Smallholder rubber and swidden agriculture in Borneo: A sustainable adaptation to the ecology and economy of the tropical forest

Research paper by Michael R. Dove

Indexed on: 01 Apr '93Published on: 01 Apr '93Published in: Economic Botany


This is a study of the role of Para rubber cultivation in a system of swidden agriculture in Indonesian Borneo. Such smallholdings produce most of Indonesia’s rubber, which is the country’s largest agricultural generator of foreign exchange. Rubber integrates well into Bornean systems of swidden agriculture: the comparative ecology and economy of Para rubber and upland swidden rice result in minimal competition in the use of land and labor — and even in mutual enhancement — between the two systems. Rubber occupies a distinct niche in the farm economy: it meets the need for market goods, while the swiddens meet subsistence needs. The intensity of production on these smallholdings is, as a result, characteristically low (and may even vary inversely with market prices). This reflects the independence of these smallholders from external economic and political influences, which has been the key to their historical success. The special virtues of such “composite systems” merit greater attention by development planners.