Erin's Paper

Erin Brennan
Anthropology 104
Professor Hill
April 29 2013

Environmental Issues among the Minankabau


Minangkabau are a people who value landholding as one of the crucial functions of their lineage system. The kin group from the mother’s side of the family is responsible for the distribution of land that is inherited (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Minankabau:1) The geological resources on these lands have been and continue to be exploited (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia- Minankabau:1).


There is an abundant shoreline in Indonesia, and most people make their livelihood from fishing. Starting in 1970’s however, Indonesia saw a decline in fish stock due to contamination coastal waters (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). The use of agricultural pesticides is not monitored and off-shore oil drilling is a common practice. Effluents from fertilizers and supertanker accidents have polluted the waters of the fragile Sumatran strait (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). Overfishing has also become a problem. Although “floating factory” fishing boats were restricted in Indonesia in 1982, the increasingly improved technology has aided fishermen in their fishing attempts, which threatens not only the fish in Indonesian waters, but the total fish supply as well (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1).

Agriculture is the main way of life for the Minangkabau people. Unfortunately, the combination of heavy foresting and the slash-and-burn agricultural techniques that are commonly used by the Minankabau depletes the land of its fertility. Because of the focus on agriculture, soil erosion, river-bed siltation, and water pollution are common problems. Soil erosion caused by deforestation intensifies the problem of siltation (Causes and Effects of Deforestation: 1). Siltation is a process by which water becomes polluted by sediment, silt or other fine mineral particles suspended in the water (Your Dictionary: 1). Silt deposits from water sources such as ponds and streams are carried from the inland waters downstream into the sea. In the sea they cover and kill coral reefs, create mangrove thickets, and make harbor access difficult for ships (Causes and Effects of Deforestation: 1). Dredging operations are needed to make the harbors accessible. These operations are expensive and elaborate (Causes and Effects of Deforestation:1).

Deforestation is also a major concern in the Minangkabau culture. In 2000 and 2005, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimate that 1,87million hectors of forest are lost every year in Indonesia (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). This is equal to 9,36 million hectare in a five year period, which would cover an area the size of Portugal(Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). This not only impacts the livelihoods of the forest people who are unable to use their timber resources, but it also means habitat loss for endangered species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and orangutans (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). There is also the impact of a loss of revenue for local and central governments. The reason that there is so much deforestation is that the global demand for wood pulp and palm oil is high which results in tree clearing for plantations (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). More than 3.5 million people work in the sub-sector in Indonesia and it is a major source of income (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Some plantations are constructed in areas of high conservation value forests where there is a complete loss of forest ecological function and local people suffer from loss of socioecological benefits. There is also a high global demand for timber (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). And about 80% of this timber produced from Indonesia is thought to stem from illegal logging (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1).

Not only are the habitats of the animals of Indonesia being exploited but the animals themselves are also at risk (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Between 1985 and 1990 about 1,000 orangutans may have been imported to Taiwan for pet trade (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1). Additionally the endangered humphead wrasse has been illegally exported to high end restaurants as it is considered a delicacy in Indonesian cuisine. Other species of animals are traded for natural medicines or for decorative objects (Environmental Problems in Indonesia:1).

National and local governments seem to be aware of these environmental issues, yet with the growing economy and increase in demand for food there is a lack of balance between industry and environmental protection (Mongabay Environmental News, Indonesia-Environmental Concerns:1). It seems that many sacrifices are made to meet the imminent needs of people without concern for the effects of these sacrifices or their effect on the future. When resources are depleted or when animals go extinct there is nothing we can do to render those problems. Preventative precautions and being aware of our impact is the only way to ensure the health of the environment. One of my favorite quotes is a Native American saying that goes,

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”


Hopefully these environmental issues can be rendered soon to protect the valuable resources among the Minankabau people of Indonesia so that both themselves and their environment can be preserved and continue to thrive.