Friday, 18 October 2013

IN THE FIELD - Bouncing back with rubber plantations in Indonesia

On a recent trip to Indonesia, ACIAR’s Forestry Research Program manager Tony Bartlett saw how smallholder farmers are benefiting from working with a large forestry company on their community-owned land...
Sijambu village and project staff meeting with community leaders
ACIAR forestry research led by the University of Tasmania is investigating ways to increase productivity and profitability of smallholder plantations in Indonesia, particularly in South Sumatra, Riau and West Kalimantan. Large-scale commercial plantations of Eucalyptus pellita and Acacia mangium are being grown here for use as pulpwood. Under government policy, future expansion of plantations will largely be on land allocated to communities. As such, it is important that we understand how community members can best benefit from commercial forestry on their land.

In the traditional community forestry model, farmers grow trees on their land and sell them to companies. But in the Sintang district I visited in West Kalimantan, my eyes were opened to an alternative system. The farmers lease community land to a large forestry company (Finnantara, a subsidiary of Sinarmas Forestry) and are involved in various forestry activities with it. This collaboration seems to be working well.

Under this model, the company covers all the costs of establishing and managing the plantation, and pays the community a royalty for the timber harvested (currently IDR15,000 or about US$1.40 per cubic metre). More importantly, the company supports the farmers in growing rubber in part of the area. It provides farmers with site-clearing services and improved-quality planting material. It has also provided a road network where previously the only access was via the river. The benefits of growing rubber are proving valuable for enhancing the farmers’ livelihoods.

We visited three communities in the Sintang district. One of these was Sijambu sub village of Nangasigarak village, where the company has provided infrastructure and rubber plants, and established a credit fund that villagers can access. Community members told us that they use the money derived from growing rubber to send their children to university.

Dayak woman working in forestry company's nursery
We also visited Tangang Batas sub village of Sumundai village, which is 80% Dayak and 20% Malay ethnic groups. Their partnership with the company has provided royalties which they used to install electricity infrastructure and other community needs. The company also offers villagers employment opportunities, although most farmers prefer to grow rubber because they can make much better returns.

At the third village we visited, Ratu Damai, we met farmer Pak Sumardin, who began planting rubber in 1996 with the company’s help. He told us that the greatest benefit from community forestry was the ability to establish and expand his own livelihood through harvesting and selling rubber. He now has 11 hectares of good-quality plantation from which he harvests up to 2 tonnes of latex each month. This earns his family about IDR 11-12 million (approx US$1,000) each month and allows him to send his four children to university. He has recently expanded his plantation with another 10 hectares of young rubber.

Farmer Pak Sumardin with his rubber plantation
These three communities are clearly happy with their partnership with the forestry company and particularly with the rubber-growing opportunities that have arisen.

The key message from a research/development view is that when we consider enhancing benefits to smallholders from community-based commercial forestry, we need to consider the issues from their perspective. We also need to look at broader interpretations of the benefits to determine the best ways forward for smallholder farmers.

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR’s Forestry Research Program

More information:
ACIAR project FST/2009/051 Increasing productivity and profitability of Indonesian smallholder plantations is being led by the University of Tasmania, Australia.
Collaborating institutions are:
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia
Forest Research and Development Agency, Indonesia
Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia
University of Sriwijaya, Indonesia

ACIAR’s forestry research in Indonesia
ACIAR’s forestry program
ACIAR's medium-term research strategy for Indonesia

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