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Tropentag, September 14 - 16, 2022, Prague

"Can agroecological farming feed the world? Farmers' and academia's views."

Contributions of swidden and wet rice agroecosystems to indigenous farmers in the Upper Baram, Malaysia

Alexander Hollaus1, Christoph Schunko1, Rainer Weisshaidinger2, Poline Bala3, Christian R. Vogl1

1University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Austria
2Agroecology.AT - Consultancy on Agroecology and Sustainability of Agricultural Systems, Austria
3Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), Institute of Borneo Studies, Malaysia


Traditional rice agroecosystems are at risk from social, economic and environmental changes. These changes can reduce the contributions of the rice agroecosystems to indigenous farmers and their way of life. The purpose of this research was to compare the contributions of swidden and wet rice agroecosystems to indigenous farmers by using the IPBES nature’s contributions to people framework in a traditional rice cultivation landscape in the upper Baram, Malaysia. In 2020, data were collected using 43 semi-structured interviews with indigenous farmers in two villages and analysed using qualitative content analysis. The contributions of rice agroecosystems were deductively classified to the categories of the IPBES framework. The rice agroecosystems support the local livelihoods by providing material contributions including rice and non-rice foods. They provide regulating contributions such as habitat creation and maintenance and non-material contributions such as supporting farmers’ identity. Although certain contributions may be identified in both rice agroecosystems, there are numerous differences between them. The wet rice agroecosystem is perceived to be less work for cultivation as well as supplying a higher rice yield, whose surplus can be sold. In contrast, the swidden rice agroecosystem is connected to a greater diversity of material contributions, such as providing building materials, firewood, and more non-rice foods, which are frequently found in the system's fallow land. However, besides the beneficial contributions, detrimental contributions are only perceived in the swidden rice agroecosystem including soil degradation, weed growth and difficult work for cultivation, such as weeding. As a result of the differences in the contributions, most farmers prefer the wet rice agroecosystem because their contributions support economic benefits and a modern lifestyle. These preferences of farmers together with socioeconomic changes can lead to a shift away from swidden rice cultivation toward more permanent wet rice cultivation in the region.

Keywords: Borneo, ecosystem services, indigenous peoples, local communities, rice cultivation

Contact Address: Alexander Hollaus, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Vienna, Austria, e-mail: alexander.hollaus@boku.ac.at

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