy to support the implementation of sustainable forest management (ITTO 2005, p.10).
In the past, Indonesian forest is managed by the central government or the state under the umbrella of Ministry of Forestry. The Basic Forestry Law No. 5/1967 Article 5 Item 1 states that all forests in the territory of the Republic of Indonesia including their natural resources are regulated by the State (Indonesian Government 1967). This gave the state the authority to manage all the forest throughout the country. In other words, management of forest is centralized in state level.  Indonesia has undergone many changes in its forest policy. This occurs along the reformation in the Indonesian government in 1998. The past and recent policies give opportunities and constraints for Dayak people in managing their forest.

Lack of Recognition and Engagement

During Soeharto Administration Era (1967-1998), The centralization of forest management was obvious and literatures has shown that centralized forest management has caused less participation of local communities, marginalization of local institutions, dissatisfaction and lack of local control toward illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation. The data shows that the extent of forest in Indonesia decreased from 150 million hectares in 1960 to only 90 million hectares in 2000 (Yonariza & Shivakoti 2007, p.128).
Furthermore, Indonesian government tends to undervalue the traditional forest management undertaken by indigenous people. The government regards it as primitive, inefficient and destructive. Consequently, forest management by indigenous communities tends to be ignored, even seen as a threat in policymaking and management of forest resources (Gunawan et al. 1998 in Siburian 2004, p.129). For example, the Dayak has certain forest management systems that differentiate how to maintain different types of forest. These forest management systems are usually unrecognized and not understood by the government and forest managers (Peluso 2005, p.277)

Conflicts Due to the Policy

In implementing their sustainable tradition and practice, the Dayak communities often conflict with the government policy, particularly related to the Dayak’s customary land (tanah adat) and territory (Kusuma 2005, p.15; Deddy 2006 p.89). For example, Indonesian government has released a policy in forest sector, namely Forest Concession Rights (Hak Pengusahaan Hutan) which granted extraction rights to industrial logging companies.  The problem emerges when the logging concession area is often overlap with indigenous people’s customary land which is owned by indigenous people under the customary law and inherited from their ancestors for a long period of time (Deddy 2006, p.89).

A conflict occurs in Dayak Benuaq village in the Lake Jempang area. It is because PT Lonsum Company, a forest concessionaire company, implements plantation project and land clearing in the area owned by Dayak Communities in the Lake Jempang area. Moreover, the company often acts repressively toward local people. This raises criticism from civil society and NGOs who concern and advocate the Dayak community. (Yonariza & Shivakoti 2007 p. 72)

Despite that, Sirait et al. who conducted mapping research of customary land in Long Uli Village in East Kalimantan, shows the overlaps between the forestry department’s land-use map and the customary land’s map owned by local community. Approximately 30% (5393 ha) of customary land in this village overlaps with the nature reserve and 20% overlaps with a concession project area. This customary land includes the cultivated land, the unrestricted forest and the protected forest. Moreover, most of the village’s cultivated land is either in the nature reserve or the forest concession area. Sirait et al. explained that this problem occur because when tenure maps are prepared by the Director General of Agriculture, local people are not involved in consultation and local customary land are thus ignored. (Sirait et al. 2004, p.411-416).
The overlap of the map and territory has disadvantaged the Dayak people. The explanation section of The Basic Forestry Law states that every activity in the area of nature reserve, conversion forest, production forest and protected forest, without permission from the government, would be considered as violation of the government regulation. As a result, the indigenous people cannot access their land and loss their source of income from forest. These examples show that Dayak communities are harmed economically, culturally and spiritually (Siburian 2004, p.130).
The position of the Dayak communities is weak because their customary law (hukum adat) is inferior to national forestry law. The Basic forestry law No. 5/1967 article 17 states that customary law should not obstruct the implementation of national forest law and policy. It means that if conflict occurs between national and customary law, the government will use the national law as reference and ignore the customary law.

Opportunity in New Policies
After the Soeharto regime fall in 1998, the new government made some changes in forest policy. Law No. 41/1999 contains the recognition of the customary forest (hutan adat) which is usually managed by local indigenous people. Article 4 and 5 says that the state recognizes the customary forest (hutan adat) and  accommodates the adat community rights to extract forest resources for their daily needs and to practice their customary law in managing the forest as long as it does not conflict with national law (Indonesian Government 1999).
Nevertheless, the recognition of customary forest just includes the recognition of customary (adat) community in managing the forest and still does not give indigenous communities the legal property rights of their land (Wollenberg & Kartodihardjo 2002 p.83; Eghenter 2006). This may not satisfy the indigenous people, but at least this new policy provides new hope for indigenous people because their customary forest territories are recognized by national forestry law. Rosenberger (2009, p.24) argues that recognition and empowerment of traditional customary law and opportunity of forest dwelling indigenous people to legally manage their forest is important to promote the success of community-based forestry in Kalimantan.
Indonesian current government also has undergone rapid decentralization. The administration and authority of forest management has been transferred from the state government to the local government. This provides new opportunity for Dayak people as local communities to access and participate in policy making process. Moreover, the new forest law also urges the holder of forest concession to work in cooperation with local people in their projects and encourages local community participation in the forest rehabilitation efforts. This shows that recently, community participation has become an important theme in national forest policy dialogue (Rosenbarger 2009 p.24).


Based on the exploration in the previous section, three actions are therefore suggested to increase the role of Dayak people and other indigenous communities in promoting sustainable forest management in Indonesia.
First, there is urgency to increase the local community engagement in decision making process. Although customary communities are more recognized in the new forest law, however, they are still less engaged in its implementation.  Rosenbarger (2009 p.56) said that participation hopefully can increase people willingness to cooperate in government forest policy and management. Moreover, their participation in decision making process may ensure that the policy product will be more concern to the Dayak people’s rights and needs. Moreover, it also can increase the sense of ownership over resource policy which may improve people willingness to obey the rules and encourage their participation in monitoring of policy implementation at the local level. For example, to prevent illegal logging and timber trafficking.
Second, a stronger commitment is needed to assure the rights of customary communities toward their land and their position in the forest policy and management. The Dayak’s has experienced marginalization in the past. It is because they have no legal tenure of their land and forest. It is suggested that besides the recognition of the customary forest in the forest law No. 41/1999, the government should also produce regulations that secure the indigenous people rights toward their land and property (Wollenberg & Kartodiharjo 2002, p.94).
Third, there should be an effort to improve the capacity of Dayak people to be more professional in forest management. Wollenberg & Kartodiharjo (2002, p.93) said that capacity building is needed to improve awareness, skill and accountability of customary communities and local peoples to improve their ability in decision making process and cooperative action in the implementation of sustainable forest management.


This paper has presented a number of examples of how Dayak communities, although get limited recognition and sometimes conflicts with the government policy and management, have practiced the concept of sustainable forest management in their land and forest. I also argued that sustainable forest management in Indonesia will be better achieved if the Dayak communities involved in forestry management and policy making process.
Some traditions and practices of Dayak people which can support sustainable forest management include the tana ulen system which can conserve and secure the extent of forested land in Indonesia.  In addition, the harvesting rule in Dayak communities and simpukng (forest garden) system can support biological diversity as well as sustainable extraction of forest resources. Dayak communities also support the soil and water protection by regulating tree logging around the rivers and springs as a strategy to safeguard the water catchment area.
However, the forest policy of Indonesian government is not always in line with the Dayak tradition in managing the forest. Although Dayak people have many potential in promoting the sustainability of forest, they are less involved by the government in managing the forest because of centralized forest management and lack of recognition of customary law. The conflicts between Dayak people and timber concession holder often occur because of the overlap between government map and customary map. The effort to solve this problem is needed to refine the condition.
A new hope for indigenous communities emerges in the new forest policy in Indonesia. Recently, Indonesia has recognized the existence of customary forest (hutan adat) in the Forest Law No. 41 in 1999. However, although customary forest is now acknowledged by the new forest law, clarification of the indigenous land rights and their authority toward forest management is still needed. Indonesian government should not end up with the current progress in decentralization and forest law reform. The capacity building of forest local communities is also needed to increase their ability to participate and cooperate with the government policy in the sustainable forest management.


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