Aren Indonesia

Opan S.Suwartapradja

Arenga pinnata: A Case Study of Indigenous Knowledge on the Utilization of A Wild Food Plant in West Java )

By Opan S.Suwartapradja )


The aims of this paper are as follow : i). to know how much the rural people in West Java have the take benefit from Arenga pinnata; ii). to know how far the potentialities of Arenga pinnata had to some contribution for the household economy; iii). what kind of technology is used by the rural people in order to manage those potential resource of Arenga pinnata; and iv). to investigate and develop Indigenous Knowledge concerning the management of Arenga pinnata and to contribute to sustainable agricultural development.

The main product of Arenga pinnata is Gula Aren / gula kawung / gula beureum (“brown sugar”). There are also some other products that which can be produced from this plant to increase farmer household income. Traditional technology or indigenous knowledge (I.K.) is used. Arenga pinnata is presumed to become rare, because the farmers have no possibility to cultivate this plant. Op the present been we find this plant only in the wild. Due to the important contribution of this plant product toward household economy, it could minimize the need of clearing away the forest to get new land. Which on the other hand could prevent erosion, and to look after the continual existence of this plant. However, it still needs further investigation concerning with its cultivation, economic analysis, and the appropriate technology to increase its productivity in connection with food production and sustainable agricultural development.

I. Introduction

This paper, is prepared to fulfil the last assignment as participant in the workshop on Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge and Development conducted by Leiden Ethnosystem and Development Programme (LEAD), Institute of Cultural Social Studies, University of Leiden, within the framework of joint project Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge Systems in Developing Countries (INDAKS). The writing of this paper was stimulated by the eagerness to dig out the potentialities of indigenous knowledge, which year by year is pressing by modern technology.

Many countries experiencing high population growth. The rapid population growth without equalities in economic growth could increase social problems and backwardness (Soeharto’s, presidential speech on, BKKBN, 1981). That is why the main target in increasing social welfare for the people (Indonesia) is to foster conducting economic development in agricultural sector, for both rice field and dry land.

The population growth with the economic income of the majority depents to the agricultural sector alone, for especially those who cultivate dry land., has led to the use of the already existed land more intensively because of land hunger (Soemarwoto, 1983). This existence of land hunger among the farmers could develop several problems, among others are as follows : i). the eradication of forest region; ii). the increase of bare land; iii). erosion; iv). genetic erosion; v). the decrease of water catchment areas.

Those problems mentioned above could be aggravated by the application of modern technology combined with less attention for indigenous knowledge (I.K), which later on can decrease traditional technology and will unavoidable lead to genetic erosion, something what has happened already in western countries. Because that happens nowadays in developing countries, has led to worries, that the people there also will face the same problems (Soemarwoto, O., 1983; Warren, Slikkerveer, Titilola, ed, 1989; Adimihardja, K., 1992). It is interesting to discuss, that in the one hand there are worries concerning genetic erosion or extinction, but on the other hand there are some plants which potential, but these have not been optimally cultivated. For example, in Indonesia there are some plants cultivated by the farmers with the use of indigenous knowledge, which has the potential to increase their household income. One of these is Arrange pinnate (Arenga pinnata. Lt.).

In this paper I would like to bring for ward the possibilities of Arenga pinnata to fulfil the following purposes :

  1. to know how far the rural people in West Java have the take benefit of Arenga pinnata;
  2. to know how far Arenga pinnata give some contribution for the household  economy;
  3. what kind of technology is used by the rural people in order to manage
    Arenga pinnata; and
  4. to describe out and develop Indigenous Knowledge, especially concern with the management of the benefits of Arenga pinnata, to foster sustainable agricultural development.

II. The socio-economic potentialities of Arenga pinnata

Arenga pinnata regenerate naturally or, according to the rural people’s believe, it is the civet (musang) which has the role to diffuse its seeds to other places (after the seed was digested by this animal and become excreted). That is why the number of this plant cannot easily be increased and the plant relatively difficult to spread. However, this plant has much potentialities as an additional income for the farmer. This plant on the average can live about 15 years and its height is around 5 to 8 m. The people usually tapped certain bulb of the tree in order to get its sap, which further on can be processed which gula aren/gula kawung/gula beureum (brown sugar) as main product. As a matter of fact, it can be said that nearly the whole parts of this plant can be processed to become some useful materials as follows :

i). L e a f

The young leaf can be used to roll a pinch of tobacco. At first this leaf should be whittled by a knife in to a thin slice and then must be dried. This thin dried leaf is called daun kawung {kawung (Arenga pinnata in Sundanese language) leaf}. Before 1970, the time when cigarette paper and cigarettes were mostly manufactured, people could easily got daun kawung, which were usually sold in the market, small shops, or by the peddlers. But, afterwards daun kawung was unsuccessful to compete against cigarette paper or cigarettes and became fade away, because nowadays people prefer more to smoke tobacco rolled with cigarette paper or just to smoke cigarette.

The young leaf of Arenga pinnata is also commonly used as a part of ritual equipment s in relation with agricultural cycle, i.e. at the time before planting (Sd = mitembeyan) with the purpose that the plants will produce good harvest and around harvesting which they called ngukusan/nurunan for it. For both agricultural ceremonies they prepare sasajen (offerings) and they use young Arenga pinnata leaves including its seed. They use the leaves to bind the other offerings which are already wrapped in leaves and hang all of those offerings in a place called pupuhunan (Yogaswara, 1990; Adimihardja, 1992; Suwartapradja, 1982, 1992).

The old Arenga pinnata can be used as a part of house building materiel, i.e. roof building or also for roofing Saung/ranggon (a small hut in the field). These leaves should be woven at first, before they can be it is used for the roof, this woven leaves of Arenga pinnata is called kiray to roof the huts in field. This kiray can be last aroun 5 to 10 years and is relatively much cheaper then tiles. As an example, a house of around 54 square meters need 300 kirays to roof it which cost about Rp. 105.000,- or US $ 45,2 (each kiray costs Rp. 350,- or US $ 0,15), while if they use tiles to roof their houses of the same size , it needs 600 tiles for each house with the price of each tile around Rp. 300,- or US $ 0,15 which means that they need to spare money of around Rp. 180.000,- or US $ 77,5 what is Rp. 75.000,- or US $ 32,3 more than by kiray utilization.

These old leaves of Arenga pinnata can also be used for wrapping or for woven leaves container, with size depends on its purpose. For example they can use the leaves to wrap brown sugars, durian, fruits, food etc.

ii). Leaf Rib

The leafs ribs or Lidi, after the leaf from both sides has been cut away, can be used as lidi broom for cleaning the house and garden, etc. A woven bunch of lidi is also used as a hammer to smoothen a mattress, while it is placed in the sun shine.

A bunch of lidi used as broom may contain about 50 pieces of leaf rib, while if it is used as a hammer for smoothening the mattress it may contain around 20 pieces of leaf rib. Both lidi broom and hammer may be used at home or sold at the market. The farmer can sell a lidi broom for Rp. 450,- or US $ 0,19 and a lidi woven hammer for Rp. 250,- or US $ 0,11. Although a lidi broom derived from Arenga pinnata leaf is more expensive than a lidi broom derived from palm leaf (Rp. 300,- or US $ 0,13 each), the people prefer to used lidi broom made from Arenga pinnata, because it has a better quality. But, Arenga pinnata lidi broom now becomes rare and there is no other choice than palm lidi broom, both for rural and urban people who need it.

iii). Leaf Stem.

The Leaf Stalk of Arenga pinnata can be used as a carrying pole (Rancatan). Incidentally the farmer needs an additional carrying pole to bring his agricultural product to other members of the family, who are helping him. In this occasion, the farmer usually uses an old Leaf Stalk, which is strong enough to handle the burden. As a matter of fact, this Arenga pinnata Leaf Stem is not the only carrying pole the farmers usually use, because they prefer more to used bamboo carrying pole which is much stronger. More likely the Arenga pinnata Leaf Stem is used as fire wood. The farmers commonly took them from the ground or if necessary they or their sons took it directly from the tree by climbing and cut them with their bedog (machete).

Another interesting use of this Arenga pinnata Leaf Stem is its ash usually used as facial powder called Wedak Sararangkawung. Before 1980 the rural women in West Java Commonly used this kind of facial powder, because it was more economical and according to them it could also smoothen the facial skin. But today they won’t use this kind of facial powder, because now they can easily get manufactured powder, which has better quality and is more attractive.

iv). Inflorescence (Manggar)

The inflorescence of Arenga pinnata or in Sundanese language called manggar, is liated to the life cycle, i.e. circumcision and matrimonial ceremony. In both ceremonies the manggar is placed in the front of the house, both as religious items as an ornament. The people who need for this Manggar usually ask for them to the person who owns this Arenga pinnata tree. Nowadays it is quite difficult to get this religious materials and people turn to use the inflorescence of the palm tree.

v). Black fibber (Ijuk)

The full length of the trunk of an Arenga pinnata tree is completely covered by black fibber called Ijuk. This black fibber has several uses as material for Ijuk broom, ijuk brush (to clean floor, car, etc.), ijuk paint brush, septic tank base filter; clear water filter, door mat, carpet, rope, chair/sofa cushion, and for fish nest to hatch its eggs.

Up to now, this part of Arenga pinnata is still marketable. However, it is hard to get this materials because of the impact of modern technology, nails, plastic rope, plastic brush, rubber foam, etc. are Abundant and easily to get. On the other hand, the plant of Arenga pinnata tree itself become scarcer and scarcer, because of the difficulty to regenerate.

vi). “K a w u l”

Kawul is a part of Arenga pinnata which consists of very soft brownish fiber which stick on the trunk. This part of the tree can be used as a flammable material. To get the fire, people usually put this soft fibber on the top of a flint stone and then stroke the flint stone with a piece of flattened ironstone, especially made for this purpose. The iron steel it self is inserted in to a small leather bag which can also be used as a sac for the kawul and the flintstone. A one set of those three materials (the kawul, flint stone and iron steel) is called paneker.

This part of Arenga pinnata tree has never been commercialized but is merely in personal use only, and anybody can ask for it to any body else, if he needs it.

vii). T r u n k

The Trunk of a mature Arenga pinnata tree has an average diameter of 60 cm. Not all Arenga pinnata could produce sweet sap (Sd. L. = lahang) from their Protruding stalk. Those which are unable to produce sweet sap usually contain more starch material in their trunk heart, as compared to the productive ones. This starch material could be processed into Arenga pinnata starch flour, which further on can be used for various purposes such as foods and cakes, etc. The waste of this starch material can still be used as food for ducks and in other places it is used also as food for some big animal (horse, pig). So, this starch waste has still commercial value. However, the commercial or economic value derived from this kind of non-sap productive Arenga pinnata is much smaller as we compare it to the value of sweet sap.

The other product that can be derived from the trunk of Arenga pinnata tree are water work (gutter), agricultural appliance holder (hole, bolo knife, axe, sickle) with has an relatively good quality, as we compare it with other wooden material. It can also be used as fire wood.

Beside the above products, the most economical valued product of Arenga pinnata is infact gula aren or gula kawung or gula beureum. This signifier brown sugar (it has different taste and quality when we compare it with palm Sugar). We will discus more detail about this product section III.

viii). F r u i t

In Sundanese language the fruit of Arenga pinnata is called Caruluk. The benefit of this fruit can be divided in two parts, social and economic benefits. The social benefit of this fruit relates to the unripe fruits, which are usually used for ceremonial appliances concerning planting and harvesting. Its economical benefit relates to its edible part which is called cangkaleng which usually used as additive for drinks such as bajigur (a traditional hot drink made of boiled water mixed with coconut milk, brown sugar Arenga pinnata starch and cangkaleng and syrup or used in desserts, in the form of Arenga pinnata fruit stewed with brown palm sugar.

Up to the present this Arenga pinnata are widely consumed and sold both in rural urban areas and by all social classes members. The Arenga pinnata fruits are usually sold in kilogram or litre with the price of Rp. 1000,- or US $ 0,43 to Rp. 1.500,- or US $ 0,65per kilogram or litre. Suppose a farmer (usually woman) is able peeling the fruits around 2 kg/day it is possible for her to collect some money around Rp. 3.000,- or US $ 1,3 every day which income is a bit higher, of it is compared the income of used daily workers which is not more than Rp. 2.000,- or US $ 0,86 /day, or it is comparable with male daily worker’s in come/day.

III. Preservatory, Harvesting, Management of Harvest and Marketing of Arenga pinnata Products.

In fact, taking care of Arenga pinnata trees does not need much work and cost. This trees sprouted naturally from the seeds. According to the rural farmers their spread were indirectly conducted by the civets which eat the Arenga pinnata fruits, digested them and discharged them in some places not far from their main trees. That is why commonly the Arenga pinnata trees are grown in cluster within certain area either a forest or a dry land. These clusters of Arenga pinnata trees are seldom approached by the villagers they try to avoid as far as possible being injured by their thorn (in Sundanese L. = harupat) which can cause infected wounds, and can lead to death.

The harvesting of Arenga pinnata tree is called nyadap (to tap the protruded part is called leungeun/bodogol (large axially), to get the dripped sweet sap from it). In order to make harvest easy, the farmer usually uses a ladder (Sunda L. =taraje) made of a single bamboo stalk (Gigantocloa verticilata), with height is about 5 – 7 m, depending of the height of the leungeun/bodogol. The harvest is usually done by adult man, about 3 times a day. At 4 p.m the farmer taps the leungeun/bodogol, by connecting a large bamboo tube (of 20 cm in diameter and 1 m long) on it, to catch its dripped sweet sap, and let the bamboo tube hanging on the leungeun/bodogol up to 5.30 p.m in the next morning. The next morning, the farmer takes away the filled bamboo tube at 13.00 p.m and changes it with another empty tube which should to be taken at 4.p.m of the same day, and so on. It is important to note, that after the leungeun/bodogol has been tapped, it is necessary to hammer the whole body of the leungeun/bodogol stalk with the back of the bolo knife (this hammering act is called (ditinggur) as long as 15 minutes in order to make the sweet sap of it easily drip out. One tapping of the leungeun/bogogol gives the farmer approximately 2 litre of sweet sap. The tapping and hammering should continue, especially if the production of the sap decreases.

When the production of sweet sap nearly comes to its end usually the tree produces a new leungeun/bodogol. If this new leungeun/bodogol arise or protrude, the farmer shifts the tapping activity from the old leungeun/bodogol to the new one, and so on, until the production totally comes to its end, which takes about 2 – 3 years since the first topping bodogol. If the tree has only one leungeun/bodogol during a year, it means that the harvesting cannot go on.

The processing of Arenga pinnata to brown sugar is usually done at home by the farmer himself or by the farmer himself or by his wife.
Processing finds place usually in the morning from 5.00 A.m. till 11.00 A.m. Primarily, the sap (Sundanese L. lahang) must boil for an instance (to avoid that it will become sour) it can not directly be processed. Farmers are collecting too harvest so that after the processing it produces an adequate quantity of brown sugar.

The production of sweet sap from those 3 times of harvesting in a day, taken from a single Arenga pinnata tree usually reach about 6 litre. The sweet sap for one day is processed to brown sugar by boiling it continuously up to 6 hours. Some times the liquid coagulate (Sundanese L. peueut), then it must be stirred regularly in order to become well mixed and to avoid burning. Soon after coagulating, the Arenga pinnata sap become brownish and good enough to become brown sugar. The farmer puts it into some bamboo or coconut shell moulds. A few hours afterwards the coagulated Arenga pinnata sap become cool and hard. The last stage of this brown sugar making process is to wrap the already moulded brown sugar with Arenga pinnata or palm leaves. Each package contains 10 brown sugar.

The farmers usually used some equipments to produce brown sugar. Those equipments are : a large earthen ware or iron kettle, cungkir (a bamboo or coconut shell dipper), some bamboo or coconut shell moulds, a tungku (a fire place), and fire woods. According to field observation, the farmer needs 7,605 m3 fire wood per year to process around 2100 litre Arenga pinnata sap or equivalent with 320 kg brown sugar {6 l(1kg)/day/350 days} (Suwartapradja, O.,, 1994; Adimihardja, K., Abdullah, Oe., Kramadibrata, A., 1994).

The sap of Arenga pinnata can be sold as pure sap for Rp. 600,- or US $ 0,26 – Rp. 1.000,- or US $ 0,43/l as fresh beverage; or in the form of liquid peueut priced Rp. 1.000,-or US $ 0,43 – Rp. 1.500,- or US $ 0,65 as food additive, and as brown sugar for Rp. 2.500,-or US $ 1,1/bonjor/kg. However, the farmer prefers to sell it in the form of brown sugar because of has higher price than the other products.

The brown sugar is commonly used as sweetener in the production of dodol (a very sweet sticky rice flour cake), wajit (sticky rice cake) angleng, opak amis, (sweet sticky rice/casava large chip), katimus (casava cake), bugis (sticky rice cake filled with shredded coconut and brown sugar), beverages, spice, etc. This brown sugar has special taste that makes it quite easy to sell, either in the small shops, by peddlers or in the market place.

There are some interesting folk believes connected with the harvest of Arenga pinnata sap. It is said that a farmer must continuously use his coat, that he used the very first time of harvesting the Arenga pinnata sap. It is also said that in case there is a person who ask for a drink of the Arenga pinnata sap, while the farmer just has finished with his harvesting Arenga pinnata sap, he must give as much as possible to the person. All of these believes should be practised to keep the Arenga pinnata producing its sap.

IV. Discussion

The Arenga pinnata (Latin) or arrange pinnate (English) is a member of Palmae family. This plant commonly grow in the tropical regions. Just like Philippines, Malays and in Indonesia, in ravines a long streams and in semi cultivation. It is naturally a forest species.

Masano (1989) showed that 85 % of Arenga pinnata seeds taken from the excrement of Civet (Musang) were successfully germinated and grow while those which were taken from the tree and directly planted by man only 44 % succeeded to germinate and grew. This experiment is in accordance with the folk believe that it is the Civet which has the role to regenerate and spread the Arenga pinnata and that it grows only naturally (without the intervention of man). If it is true that there are some difficulties to plant this tree intentionally, then there is possibility that sooner or later the Arenga pinnata trees comes extinct because of the continuously clearing away the forests. This has happened to some plant species already (Karyono, 1980; Soemarwoto, O.,1983; Ramlan, A., 1984). It is quite interesting that the local people known already about this characteristic of Arenga pinnata.

In the rural areas, the people who have dry land in an adequate size are primarily the rich people. Thus, in general those who pocess Arenga pinnata trees are the rich people. However, harvesting and processing the sap produced by Arenga pinnata, they usually other to do so. Other people (i.e. friends, neighbour, or their clients) to do the work, especially they who have the ability to climb. The business arrangement between the owner and the workers can be in the form of maro (i.e. dividing the product by halves), either in the form of product or in the form of cash after the product has been sold afterwards.

As we have already know the main product of Arenga pinnata is the brown sugar, while the other parts of the tree can be used for many purposes. Many products of Arenga pinnata are used in both social and economical interest of the household. The social interests are concern mainly with religious ceremonies dealing with both agricultural and life cycles, to fulfil the spiritual demands of the people. Economically, it can be said that all parts of Arenga pinnata tree are marketable, e.g. the brown sugar (around Rp. 2.500,-or US $ 1,1 – Rp. 3.000,- or US $ 1,3/kg); lidi broom (Rp. 450,- or US $ 0,19/piece); Ijuk broom (Rp. 1500 or US $ 0,64/piece); Ijuk brush (Rp.1.000,- or US $ 0,43 – Rp. 1.500,- or US $ 0,64 each); kakaban or woven Arenga pinnata leaves (Rp. 7.500,- or US $ 3,22/sheet) and the fruit, cangkaleng (Rp.1.000,- or US $ 0,43 – Rp.1.500,- or US $ 0,64/kg).

The rural people use their own indigenous technology in their effort to process all parts of Arenga pinnata tree to become beneficial foods and goods. Both knowledge and technology connected with Arenga pinnata were invented and developed by themselves and inherited through generations in order to get more additional income. The process of understanding and transferring such technology need not to involve high cost. However, the possibilities of Arenga pinnata can not be developed optimally as long as the process of modernization, which its aim to increase the agricultural production or to increase the peoples income through Transfer Of Technology (T.O.T), does not give any attention towards indigenous knowledge.

As it has been discussed in section II that the indigenous knowledge and technology concerning with the effort of rural peoples of reaching the optimum benefit of natural resources is now becoming marginalised and it is not impossible that in future this knowledge will be fade away, should this policy not be reconsidered.

Through the reconsideration or revitalization of both Indigenous Knowledge and technology and furthermore to switch from the T.O.T, go on interactive model, in manipulating the potential natural resources optimally, could minimizing the population pressure on the land, which also means reducing of cutting away the forest, soil erosion, and genetic erosion.

V. Conclusion

In order to fulfil their economic demands, the rural people in West Java have developed indigenous knowledge and technology to get the optimum benefits of Arenga pinnata. It seems that nearly the whole parts of Arenga pinnata tree can be used for various purposes both foods and goods. That is why it can be said that Arenga pinnata is one of those various natural resources which is potentially could increase the farmer’s household income.

It is true that the farmers use their own traditional technology in processing the Arenga pinnata to beneficial products and they can do so with the tools or implements they use. However, the existence of Arenga pinnata, its socio-economical values, and both indigenous knowledge and technology, becomes day after day pushed away by both modern technology and goods/foods, sooner or later they may fade away.

The most serious problem is concerning with the existence of Arenga pinnata up to the present is the unability of the rural communities of West Java to grow and cultivate Arenga pinnata tree. The rural people belief that this plant species can only grow by the help of civets, through their digestion of this food. The botanical research conducted by Masano about Arenga pinnata reached also the conclusion that those rural communities observations and believes are accurate. However, if the problem of planting Arenga pinnata can be solved through research the continuation of the indigenous knowledge and technology is possible and the use and benefits of Arenga pinnata can be encouraged through social, economical and cultural investigations, in order to fulfil its targets, i.e. to make sustainable additional income to the farmer’s household economy possible.


The author wish to thank the colleagues from Kenya, Netherlands and Indonesia for their benefecial suggestions and help all of them have made much of this work possible.


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