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Ecological Research

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 403–413 | Cite as

Degradation and loss of forest land and land-use changes in Sarawak, East Malaysia: a study of native land use by the Iban

  • Masahiro Ichikawa
Special Feature Sustainability and biodiversity of forest ecosystems: an interdisciplinary approach

Abstract

Swidden agriculture, commercial logging and plantation development have been considered to be the primary common causes of degradation and loss of tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia. In this paper, I chose a part of northeastern Sarawak, East Malaysia as my case study area to analyze the changes in its land-use characteristics. In the study area, as well as primeval forests, we see that land use began about 100 years ago by a native group called the Iban; commercial logging began in the 1960s, and the development of oil palm plantations began recently. I describe the changes in land use as well as their social and economic causes by referring to aerial photographs, literature surveys, interviews with government officers and the Iban, and observation of land use. My analysis of land use demonstrates that on “state land”, where commercial logging and oil palm plantation development are occurring, large areas of forest have been disturbed in a short period of time. The objective is to benefit economically in response to the social and economic conditions surrounding the study area. On the other hand, in the “Iban territory,” where the Iban practice their land use, land conversion has not occurred on a large scale and in a short period of time, even though the forest has been cut and agricultural fields have been created in response to social and economic conditions as well. They disperse small agricultural fields throughout their forest land. Therefore, the landscape of the “Iban territory” is based on secondary forest, composed of patches of forest in various stages and with several types of agricultural land. Today in Sarawak, monocrop plantations are rapidly expanding and little primeval forest remains. Given these conditions, the land-use practices of natives such as the Iban will be evaluated from the viewpoint of ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. It could play an important role in providing habitats for natural wildlife.

Keywords

Tropical rain forest Iban Secondary forest Swidden agriculture Commercial logging Oil palm plantation Sarawak 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This paper is the result of Research Project 2–2 at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). I would like to thank Ms. Josephine Wong (Forestry Department, Sarawak), Dr. Mitsuo Yoshimura (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature), and Ms. Michi Kaga (former graduate student of Kyoto University) for their kind assistance in the acquisition of aerial photographs and the analysis of land-use changes. A portion of the fieldwork and the land-use mapping was funded by the above-mentioned project.

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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RINH)KyotoJapan

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