The University of Arizona

The strategy of shifting cultivators in West Kalimantan in adapting to the market economy: empirical evidence behind gaps in interdisciplinary communication

Prudensius Maring


Issues of climate change and expansion of large-scale land acquisition for industrial plantations continue to ravage the shifting cultivation system that 300–500 million subsistence farmer households depend on. In Indonesia, particularly in Kalimantan and Sumatera, village communities continue to practice shifting cultivation amidst the conversion of lands into industrial plantations. The rampant conversion of farmer's land by large scale companies based in the market economy has resulted in the decline of the shifting cultivation system, and compelled them to enter commercial production. I employed qualitative methods, conducting in-depth interviews and observations in West Kalimantan in 2018. Shifting cultivation today is not just for subsistence, but it is also a strategy to maintain claims to land that has been handed over to companies. Concurrently, people have been developing community plantations using industrial commodities such as rubber and oil palm, which still incorporate subsistence features. The changes occurring in villages have led to conflict since land availability has reduced, while the alternative of working for forestry and plantation companies is hampered by their lack of skills and knowledge. Theoretically, this study indicates the need for communication and synergy between the perspectives of political ecology and cultural ecology in order to understand the socio-politico-economic complexities haunting the village community's alterations in subsistence strategies. The practical implications are that land-based village development should open up communication among stakeholders and position village communities as the key beneficiary in the long run.

Keywords: Shifting cultivation, land conversion, adaptation strategy, market economy, political ecology, Kalimantan, Indonesia

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