The Dayak village of Pasir Panjang in Central Borneo is a hubbub of activity. If villagers aren’t working formal jobs, they will often be tending to chickens, growing vegetables in their back garden, or looking for wild fruits in the surrounding forest. Mr Henson, who works at the OFI Care Center and Quarantine in Pasir Panjang, is no exception. Every day after work, Mr Henson drives to his little chicken farm to feed and clean approximately 300 chickens. Carrying a lanjung packed with cassava roots on his back (lanjung is the Dayak name for a basket carried around the head with a rope), Mr Henson certainly looks the part of a Dayak horticulturist as he heads towards a quaint, wooden enclosure which houses his ayam kampong, or village chickens. We head inside. The verdant enclosure is rich with palms, buckling cempedak (a type of jackfruit) trees, and pineapple plants, bursting with fat fruits. Mr Henson wastes little time, and calls the chickens with a soft cooing sound, before cutting the cassava roots with a parang (the Dayak version of a machete). Tiny flecks of white cassava spray into the air and as they hit the ground, the chickens flock at high speed to peck the food and each other. Cassava is useful in chicken farming; even the enclosure is made from wood of the cassava tree.
The lanjung (basket) is normally used to carry rice, but Mr Henson uses it to carry pineapples and cassava roots. Lanjung baskets are also commonly used in traditional ceremonies. Lanjungs are sometimes filled with rice and put into a river overnight, then in the morning the rice is ground to make rice flour for sweets (penganan in Dayak) for traditional ceremonies such as weddings.
This species of chicken is known as ayam lokal (Indonesian), or manuk lalang (Dayak), which translates simply to “local chicken.” These chickens are kept for eggs, but are also occasionally sold for meat. One kilogram of chickens can cost up to 30,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) (approximately 3.50 US dollars), and locals will often buy 10 or 20 kilos at a time. However, Mr Henson and his family also keep a large quantity of boiler chickens which are kept in larger, roofed enclosures. Boiler chickens are only bred for meat and one kilogram costs approximately 20,000 IDR. This kind of chicken is usually bought in bulk, up to 200 or 300 kilos at a time, by people in the city for consumption and/or re-sale.
We leave the idyllic enclosure to visit Mr. Hensen’s pineapple field but my attention is suddenly drawn by a pack of growling dogs that seem unsure about my presence at the farm. One in particular gets very close and snarls menacingly. I use my bag as a shield around my legs and the dog eventually leaves after Mr Henson issues some warnings. Yet these dogs are important for a farm. The enclosure for Mr Henson’s village chickens doesn’t have a roof and there are many snakes and musang (civet cats) in the surrounding forest. The dogs provide protection against these chicken predators, as well as against any person with dishonest intentions. As we walk towards the pineapples, we pass chicken manure, drying in the sun. It is an old tradition to dry the manure in order to remove any bad odors; it is then stored in sacks and sold for around 20,000 IDR per sack. The manure is sold to people who use it to fertilize their vegetable gardens.
Two of many dogs, playing at the farm
When we eventually reach the pineapple field, I’m surprised; it wasn’t what I expected. Instead of being a mono-cultural, non-diverse plantation, it’s full of life. Tall trees tower over the pineapple plants, shrubs grow in between. The air buzzes with insects and life. This is how farming should be. Embracing the native wildlife and plants, rather than trying to control or eradicate them. Mr Henson and his family never use pesticides on their produce; they believe that insects are an important part of the agricultural process for pollination. Mr Henson does admit that there are also plenty of “bad” insects which can eat his plants. From time to time, any foliage surrounding the pineapples will be cut back by Mr Henson’s father, Pak Awak, to allow more light to reach the plants. Ripe pineapples are usually collected once a week and large ones can sell for 5,000 IDR, smaller ones for 3,000 IDR.
Pak Awak, Mr Henson’s father is cutting down grass to open up the area for more pineapples. The grass he is cutting is called sendaas (Dayak) and this grass is popularly used to weave baskets and mats. Pak Awak is holding a parang (Dayak), a type of machete. The pineapple plant can be seen in the foreground on the right.
Top view of a pineapple fruit: almost ripe and ready to be picked
As we leave, Mr Henson remembers that he needs to check his corn field. We pass through a small area of forest which is being logged by the people who own this stretch of land. Deforestation is the source of many conflicts between people and nature. As Kalimantan’s population increases, there is insurmountable pressure to convert forested land to agricultural land, plantations, or perhaps to clear space in which to build houses. Mr Henson explains that the trees cut down here will probably be sold as plywood for construction. Often the land is logged and the wood is sold before crops such as palm oil are grown. Sadly, palm oil is a growing presence in Pasir Panjang, as small, private plantations are beginning to appear around the village. Another common way of clearing the land is slash and burn, by using fire to burn down the foliage; sometimes the charcoal will then be collected and sold. Many palm oil companies have been accused of using this method to illegally clear land. We finally arrive at Mr Henson’s corn field. Corn (jagung in Indonesian and Dayak) can reach 3,500 IDR for one kilo. The corn is also considered a good chicken feed.
Small-scale logging to provide wood for construction and/ or firewood. The cut planks can be seen in the far right on the ground and also at the back.
Sadly, nearby farms have used the slash and burn method to clear the land of forest, evidenced by the burned tree stumps that can be seen poking out of the ground.
This day has been an interesting and informative one. I feel as if I’ve delved into a hidden world, a secret garden, full of food. This small-scale, farming lifestyle seems idyllic; however, it requires dedication and hard work. Yet there is something very appealing about producing your own food and then eating outdoors. For the local Dayak people of Pasir Panjang, small-scale farming is a way to improve their standard of living, to enrich their diets, and to provide tranquility. It gets people outside, into nature. In many small farms, like Mr Henson’s, nature and farming seem to go hand-in-hand.
A secret garden: The idyllic chicken coop, made from cassava wood, and surrounded by palms.