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Katingan’s Rattan Gardens: To keep or not to keep?

From 2003-2013, Katingan district in Central Kalimantan envisioned becoming Indonesia’s ‘rattan district’—the centre of rattan production and trade in Indonesia. Katingan’s rattan farmers, however, hardly know about this vision and are harvesting increasingly less amounts of rattan. What will it take for rattan to become, once more, an attractive commodity for local livelihoods? First, and foremost, it will take an understanding of rattan farmers’ needs, activities, plans and visions. Viola Bizard synthesizes 15 months of fieldwork in Katingan, to provide exactly that in a Working Paper published by the World Agroforestry Centre.

DSC01432Rattan, the world’s most important agroforestry product, is the common term for a large and complex group of climbing spiny palms that occur in tropical forests. For centuries, rattans have been used for tying, basketry, construction, medicine, food and other miscellaneous purposes by local communities. Beyond that, rattans have been traded for their solid, strong and highly flexible canes, forming the basis of today’s thriving international industry that receives around 80% of its supplies from Indonesia.

Katingan district is located at the heart of Central Kalimantan province. The majority of Katingan’s population relies heavily on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. Until the 1970s and 1980s, people were primarily engaged in the harvesting and processing of rattan. However, with the government ban on exports of rattan raw material in 1986 and on semi-finished rattan products in 1988, rattan became less lucrative and villagers sought alternative income options, mainly logging. Nowadays, people obtain cash from fishing, (artisanal) gold mining, palm oil wage labour, and from occasionally harvesting rattan. Although rattan has lost its importance as a cash crop, it remains significant in everyday life, especially in the uplands. It is used for weaving, tool making, dyeing, as food, as a construction and tying material, and in ritual contexts.

For the period 2003-2013, Katingan’s official vision has been to become the ‘production and trade centre of rattan in Indonesia’. Backed by the national government, the district government has developed an impressive masterplan for building the local rattan industry. Obtaining a steady supply of rattan raw material has, however, been a serious concern for traders—several of whom have ceased to buy rattan—as many farmers switched professions or converted their rattan gardens to other land uses.

This is detrimental in a number of ways. Since rattan gardens fulfil various ecological functions—biodiversity conservation, hydrological regulation, soil protection, carbon sequestration and climate control—their conversion to other land-uses is a source for wider concern. The conversion of rattan gardens may also imply a transformation, or even ‘loss’, of people’s culturally distinctive resource management practices, uses, meanings and values associated with the rattan–swidden complex and the resource itself. These, however, form the preconditions not just for sustainable rattan development but for the overall integrity of the natural environment.

Against this background, it is important to know whether people in Katingan are abandoning their rattan gardens and, if so, why? This research investigates those questions and delves further to find out what vision smallholders in Katingan hold for their rattan gardens. A mix of quantitative and qualitative methods were used to study rattan management in two villages in Katingan. The sites were selected owing to their variation in location: lowland versus upland, which affects livelihood activity; distance to the district capital; infrastructure; and religious background.

The following findings emerge:

  • Rattan farmers in the study area are hardly aware of Katingan’s vision of becoming Indonesia’s rattan district, the national government’s protectionist measures of banning the export of unfinished and semi-finished rattan in order to boost the national furniture industry, or the initiatives undertaken by NGOs to support local rattan farmers.
  • The lack of a steady market discourages rattan farmers from harvesting rattan; low prices, alternative livelihood options and labour shortages are other reasons for the same; the process of harvesting rattan is in itself an arduous one and discouraging to farmers.
  • While in the lowlands rattan gardens are left unmanaged, in the uplands rattan gardens are increasingly converted into rubber gardens.

Notwithstanding the present unattractive conditions for rattan harvesting, farmers view rattan gardens still as an integral part of their livelihoods’ portfolio. Moreover, they envision rattan gardens as being part of their children’s future: as a safeguard in times of hardship; as a potentially lucrative source of income if rattan prices rise again; as bride price; or as a legacy from the ancestors. In both villages, people hope that their children will still own a rattan garden.

Overall the vision that rattan farmers have is not much different from the ones projected by the government and NGOs. However, if this common vision is to become reality, farmers, the government and NGOs must unite forces to overcome the challenges faced by farmers and traders.

Download the full paper here.

Bizard V. 2013.Rattan futures in Katingan: why do smallholders abandon or keep their gardens in Indonesia’s ‘rattan district’? Working Paper 175. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program. 23p. DOI:10.5716/WP13251.PDF

Management of forested areas for environmental services, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods; and exploring the drivers and consequences of forest transition are key focuses of the CGIAR Collaborative Research Programme 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry, of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.
Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on r.selvarajah@cgiar.org

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