Traditional tree species holds promise for farmers in Indonesia’s peatlands

Jelutong seedlings being raised in a nursery. Photo: Janudianto

Jelutong seedlings being raised in a nursery. Photo: Janudianto

For farmers who rely on the peat swamp forests of Sumatra and Central Kalimantan in Indonesia for their livelihoods, a return to growing traditional indigenous tree species may be their best option amid widespread deforestation, land conversion, degradation and increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

A poster presented at the 6th International Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Bali, Indonesia in August 2013 looks at the viability of traditional agroforestry systems in a changing landscape. It summarizes an assessment that was made of agroforestry systems in Tanjung Jabung Barat district in Jambi Province of Sumatra and Kapuas district of Central Kalimantan province.

Janudianto, Agroforestry Management Officer with the World Agroforestry Centre, explains how jelutong and gemor trees – once highly valued for their latex, wood and bark – have virtually disappeared from the landscape. Farmers in the peat swamps of Sumatra and Central Kalimantan now rely mostly on rubber for their income.

“There is great potential for jelutong in areas of Sumatra to improve household incomes,” outlines Janudianto. “It is a native peat swamp forest species which is gaining increasing popularity and can be integrated with profitable crops such as oil palm and betelnut.”

Jelutong (Dyera polyphylla) grows naturally in Sumatra, Malaysia, Borneo and southern Thailand. The fine hardwood timber is especially popular for pencils, picture frames and carvings as well being used for model and pattern making. Prior to the introduction of synthetic alternatives, the latex from jelutong was used in chewing gum.

“The difficulty is that that there is not a well-established market for jelutong latex,” says Janudianto. He and fellow scientists suggest that further promotion of jelutong requires building the capacity of farmers in seed certification and cultivation, and providing marketing assistance through support from government and non-government agencies.

There is also a need for district and provincial forest agencies, trade and industrial organizations to cooperate on implementing regulations for jelutong harvesting within protected areas where farmers live.

“Development efforts need to focus on improving jelutong agroforestry systems to not only improve local livelihoods but also reduce environmental pressure on remaining peat swamps,” says Janudianto.

In the other district studied – Kapuas in Central Kalimantan – the scientists believe the key to increasing farmers’ incomes is through rejuvenating and improving the maintenance of old rubber gardens. Here, they observed that farmers tend to grow rubber on mineral soils within villages or along river banks, with only some rubber trees planted in shallow to medium peat soils.

While rubber planted in peat soil requires little or no fertilizer, its productivity is lower than when grown in mineral soils. Rubber is only considered suitable for very thin peat soils.

“Efforts need to focus on maximizing the use of remaining mineral soils within villages and selecting new sites that are suitable for rubber gardens,” says Janudianto. “It is also important to determine peat soil depth and its suitability for rubber prior to planting.”

Download the poster:

Janudianto, Sofiyuddin M, Perdana A, Jasnari. (2013). Jelutong and rubber based-agroforest systems to improve local livelihood and reduce emission in the peatlands of Sumatra and Central Kalimantan. Bogor, Indonesia. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program.'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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