Since mid-November, Haliman, 50, has been busily engaged in cultivating Polyscias Fruticosa, better known as Ming Aralia, an evergreen shrub native to India and Polynesia, at the Sei Temiang flower nursery in Batam, Riau Islands.
"Based on initial studies, the climate and soil conditions in Batam are suitable for Ming Aralia," Haliman told The Jakarta Post recently. "I've been given the task of training flower farmers in Batam who will later cultivate Ming Aralia for exports, especially to Korea."
Haliman is a Ming Aralia farmer who has been diligently cultivating the plant for dozens of years in his home village of Salabintana, in Sukabumi, West Java.
He was employed by CV Bunga Indah Farm -- which exports Ming Aralia to Korea on a routine basis -- because of his expertise in cultivating the plant.
"I'm also involved in the establishment of the joint venture in cultivating the plant in Batam, which aims to export it directly to Korea via Batam. This is a pilot project," Haliman said.
Ming Aralia, locally known as Kedondong China, or Cakra-Cikri, can be grown in any kind of climate. The shrub, which resembles a bonsai, has a germination period of one year, after which time it can be transferred to a plastic bag or pot. The ornamental plant is popular in Korea and is also being promoted in Japan.
"Koreans believe that the plant can bring good luck and it is usually used to decorated offices and homes there," Haliman said.
Korea is one of Indonesia's main export destinations for Ming Aralia, with consignments being sent from Salabintana to Korea for several years. Salabintana exports about 8,000 plants to Korea each month, equivalent to the load capacity of a 40-foot container.
Each plant costs about Rp 2,500 (22 US cents) to grow, but can be sold for 4,000 won (US$3) in Korea. Unlike bonsai, the plant has yet to find its place in the domestic market.
Haliman said demand from Korea for Ming Aralia from Salabintana had grown each year. Therefore, he said, support for cultivating Ming Aralia in Batam would help his nursery meet export demands.
Currently, seedling development is still concentrated in Salabintana. Seedlings are later sent to the nursery in Batam for maturation.
Haliman is optimistic the Ming Aralia plant can develop well in Batam because it can adapt to any kind of climate as long as water is available.
The germination area in Salabintana covers 20 hectares, with each hectare able to grow 20,000 plants, according to Haliman. A study by the Agriculture Ministry found each hectare in Batam can be planted with only 10,000 plants.
The Batam Industrial and Development Authority (BIDA), under a joint agreement with the Batam municipality and the Agriculture Ministry, has provided 5 hectares in the Sei Temiang area as a center for Ming Aralia cultivation.
BIDA spokesman Dwi Djoko Wiwoho said his office, through its plants and aesthetics division, had cleared the land and prepared it for cultivation.
Djoko added the Batam municipality had provided training to members of the Batam Flower Farmers Association, who have been using roadside areas for planting. Dozens of farmers have been trained to cultivate the Ming Aralia plant for export to Korea.
"If the Ming Aralia cultivation center in Batam succeeds, the cost of consignments from Batam to Korea will be cheaper than from Salabintana," Djoko said. "The initiative is also a means to improve farmers' income."