Social assets and social hazards shape adaptive capacity in Setulang

Adaptation planning should take into account both the social assets and the social hazards that enhance or hinder adaptive capacity.

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SETULANG, Indonesia (20 July 2012)_It is not hard to feel the magic in the village of Setulang. Nested between primary lowland Dipterocarp forests in the district of Malinau, East Kalimantan, it is home to a vibrant Dayak community with strong traditions, knowledge and culture.

Many who have visited this village call it the magic village. The people of Setulang have been preserving their sacred pristine forest, Tane’ Olen, for decades, fighting off logging concessions with remarkable unity and cohesion, and managing it sustainably through their prominent Tane’ Olen governance agency. They value their social and human assets highly.

Apart from the respected traditional law and institutions (Adat) that govern most activities in the village, the Setulang people have strong social networks and groups for mutual support. These groups mobilise collective action, assist the sick and vulnerable, support farming and cultural activities, and manage various funds for village development.

Knowledge related to forest products, forest and crop management, construction and making crafts, is another important human asset. This asset is however starting to “leak” outside of the village. The young that leave the village to further their education are increasingly choosing to remain outside of Setulang and pursue opportunities in the urban areas.

Another challenge that was considered critical by the Setulang people during a workshop conducted by CIFOR and the GIZ FORCLIME  team to identify adaptation needs and priorities was tenure conflicts with neighboring villages and with timber and palm oil concessions. Conflicts in Malinau escalated after decentralisation when concessions started approaching villages in the area to offer compensation for exploiting their land and forests. This created boundary disputes between the different villages due to a lack of clarity over land tenure rights, and therefore which villages would reap the perceived benefits of exploitation. The people of Setulang have been rejecting the offers of concessions but they have also been in conflict with those companies that tried to encroach in their area without asking for their permission.

Interestingly, even though floods, droughts and other environmental and climatic hazards occur frequently in the area, people did not prioritise them as the most important challenges. The top three challenges were tenure conflicts, alcohol abuse by the young, and abuse of political power. Flooding was prioritizedin fifth place, while longer dry seasons came seventh . People believed that they cope well with these climate hazards (e.g. by elevating the houses higher, managing their forests, keeping enough crop surplus and maintaining the grain storage facilities at safe grounds), while the social challenges such as conflicts have a more profound impact on their lives, and on their overall ability to cope with all the other challenges.

The community is aware of the links between the ‘social hazards’ and the ability to cope with the climate hazards.  Due to tenure conflicts with the neighboring villages for example, they are reluctant to develop the fields that are in close proximity to the village borders. This means that there is less land available for agricultural diversification, and for offering fields with good prospects to the young. The abuse of political power often leads to local decision-makers securing deals with concessions and selling village land without consulting the communities. People know that if they lose their forested land, they will become more vulnerable to other hazards as the forests protect their water supplies and also act as food banks. Conversely, the ‘social resources’ in Setulang, such as the established unity and cohesion, will help people manage disasters better. Response teams could be created for example, that will help villagers recoup their lost assets or protect their property while they are away in the fields.

“We could easily create an Adat institution to manage disaster impacts. This organisation will take the lead in rescuing people and property when flood disaster is coming. It will be especially useful for the people that are still away in the fields when flood hits their property back in the village” states Pak Andrew, the head of the village organization Institution for Community Empowerment (Lembaga Pemberdayaan Masyarakat/LPM).

Adaptation planning should not focus solely on the issues related to physical or financial capital, but should also take into account both the social assets and the social hazards that either enhance or hinder adaptive capacity.

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