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Learning from Traditional Knowledge of Non-timber Forest Products: Penan Benalui and the Autecology of Aquilaria in Indonesian Borneo

D. G. Donovan
R. K. Puri, University of Kent

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Abstract

Traditional knowledge, promoted to make conservation and development more relevant and socially acceptable, is shown to have an important role in identifying critical research needs in tropical ecology. Botanists, foresters, and phytochemists, among others, from many countries have sought for decades to understand the process of resin formation in the genus Aquilaria, a tropical forest tree of South and Southeast Asia. Not every tree develops the resin and, despite extensive scientific research, this process remains poorly understood. Attempts at cultivating the valuable aromatic resin, gaharu, have been uneven at best. Thus, gaharu remains largely a natural forest product, increasingly under threat as the trees are overexploited and forest is cleared. In this paper, we compare scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge of the Penan Benalui and other forest product collectors of Indonesian Borneo. Although limited management of wildlings failed to bring the resin-producing species under cultivation, we found that the Penan recognize the complex ecology of resin formation involving two, or maybe three, living organisms—the tree, one or more fungi, and possibly an insect intermediary. Developing a sustainable production system for this resource will require a clear understanding of how these various natural elements function, separately and synergistically. Traditional knowledge can help fill gaps in our information base and identify promising areas for future research. Both correspondence and gaps in knowledge support the call for a greater role for ethnobiological research and interdisciplinary cooperation, especially between ethnobiologists and foresters, in developing sustainable management systems for this traditional resource and its natural habitat.

Key words

Aquilaria, ethnobiology, forestry, Gaharu, Kalimantan, non-timber forest products, Penan, Sandalwood
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087