Farmers trained in jelutong agroforestry for peatland
Tropical peatlands are one of the world’s great carbon stores but are under threat from conversion for economic purposes. One native species in Indonesia is making a comeback thanks to its role in maintaining peat ecosystems while improving farmers’ livelihoods
By Hesti L. Tata and Ratna Akiefnawati
Peatland plays an important role as a sink for above- and belowground carbon. In Jambi province, Indonesia, peatland covers 608,000 ha of which only 165,705 ha (9 %) is categorized as undisturbed or intact peatland, according to the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF).
Degradation of peatland normally starts with the removal of vegetation and the establishment of canals for draining the peat. This affects the ecosystem through increased subsidence, increased greenhouse gas emissions and fire. ICCTF reported in 2013 that as much as 270,000 ha (44 %) of the peatland in Jambi was categorized as degraded or severely degraded.
Tanjung Jabung Barat district in Jambi is rehabilitating its remaining degraded peat swamps by promoting planting of a native tree species, Dyera polyphylla (‘jelutong’). Collaboration between the District Forestry Office (Dinas Kehutanan) and the World Agroforestry Centre through the Secured Landscapes project, which is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, has been underway for some time, with one of the main foci being strengthening the capacity of farmers in jelutong farming.
Jelutong is a latex-producing forest tree that was once a commercial species that contributed substantially to Jambi’s economy through export of the latex to countries such as Singapore, Japan and Malaysia. However, since 2007, the market for jelutong latex has contracted dramatically because although demand remains high there is not enough supply to meet it. For the commodity to become viable again, support from local and national governments is needed.
During 24–25 May 2014, the Secured Landscape project hosted a workshop, Jelutong Agroforestry Practice on Peatland. The workshop taught farmers techniques of jelutong cultivation and farm management and introduced market prospects and rules and regulations related to jelutong trade. The workshop also strengthened the collaboration between the World Agroforestry Centre and District Forest Office in helping farmers’ groups in peat-swamp protection forests (‘hutan lindung gambut’) maintain the forests and protect the environment so they can benefit from tapping jelutong latex.
Participants consisted of jelutong farmers, extension (agricultural advisory) officers, heads of sub-districts and village leaders. The two-day workshop, which comprised seminars and a field visit to jelutong agroforests in Senyerang and Teluk Nilau villages, focussed on four main areas: 1) rehabilitation with jelutong in peat-swamp protection forests; 2) peat ecosystems: roles and importance; 3) jelutong agroforestry techniques, including seeds, seedlings, nursery establishment, planting, farm management and latex harvesting; and 4) the economy, markets, rules and regulations relating to jelutong latex trading in Indonesia.
Dri Handoyo, head of the Forest Protection Division of the District Forest Office, explained how the program developed management plans for peat-swamp protection forests, in which the collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre provided the backbone.
Lectures on the importance of peatland and on the techniques of peat agroforestry practices were given by Hesti Tata (co-author of this article and a researcher with the Centre for Forest Conservation and Rehabilitation) and Bastoni (a researcher from the Forest Research Institute, Palembang), respectively.
Muhammad Sofiyuddin of the World Agroforestry Centre’s Indonesia program presented the results of a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis of the jelutong economy and markets in Indonesia and the district in particular. One of the key issues was trade and market policies, which have created bottlenecks in the jelutong market. Policy reform is needed to provide an incentive to farmers to plant forest-tree species inside, and outside, state forests. One such incentive could be land-and-management rights, such as those afforded by Community Forest agreements (Hutan Kemasyarakatan/HkM), where farmers are granted the right to manage state forests and utilize non-timber forest products for their livelihoods.
Questions raised by the participants covered not only the technical aspects but also dealt with the jelutong latex markets and other potential opportunities. Aside from strengthening capacity in jelutong agroforestry, the workshop was an eye-opener for farmers and local government officers on the importance of maintaining forests and natural resources.
For the field trip on the second day, participants were taken to Senyerang village to visit one ‘champion’ jelutong farmer, Mr Saman. On his farm, the participants had the chance to practice sowing seeds, handle seedlings and plant jelutong. Latex tapping was demonstrated by Saman and Jasnari, of the World Agroforestry Centre, both of whom enjoyed considerable experience in the method. Jelutong is ready to tap when the tree diameter at breast height reaches 20 cm, usually around 8–10 years after planting.
In the afternoon, the participants visited a demonstration jelutong and rubber agroforest in Teluk Nilau village. The rubber trees were already 19 years-old whereas the jelutong had only been planted about a year. The participants could observe the performance of jelutong under different canopies, noting that the trees grew well under more open canopies and more poorly under mature rubber owing to limited sunlight.
During the two-day program, participants learned a wide range of new knowledge and skills in jelutong agroforestry. Several areas still posed challenges for jelutong to achieve fully fledged recognition, for example, the value chain of the jelutong market for producers in Jambi. Support from government was considered necessary to ensure market access and to connect farmers with the industry.
Despite the challenges in various sectors, participants realized that jelutong was a promising commodity for peatland since it served a peat-swamp rehabilitation purpose while at the same time providing economic benefits for farmers.
He who plants a tree is the servant of God. He provides a kindness for many generations, and people he will never see shall bless him.
Henry van Dyke, 1852–1933
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry