Revitalizing rubber agroforestry in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Revitalizing rubber agroforestry in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Indonesia - 05 June, 2023
Koen KustersKoen Kusters

Tropenbos Indonesia helped Indigenous farmers in Simpang Dua subdistrict to increase their income from rubber agroforestry. Through capacity building and organization, their prospects have improved significantly. Revitalized rubber agroforestry can provide an alternative to oil palm plantations, benefitting farmers as well as the environment.

Over the past two decades, many farmers in West Kalimantan Province converted their rubber agroforests into monoculture oil palm plantations. Not all of them did so, however. Rubber agroforestry is still common among the Indigenous Dayak farmers in Simpang Dua subdistrict. It provides them with a range of products, while helping to protect the soil and absorbing carbon. Despite these benefits, farmers are increasingly lured to cultivate oil palm. This is due to the low productivity of existing agroforests and the low and unstable price of rubber. Tropenbos Indonesia has been working with farmers to address these challenges.

To improve productivity, Tropenbos Indonesia organized farmer field schools, where farmers were encouraged to critically analyse their land-use practices. Technicians and farmers would then work together to identify and test ways to improve management practices; for example, by applying organic fertilizers. They also introduced shade-tolerant crops such as coffee and ginger, and improved techniques for rubber tapping and post-harvest processing. After completion of the farmer field schools, Tropenbos Indonesia provided additional courses to selected participants and government extension officers, so they could become trainers themselves, and disseminate best practices in other villages.

To address the problem of dealing with the low and unstable price of rubber, Tropenbos Indonesia helped farmers to organize themselves, so they could increase their bargaining power and make direct connections with rubber buyers. In June 2022, this resulted in the formal establishment of a Collective Rubber Processing and Marketing Unit (Unit Pengolahan dan Pemasaran Bokar, or UPPB), with 121 participating farmers. Tropenbos Indonesia then helped them to develop an agreement with a large rubber factory to secure offtake, and to develop a standard operational procedure for post-harvest treatment, in line with the factory’s quality requirements.

One important hurdle still needed to be cleared. The UPPB required investment capital to purchase the first batch of rubber from the participating farmers, but it did not qualify for a loan, due to its lack of operating experience. This was a catch-22 situation: the unit needed a loan to start operating, but it needed to have operational experience to obtain a loan. Tropenbos Indonesia then made an unconventional decision. It used its own finances to provide a zero-interest loan. The UPPB then bought 8,000 kg of rubber from its farmers, and sold the whole batch to the factory. Business had started, and individual rubber farmers’ income is estimated to increase by 30% in the near future.

Tropenbos Indonesia plans to continue working with the UPPB in Simpang Dua, helping it to expand its business, develop a portfolio, and obtain loans from financial institutions. As farmers who grow a variety of marketable products will have alternative income sources when global rubber price are low, Tropenbos Indonesia will also help the unit accommodate agroforestry’s secondary products, such as coffee. Tropenbos Indonesia will share lessons from Simpang Dua with other UPPBs being established in West Kalimantan, and will assist the government to develop more effective programmes to support these units throughout the province. With the support of Tropenbos Indonesia, rubber agroforestry can continue to provide benefits to farmers and the environment in West Kalimantan.

This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2022.