It’s a bumpy ride from Bogor in West Java to Honitetu in the far eastern province of Maluku, Indonesia. No one knows this better than Nining Liswanti, a researcher who has made several journeys from the headquarters of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) to the remote village in the Banda Sea that has become one of her main fieldwork sites.

Liswanti is the Indonesia Coordinator for a Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform that is gathering data from Indonesia, Peru and Uganda on the connections between land rights, conservation and livelihoods.

Her research has brought findings back to Jakarta on the community’s aspirations for tenure reform to recognize customary lands, and the right to manage them according to ancient traditions.

Forests News caught up with Liswanti on a recent trip to Maluku to hear about her experience conducting research in this fascinating corner of the Indonesian archipelago.

   Aerial view of Honitetu village. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti

Nining Liswanti, scientist

I would say there have been many interesting experiences during my fieldwork in Honitetu, firstly because the research location is so remote, and access is difficult. After we drive from Bogor and fly out of Jakarta, we have to take a ferry from Ambon to Seram Island, and then travel by car and again by motorbike.

The hard part is that when we go by motorbike, we don’t know what the condition of the road will be like. From the main road to the village of Honitetu there are many rough tracks to follow, and when it’s the rainy season there are lots of potholes. So when we go by motorbike, I can only hope we can get there as quickly as possible! When the road is in a really bad way we can’t even cross the bridges, and have to go by foot on a long detour of several kilometers, carrying all of our equipment.

Then when we want to go to the reserves or forests where we’re doing our research, the local people tell us ‘It’s close, only 10 minutes’. But when we’re on the road it feels like we’ll never get there! It turns out that 10 minutes for people in Honitetu can actually mean more than an hour, or even two hours. So when they tell us something will take an hour, at least we can guess that it will probably be more like three hours!

   The ferry from Ambon arriving at Waipiri port on Seram Island. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti

But a really memorable thing about Maluku is the characteristic of the people there. People in Maluku are famous for being expressive speakers, and very enthusiastic. When they speak, sometimes it sounds like they’re angry, when in fact they are very kind-hearted people.

They are excellent hosts, and pay great attention to people visiting from elsewhere. When we come to visit their village, they hold an internal meeting beforehand. They try their hardest to give us the best of everything, the best accommodation, the best food – and food in Maluku is always delicious. The food there is fresh because it comes straight from the sea, the forest or the garden.

   Wild boar caught in the forest. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti
   Fresh nuts for sale. CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti

The food there is fresh because it comes straight from the sea, the forest or the garden.

Nining Liswanti, scientist

One funny thing that I’ve found among the community there is that when we are conducting an activity, they tend to compete to be part of our research. For example, if we’re limited to interviewing 55 families, we have 100 families willing to take part. Later, those who weren’t interviewed come and ask, ‘Why didn’t you include us? Did we do something wrong? We wanted to be part of that.’

Because ours is a participatory research process, and because we do try to be inclusive of everyone, we try our best to accommodate. So when there are people who weren’t included and wanted to be part of the activity, we make sure to include them in our activities next time.

   Nining Liswanti having a laugh with participants during the workshop. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/CIFOR CIFOR Photo/Ulet Ifansasti

Produced in collaboration with Ulet Ifansasti (photographs), Indrawan Suryadi (cartography), Aini Naimmah (transcription), Budhy Kristianty (production) and the community of Honitetu village, Maluku, Indonesia.

For more information on this topic, please contact Nining Liswanti at
This research was supported by the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
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