are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)|
Protection and cultivation of rattan by Hani (Akha) People in Yunnan, Southwest China
Agroforestry, cultivation practices, cultural identity, forest conservation, forest management, forestry planning, income generation, protected resources
Introducing the practice
The method for growing rattan reported
here is practised by the indigenous Hani (Akha) communities of Mengsong,
Xishuangbanna, in Yunnan province of China. These communities have unique
systems for managing natural resources and forests.
The communities differentiate forests
and forest systems according to their function and products. There are forests
that yield building materials (lieshugejio) or cash crops (naqiluogo),
forests that enhance the landscape (puchang), forests used for
graveyards (nagbiong) and protected rattan forest (Sangpabawa).
The practice occupies much of the year.
The Hani farmers prepare the land in early February, in the middle of the
relatively dry season. Rattan seeds are then sown in swidden fields, seedbeds
or other protected areas. In March-April, when the seedlings are strong enough
and 20-30 cm high, they are transplanted to spots beneath strong trees on
which the rattan can climb. Additional planting takes place in July, but at
this time cut stems are planted rather than seedlings. The entire process from
sowing to harvesting takes about six to ten years. The forest is cleared
regularly and managed in order to allow good rattan growth.
The importance of this practice and the reason for its selection as Best Practice lies in:
· The efficient conservation, reasonable utilization and stable output of rattan.
· Sustainability, since there is no over-exploitation of resources.
· The selective harvesting of rattan (every three to five years) so as not to destroy the plants’ root systems, thus allowing new shoots to develop.
· Several possibilities for local production and marketing: rattan as a raw material, rattan furniture, and rattan strings for the annual festival of the Hani.
The selective management of rattan and other
plants, which protects biodiversity and does not disturb the natural water
The practice is still in use because
it provides long-term benefits to the Mengsong Hani and has a multiple
function within the society. It has an economic value as it provides an income
through the manufacture of traditional rattan furniture, such as stools,
tables and baskets. The practice has an ecological function as cultivating
rattan in swidden-fallow fields results in improved fallow management and
enhanced biodiversity. Finally, rattan cultivation and production has a social
and cultural value, through the exchange of rattan handicrafts between
communities, the rattan ‘swinging festival’, wedding gifts etc. The
government and the forestry office have recognized its value within the
society and therefore encourage its continuation.
of the practice
According to the villagers of Mengsong, the practice related to the local Sangpabawa or protected rattan forest originated about 100 years ago and has been maintained and developed ever since, covering an area of 300 ha in 1950. The chieftain (Tusi) of Mengsong made the decision to establish the rattan forest and to regulate its use due to depletion of wild rattan resources in the other forests. Villagers were allowed to collect a limited number of rattan canes for agricultural tools, for the annual Yeku ‘swinging festival’, and for house construction. Before that time the Hani had collected rattan canes and stems in all forest areas without control and exchanged them for rice with the Dai people in the lowlands. This was an important form of livelihood, particularly for poor families.
The diagnosed depletion of rattan in
the wild and protection of rattan in the Sangpabawa led to indigenous
innovations by some Hani farmers for cultivating rattan in the swidden-fallow
fields. While they left swidden fields fallow, they immediately cultivated
rattan seeds in them. The rattan growing period was well matched with the 7-13
years of swidden-fallow cycle. Hani people sometimes also cultivate rattan in
the margin of forests and streams.
After liberation in 1950, the forest was allocated to the community, which continued the practice. In 1981 the state declared the rattan forest a state forest under community management. The community at that time resolved to manage the forest as they had been doing for the last 100 years.
Contents and approach
The purpose of the practice is to
produce rattan for use within the community. It has further benefits, however.
The practice results in the development of a protected forest area where the
diversity of other plants is also preserved and enhanced. These include plants
which the community uses for food or medicine.
All villagers take part in the
practice and all benefit from it. One villager is in charge of organizing the
village labour needed to clear sections of forest, plant stems and seedlings,
and harvest the rattan. Experienced men–specialists–collect seeds in the
forest, prepare the swidden fields for planting stems and sowing seeds, clear
sections of forest for transplanting seedlings, and direct the harvesting
process. Experienced men also make the rattan chairs. Women collect the rattan
shoots which are consumed as food, and they help the men with sowing and
In addition to the cultivation of rattan in the community forest, three years ago the community developed a strategy for converting swidden fields into permanent agro-forestry plots. This was done with the help of the Chinese Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK). In the village of Hongqi, 50 Hani (Akha) families cleared an area of 40 ha for growing bamboo, rattan and other crops. Plots were allocated to the families. There they grow mainly sweet bamboo for edible shoots, corn, upland rice, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and fruit trees. In one field the researchers found more than 50 different species of useful plants (for food, the market, fodder and handicrafts). Between the bamboo plants the farmers transplant rattan, which will produce in three to five years. This rattan will help to make up for shortages of rattan in the community forest. The aim is to use the Songpabawa forest only as a source of rattan seeds (five different varieties) and to transform the sloping swidden fields into permanent fields where bamboo and rattan are grown on a permanent basis.
The role of indigenous knowledge
The local people know how to manage a
forest in such a way that it remains productive over long periods of time.
They know how to select seeds, how to propagate rattan, how to clear the
forest and transplant seedlings, and how to obtain products for various
purposes, including for food and for generating income. They also know how to
protect areas of biodiversity, and how to organize themselves so that the
swidden fields are beneficial to all members of the community.
The practice is reinforced by the
community’s system of values and beliefs. According to the legends of the
Hani (Akha) in Mengsong, the gods had condemned the Akha to
death by strangulation because when clearing an area of the forest for
shifting cultivation they had damaged the plant and animal communities. But
the Hani people were wise and used the rattan not to strangle themselves, but
to swing on. Each year the Hani organize the Yeku festival (‘swinging
festival’), which enables them to survive against the initial will of the
gods. The swinging was to show the plants and animals that the Akha had
been punished for the damage to the plant and animal communities during
The knowledge associated with the
cultivation of rattan is mainly in the hands of experienced specialists, but
it is not secret. Everyone learns how to maintain the rattan forest. But the
specialists go to collect the seeds, they distribute seeds and seedlings to
relatives and neighbours, and they prepare seed beds where they develop
different varieties and achieve as much diversity as they can. The diversified
plots of experienced families provide examples for other community members.
This knowledge is transmitted to the community from the village head and the forest specialist and within each household from elder to younger. Transmission was strictly oral until 1990, when ethno-botanists searching for different varieties of rattan and bamboo noticed the practice. It was not documented before, however.
Achievements and results
Some 15,000 clumps of rattan are
growing in the more than 300 ha of forest managed by communities. Each year
they produce approximately ten tons of rattan canes. Hani people classify
rattan into two large categories dahong and lei. Two-thirds of
the clumps are rattan dahong and one-third are rattan lei. From
one clump of rattan dahong, the villagers collect one string about ten
meters long every three years, and from a clump of rattan lei one such
string every five years. By rotating the gathering of strings from the clumps,
the village can harvest about ten tons a year. The villagers are clearing more
forest in order to add more rattan plants and increase production.
The practice is sustainable as no
trees are felled and the forest is maintained to provide an ecosystem for
rattan growing which is close to a natural forest. The difference is that it
is managed by the villagers. By harvesting carefully and replanting rattan,
productivity is even higher than that of a natural forest. With the
intercropping of upland rice and rattan in the swidden fields, there is a
complementary relationship between shifting cultivation and rattan forest.
The practice is cost-effective: while
the input of labour is not constant, the benefits are year-round. Rattan
obtains a high price at both local and regional markets, it provides food, and
it generates income by providing raw material for tools, handicrafts and the
The practice is locally manageable, as
the Hani villagers have shown. They control both the practice and the natural
resources themselves, using their own customary forms of village organization.
They have also transferred application of the technology from the forests to
the swidden fields, transforming 40 ha of swidden field into highly
diversified agro-forestry plots.
The practice has proven to be a viable
way to manage a highly diversified forest so as to derive economic benefit
from it, and to transform swidden fields into permanent agro-forestry plots
containing more than 50 different plant varieties. The practice depends for
its success on the community’s skills in cultivation, joint management and
internal organization. At the same time, however, the practice itself improves
families’ livelihoods and strengthens the community. In other words, there
is a strong relationship between IK and the local community.
The practice does pose a danger of
overexploitation, however, if the demand for rattan increases and prices go
up. External pressure to extract timber could also affect the area of the
The practice could be improved through further experimentation and through discussion among the Hani about the improvements. The practice should be disseminated to other areas and villages with similar conditions. Transforming more swidden fields could increase the total area under permanent agro-forestry, with the result that rattan and other tree crops can be harvested after 7-10 years.
Source of inspiration
The practice could be replicated
elsewhere but there would certainly be conditions and prerequisites to
consider. Since this is a social practice with cultural meaning and
differentiated tasks, requires a strongly organized community. At the same
time, it requires the ecological conditions for rattan production.
If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.
Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK)
Floor 3, Building A, Zhonghuandasha
Yanjiadi, Kunming 650034, China
Tel.: +86 871 4123519
Fax: +86 871 4625033
The role of CBIK and its staff has been:
· Documentation: CBIK researchers have noted, documented and publicized the best practices of rattan management.
· Technical support: Farmers’ nurseries for raising rattan seedlings for purposes of large-scale production have been improved through the integration of indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge.
· Extension: CBIK staff work with state forestry agencies to achieve large-scale extension in Yunnan, and to transfer the best practices to other, similar biophysical and socio-economic environments.
Professor Xu Jianchu
who have described this Best Practice
To MOST Clearing House Best Practices on Poverty and Social Exclusion
To MOST/CIRAN Database of Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge
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