Bushmeat, a nutritional substitution for farming families along the coast of the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua


Freddy Pattiselanno (Animal Science Laboratory Universitas Negeri Papua – UNIPA, Manokwari)

Farming along the coast

The West Papua Province of Indonesia is included in the top five provinces with high population growth rate in Indonesia. Between 2000 and 2010, the growth rate in West Papua was 3.71%. In general the highlands have become the most densely populated by people more focused on established villages and agriculture. In the lowlands, people have been more able to live by fishing and hunting and the staple of sago ever present in the vast wetland swamps.

A report of the Ministry of Finance (2012) indicated that agriculture contributed significantly on the Gross Regional Domestic Product of West Papua at 21%. This expresses by the engagement of almost households in the rural areas in farming as the major source of income.

Located at the north coast of the Bird’s Head Peninsula (BHP) in West Papua, Indonesia, Amberbaken district (Fig. 1.), contributes on approximately 25% of agricultural products for the Tambrauw regency. Amberbaken has seven villages: Arupi, Wekari, Saukorem, Wasarak, Wefiani, Samfarmun and Imbuan. All households engage in farming with an average crop lands varies in size (in average ± 500m2). The most common farming products consumed and sold is coffee, cocoa, cassava, banana, spices and other crops such tuber, coconut, peanut and vegetables.

Lokasi penelitian di wilayah Kepala Burung Papua

Relative location of the study sites

In most agricultural communities people rely on seasonal crop production. For many rural people, and especially for the poor, these cycles entail periods of food shortage. It is at these critical periods that the importance of forest foods is greatest (Falconer, 1990). At this stage, forests and fallow lands provide food resources in most seasons, in the form of edible leaves, fruits, wild vegetables, roots and tubers and wildlife.

Farming, hunting and food security

Although farming is the major occupation of the household, limited access is the major constraint to sell their agricultural products. Most of the products are consumed within the villages. Some are sold in markets in Manokwari, or to a boat that visits the villages approximately once a month. Difficulties in marketing the agriculture products has driven and forced many rural farmers to seek alternative sources of income. Many have become part-time hunters. Furthermore, like any other forest-dwelling communities, hunting was a part of people livelihood.

Between 2010 and 2012, we surveyed the contribution of wildlife to local livelihood along the coastal of the BHP. Villagers practiced a number of subsistence activities including shifting cultivation, cultivation of trees and palms, smallholder husbandry (pig, goat and chicken), fishing and hunting. From 702 surveyed respondents across seven villages 70% were farmers. They acknowledged themselves as farmer hunters. They worked part-time and hunted for cash to supplement cash crop incomes and to obtain meat for food. Among them, 46% reported that primary reason for hunting is acquiring meat for personal consumption (“subsistence” hereafter).

As hunting was a part-time activity, it was mostly done weekly or fortnight. More commonly hunters operated on weekends or when they did not work at crop land. They hunt to provide meat to family table or sold. Therefore, when working in the garden such as clearing fields, ploughing, planting and weeding session they spent less time on hunting. Despite working, opportunistic hunting was also occurred at the crop land. They might uncover nest and dig it to take the animals out. Thus prey animals killed are mostly small to medium weight animals such as bandicoots, birds and sometimes cuscus (Fig. 2).

Youth with a hunted bandicoot

Youth with a hunted bandicoot

Food from forests: Bushmeat and malnutrition

For people involved in agriculture like people in Amberbaken, crop lands allow the production of much greater amounts of carbohydrates in this case tuber crops and bananas. But this is not animal protein. It is clear that bushmeat represents an important protein source in the tropics. Specifically, it is considered as dietary supplements to the starchy staple diet.

To understand the contribution of bushmeat on household consumption, we randomly visited 496 households across seven villages. We interviewed those who responsible to provide the household’s meals. We asked types of food prepared to household members. We found 36% of household consumed bushmeat. The other 64% consumed non-bushmeat meals including fish, livestock products, vegetables and noodles.

This finding really expresses the reliance of local communities on bushmeat as food sources. Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen (1982) have proved the contribution of wildlife consumption in rural household diets. We understand that wildlife provided significant calories to rural communities, as well as essential protein and fats along the coastal landscape of BHP. Even where there has been a change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture, hunting and gathering remain important to a high proportion of rural households along the coast.

The real condition shows that communities have easy access to available food source for household consumption. We even did not see or find children who eat once a day or threated by starving. At least children eat twice per day. In this case, crop lands provide starch and carbohydrates while bushmeat and fish deliver protein for household consumptions. However, according to the information from Center of Data and Information of the Ministry of Health (2012), in 2010 a percentage of malnutrition children below five was 26.5% and in West Papua Province.

Look forward: A good quality of non-timber forest products

Bushmeat played an important role in providing food for the communities (Fig. 3).. As several villages are currently connecting with road access, in the future, agriculture products can easily be sold in the nearest town. This also allows farmers to select non-bushmeat protein source as an alternative food. We are currently looking for support to run a campaign and outreach program. We have partner farmers in the villages to work with. We have also approached local radio for helping us by broadcasting relevant theme on the village program. Applying for available grant is the most concerned step to follow up. This opportunity is important to obtain financial support for the planned activities.

Local product of dry meat

Local product of dry meat

It is expecting that we can have the baseline information including the nutritional value of wildlife products and a good quality (clean and hygiene) forest food products for farming families. Further plan is to have better understanding on the link between bushmeat consumption and human health along the coastal of BHP. Products diversifying may also be considered for future program on forest food goods.

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