Establishing community seed banks to conserve rainforest biodiversity in Borneo, Indonesia
Standy Christianto is a graduate of the Bonn Master’s programme Agricultural Science and Resource Management in the Tropics and Subtropics. He attended our Monitoring&Evaluation Workshop in 2018, but has been in contact with Weltweit since 2017. After graduating, he moved back home to Indonesia in 2019 and has taken up a position with the Borneo Institute (BIT), a civil organisation founded by a group of Dayak, who are the indigenous people in Borneo. The BIT works to preserve the ecosystems and rights of the Dayak.
The island of Kalimantan (Borneo) is known for its huge palm oil plantations and the ecological damage they cause. Not only is the habitat of the orang-utan disappearing due to the unbroken expansion of the plantations, but many native plants are also threatened with extinction. The loss of biodiversity has a fatal impact on the way of life and the social fabric of the Dayak, who live off the natural resources of the rainforest and protect it at the same time.
The Dayak practice a traditional method of agriculture. They collect seeds of indigenous crops and grow them in small fields. They rely on a natural occurrence of these plants in the immediate vicinity, but due to the thinning and fragmentation of the rainforest by palm oil plantations, the Dayak now have to walk long distances to find their seeds. As a result, the Dayak increasingly resort to modern hybrid seeds, which they buy from markets and traders. However, these modern varieties require completely different cultivation methods. They need fertiliser and pesticides to grow as desired, and in most cases they are not adapted to local ecological conditions. As agriculture is central to the Dayak’s daily life, its “modernisation” also entails a change in individual and social lifestyles. Traditional festivals based on the agricultural calendar, the distribution of roles and tasks within the community, the passing of traditional knowledge from old to young are all being overturned, and as a result, communities are breaking apart and more Dayak are leaving the villages in the forests or seeking low-paid work on the palm oil plantations.
This in turn has consequences for the protection of the rainforest. The Dayak live on an intact ecosystem, they maintain it and their communities form a barrier against the otherwise unchecked expansion of industrial palm oil plantations and the destruction of ecosystems. The conversion of traditional to “modern” agriculture tears apart their intra-community social fabric, and in the medium term, the Dayak communities living in the forest lose their function as protectors and caretakers of the rainforest.
To break this vicious circle, it is necessary that the Dayak can continue to practise their traditional form of agriculture, despite the pressure from the palm oil industry. Standy’s project aims to create one of the preconditions for this: Availability of traditional seeds. In his first project, which he manages, a community-managed seed bank is to be established in the Manuhing Raya region in Central Kalimantan. This communal “seed house” will be used by at least 100 farmers from three villages. It will have a capacity to store 50 plant species and will enable the Dayak to store their own produced seeds without loss and with a longer shelf life. If the farming families need additional seeds for cultivation, they can take them from the seed bank, or if they need money in emergencies, they can sell their seed deposit. The seed house thus serves as a buffer against ecological as well as economic losses. At least 50 villagers are trained in the management of the community seed bank, which includes ecological biodiversity management as well as financial training.
The overall objectives of Standy’s project are shared with similar projects in other regions of the world where community seed houses are being established. They aim to (1) strengthen knowledge about diversity-based farming systems, (2) increase the resilience of natural agro-ecosystems to environmental change through the participatory method, and (3) improve the role and expertise of women in particular in the selection, production, storage and distribution of seeds in farming communities.
We will report on the progress and success, as in the case of our other projects, on our Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as publish official reports in separate files here. The other prerequisite for protecting the rainforest by empowering Dayak communities is, of course, to grant land rights to smallholders and defend them against the palm oil industry. In another project, BIT is pursuing this approach, using the website: www.borneologi.com as documentation. This site, which is under construction, is now being used to publish results from Standy’s project as well.
This project is supported by:
Stiftung Ursula Merz