Socialising the pixel, a mixed methods approach to assessing the state of forests in West Timor

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    Over recent years, deforestation in the world’s tropics has become an urgent international issue, particularly with regards to the role of tropical forests as a major carbon sink and store. One response has been the development of satellite based monitoring initiatives focused on the large peat forests of western Indonesia. The forests of some of eastern Indonesia’s semi-arid outer islands are locally important but ‘carbon poor’ and are consequently of less interest to climate change researchers. This study focuses on the Kabupaten Kupang district of West Timor which has some of the largest and least studied tracts of remaining forest in West Timor. Anecdotal evidence suggests these forests are being diminished and degraded. However no research has been conducted to assess the state of forests in this region.

    Satellite imagery is an important tool for mapping and monitoring forests and there are new opportunities, with the advances in remote sensing and geographic information technology, for its wider use in Indonesia. However, whilst it is important to have quantitative data on forest cover change, these data are insufficient to inform local forest management and analysis of these data alone can distract from understanding the multiple, local scale variables influencing forest use. In order to develop effective policy and management strategies, it is necessary to link spatial data with on-ground qualitative research or to ‘socialize the pixel’.

    This study uses a combination of remote sensing, GIS and social science methods to describe the state of forests in Kabupaten Kupang, and how and why they are changing. Satellite derived data of land cover and land use have become accepted baseline data for assessing the state of tropical forests, however critics of satellite based, natural resource research argue that reliance on these data shifts the focus of ecological research away from understanding causation and process to simply describing patterns. Using satellite imagery, case studies and on-ground interviews, this study explores the proposition that local social, cultural and biophysical knowledge is important for effectively using remotely sensed data as a tool to influence local management policies.

    When compared to some other parts of Indonesia, the rate and extent of deforestation in West Timor was found to be relatively small and a satellite based assessment alone could conclude that it is not a critical issue. However this study has shown that when coupled with on-ground social data a much more complex picture is developed, related to key livelihood issues. The causes of forest cover change were found to be multivariate and location specific, requiring management approaches tailored to local issues. Increasing pressure on West Timor’s forests could increase environmental degradation, food insecurity and poverty, however new opportunities to develop better collaborative forest management strategies are also evolving out of democratic reforms and increasing regional autonomy.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBronwyn Myers (Supervisor) & Richard Noske (Supervisor)

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