Promising outcomes in the revitalisation of rubber agroforests in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Promising outcomes in the revitalisation of rubber agroforests in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Indonesia - 19 April, 2024
Nerea Rubio EchazarraNerea Rubio Echazarra

Tropenbos Indonesia’s initiatives in the Simpang Dua subdistrict are yielding promising outcomes for indigenous farmers. Through strategic training and collaboration, farmers are enhancing the quality of their rubber produce, resulting in increased remuneration. Additionally, as part of MoMo4C, the careful management of their agroforests is fostering diversified income streams, which is expected to act as a safeguard for farmers during periods of low rubber prices.

The Simpang Dua subdistrict in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, has long been dominated by rubber agroforests. However, faced by persistent challenges of low agroforest productivity and low and unstable price of rubber, many farmers have opted to convert their agroforests into monoculture oil palm plantations over the last two decades. While this transition may offer temporary solutions, its long-term sustainability is questionable. Not only does it diminish biodiversity across the landscape, but the dependence on one single cash crop also leaves local communities more exposed to the impacts of climate change with reduced resilience to evolving environmental challenges.

UPPB members scaling the conventional form of rubber produce (slab form)

In an effort to enhance productivity, Tropenbos Indonesia has been actively organising farmer field schools since 2021. These programmes aimed to equip rubber farmers with the skills needed to revitalise their agroforests, employing various management techniques, as well as to strengthen farmers capacity to organise themselves. One notable approach involved the introduction of shade-tolerant species, such as coffee. While the first coffee harvest is not programmed until June 2024, this diversification strategy is expected to protect the farmers from the unstable global rubber prices and maintain the vital ecosystem services that agroforests provide.

The problem of low and unstable price of rubber was also addressed with the establishment of a Collective Rubber Processing and Marketing Unit (Unit Pengolahan dan Pemasaran Bokar, hereafter UPPB) in Simpang Dua in June 2022. With the assistance of Tropenbos Indonesia, a linkage with a large rubber factory was facilitated, as well as a standard operational procedure for post-harvest treatment, to secure offtake. The cooperative achieved a significant milestone last October when it obtained official registration from the Agriculture, Livestock and Plantations Agency, granting legal status to trade and sell their produce to rubber processing companies.

Following the successful inaugural sale of a 3-ton raw rubber batch to the rubber company, farmers where challenged by this very company — to improve the quality of their rubber. Motivated by the prospects of higher payments through direct sales (eliminating the need for middlemen), farmers embraced more efficient techniques, dedicated to enhancing their produce’s quality. This effort resulted in a second batch getting sold, smaller in size but more profitable, which showed the farmers’ commitment to elevating standards and optimising their yield.

UPPB member with an improved quality rubber produce (lump form without soaking it in water) 

Currently, the UPPB in Simpang Dua is actively seeking support from the rubber company to provide training within the villages, so that quality of rubber can keep increasing across local rubber agroforests. Tropenbos Indonesia will continue working with the UPPB in Simpang Dua by helping them to expand their business, developing a portfolio and assisting farmers with the accommodation of secondary products such as coffee, using a similar approach of linking the farmer cooperative directly to a coffee processing plant. While this story is still unfolding, these initial achievements hold great promise for the future.

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MoMo4C is a joint project of IUCN NL, WWF Netherlands and Tropenbos International, and six partner organisations in our landscapes.