By Winahyu Dwi Utami
A group of farmers in Riau Province’s Kuantan Singigi district is actively sharing knowledge on how to conserve forests while cultivating crops of high economic values there or by harvesting their rich non-timber products.
The Bukik Ijau Forest Farmer Group in Air Buluh village in the sub-district of Kuantan Mudik in Kuantan Singingi has opened the Forest Farmer Group’s Sungai Putat School specifically for farmers to teach them how to cultivate and process Jernang.
Jernang is a rattan from the Daemonorops genus, which produces a red resin known as dragon’s blood from its fruit. This resin is used as a raw material for the production of dye for the porcelain and marble industry and for the making of varnish. In herbal medicine, this resin is used in formulas dealing with blooding and to heal both internal and external wounds.
The Jering has a productive period of 30 year. It has two varieties, one known locally as Jerang Beruk and the other, more superior because of it yields more resin, is known as Jernang Jantung. A Jernang Beruk seedling sells for Rp 40,000 while those of Jernang Jantung Rp 100,000.
Jernang, which grows well under the shades of trees in forests, can begin to be harvested after four years. One Jernang tree can produce between five to ten kilograms of fruits that can be sold for Rp 250,000 per kilogram. The resin can fetch up to Rp 3.5 million (about $250) the kilogram. There can be up to 200 Jernang plants in a single hectare.
“This is even more expensive that the selling price of oil palm fruits,” said Maamun Murod, who heads the Riau Province Environment and Forestry Office. Speaking while attending the official inauguration of the Sungai Putat School on January 26, 2021, he was referring to another commercial cash crop that has become widely popular in the country.
So far, people had difficulties identifying the Jernang plant in forests and a lack of knowledge has made it difficult to grow its seedlings.
The Sungai Putat is the brainchild of the Bukik Ijau Forest Farmer Group, an organization set up in 2016 primarily to help protect the local forest from encroachment and illegal loging but also to derive economic benefits from the forests, with guidance from the Yayasan Hutanriau.
Yayasan Hutanriau Director Widya Astuti said that together with the Bukik Ijau forest farmer group, they set up the school after many people came to Air Buluh village to ask about how to cultivate and process Jernang.
“It was because there were many people, from Kuansing (Kuantan Singingi) and from beyond Kuansing who wanted to learn, we took the initiative of opening this forest farmer school,”dan luar Kuansing yang ingin belajar, makanya kami berinisiatif membuka sekolah tani hutan ini,” said Astuti.
She said that so far, people in general saw forest as worthless piece of land which must be developed into a plantation or a field to produce earnings. “But forests are sources of livelihood, many are forest products that have high economic value and need to be developed,” Astuti said.
Through the school and its activities, people or farmers would be able to see that forest products are just as good as plantation products. By conserving forests, they can provide extraordinary economic benefit for humans, she added.
“It is based on that, that we had the confidence to set up this forest farmer school. Even though its curriculum and learning modules are not as good as other educational institutions, but in terms of knowledge and its teachers, it is not to be doubted,” Astuti said.
The Bukik Ijau Forest Farmer Group has carved itself a good reputation as having a good expertise on jernang. They obtained their knowledge on the plant from their long experience as well as a result of a participative research they conducted in 2017 with the assistance of Yayasan Hutanriau.
Ali Yasmi, the head of the Sungai Putat School, said that jernang has a high economic value but people used to have difficulties to reproduce them. Months were previously needed to succeed to get new seedlings, but now they can have seedlings in just 15 days.
“People used to look for seedlings in the forest but when they took them and then tried to plant them elsewhere, these seedlings refused to grow. Nowadays, we are already capable of producing our own seedlings,” Yasmi said.
At the school, farmers are taught how to produce seedlings from the actual plants, how to cultivate, harvest and process the fruit and stem of the jernang.
Murod from the Riau Province Office of the Environment and Forestry, aired appreciation of what the Bukik Ijau Forest Farmer Group had done together with Yayasan Hutanriau and also the people of Air Buluh village. He also aired hope that the success of this farmer group could also inspire other farmer groups in Riau Province to follow suit.
“I believe that forest conservation can go along with people empowerment,” Murod said.
Henrianto who heads the Bukik Ijau Forest Farmer Group said that he had already planted jernang in a 50 hectare-plot inside the local protected forest.
“One group can have between 30 to 40 memers and can manage about 200 hectares of land,” Henrianto said.
Regarding the fees to study at the Sungai Putat School, Astuti said that it depended on the course taken. She said that for example, for jernang cultivation, a two-day course – with 30 percent theory and 70 percent field practice – the fees would depend on the number of participants.
“If one study group number 10 people, then each participants would have to pay Rp 1.5 million,” Astuti said.
The course needed two days because they included how to identify Jernang in forests, how to harvest them in the forests, how to produce seedlings, how to plant them and how to maintain the plant.
The school can also teach another topic, that is how to identify non-timber wood product which have high economic value in the forest. This course would have a different length of time and price. But the fees was all inclusive, including meals, equipment and accommodation while learning at the village.
“Students only need to come and prepare themselves to have an open mind, open heart and open will in studying,” Astuti said.