Collaboration key to Dyera return to peat
Jelutung, a once-prolific commodity tree, might well return to the peat-rich district of Tanjung Jabung Barat in Indonesia thanks to a lasting collaboration between the World Agroforestry Centre and the district government.
By Nichola Sarvangga Valero Mitakda
The deputy district head of Tanjung Jabung Barat in Jambi province, Indonesia, has expressed his appreciation of the collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre over the years and stressed for it to continue in order to support the return of the once-famous local commodity tree, ‘jelutung’ (Dyera sp). Mr Katamso was speaking at a meeting held at the district hall, Kuala Tungkal City, on 11 December 2014
‘We strongly support collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre. There is no reason for this administration to discontinue this cooperation’, said Mr Katamso. ‘In fact, has the team from the World Agroforestry Centre already got their Tanjung Jabung Barat district identification cards yet? We don’t want you to leave’, he joked.
Tanjung Jabung Barat, with large area of peat land, has had a history starting in the 1930s as the main site of jelutung from its peat-swamp forest. Jelutung was grown for its latex, which was used mostly for chewing gum, and also its high-quality timber. Demand for these products peaked in the 1970s. Owing to consequent over-exploitation, jelutung had become a rarity by the 1990s; a bitter irony when it was once the main commodity owing to it being a perfect match to the district’s peat land. There are now attempts to return jelutung to its former glory.
‘We are now in freefall’, said Mr Katamso on the uncertainty and hardships of bringing back jelutung, especially when the main obstacle was the absence of a clear market nowadays for the tree’s commodities. Whereas palm oil plantations, though clearly not ideal for peat lands, offered a clearer and definitely faster means to financial benefits for farmers. ‘The public has trouble in accepting this; what matters most for them is how to obtain money. Changing mentality is very difficult; that is the challenge for us all’, he explained.
The meeting was attended by 50 people from local government agencies, such as the District Development Planning Agency (Bappeda), forestry services and plantation services, World Agroforestry Centre, Indonesian Conservation and Rehabilitation Research and Development Centre (Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Konservasi dan Rehabilitasi/Puskonser) and local media. Everyone participated enthusiastically in the discussion.
Mr Firdaus Chatab, head of Bappeda in the district, reinforced the desire to return to jelutung. ‘Our latex used to be famous’, he said, adding that a danger from the loss of jelutung was reduced capacity to retain water in peat lands. ‘Our water source is from the peat forest’, he stressed.
Dr Atiek Widayati, coordinator of the Secured Landscapes Indonesia project, which is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, said that there was actually nothing revolutionary to be done, just optimization, better management and coordination with various stakeholders. ‘We can’t start something new; what we must do is optimize what is already there’, she said.
Better and more precise regulations from the national government to make the return of jelutung to the district a reality was a dominant element in all discussions during the meeting.
‘How can regulations aid farmers cultivating jelutung?’ asked Puskonser researcher, Dr Hesti Tata Lestari.
Many consider that the national government is doing far from enough. ‘We are burdened with the responsibility of preserving the forests and the environment but without any support from the central government’, explained Mr Katamso.
‘We have such a hard time in providing pioneer plants that are easy to cultivate and which produce quickly’, added Forestry Services head, Mr Erwin, referring to the challenges of cultivating jelutung. He also stressed that as long as production was good and the market strong, farmers themselves would be the ones promoting jelutung.
When asked about further optimizing the government’s role, especially with the new governmental structure, Puskonser Data Development and Research Implementation head, Mr Harisetijono, reassured the meeting that there was nothing to be worried about: ‘Although the government is new, as long as the cooperation is ratified, our commitment will be the same’.
Mr Harisetijono further stressed the dangers caused by over-exploitation and climate change were affecting everybody’s day-to-day lives and thus forest management had to change. ‘Protection for areas with extremely diverse and high-value ecosystems must be ensured and agroforestry is a very elegant solution’, he added.
The discussions also included suggestions from other participants for agroforestry in the district to involve more local government agencies and not only the Forestry Office.
The point was also made that as well as the government’s community forestry model being the most apt for agroforestry management in Tanjung Jabung Barat, farmers’ right to land in order to improve their condition was at the heart of the matter. ‘They are farming land which will never be theirs’, said the head of a sub-district.
‘Dynamic discussions such as this encourage us greatly because we hear clearly that we are not working on our own’, said Dr Widayati, ‘but are part of a team made up of everyone in the district who has the responsibility of protecting the environment while at the same time improving farmers’ livelihoods’.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry