Forest conservation through resin, Krui style
Oyos Saroso HN The Jakarta Post/Lampung
Yati, 28, deftly climbed a 60-centimeter-in-diameter resin tree with a rattan rope tied around her back and the trunk, using notches on the tree stem, from which she scraped dry resin gum and put it in a basket.
In spite of her hard work -- actually more suited to men -- the lady from Pahmungan village, Pesisir Utara district (capital: Krui town), West Lampung regency, is a fortunate woman. Yati has inherited no less than two hectares of resin plantations, enough to support her family.
A resin-bearing damar tree, which is harvested every 2 to 3 weeks, produces between 2 and 3 kilograms of dry resin gum. A resin tapper as skillful as Yati can collect 60 kilograms of resin from about 100 trees. The gum is sold to middlemen at between Rp 3,500 and 4,000 (less than US$1) per kilogram.
In Krui, men and women, young and old, are skilled climbers of resin trees. Without any special training, Krui women learn to become resin tappers through daily practice. However, they need to be physically fit and have strong legs. They also have to cover long distances through the forest, carrying baskets, ropes and scrapers.
After finding a mature tree for tapping, the tapper cuts notches into the tree stem from the bottom upward, almost reaching to the very top of the tree. Several days later, they scrape the dry resin gum from the notches.
Climbing damar trees of between 8 meters and 10 meters in height using such simple means is a common job for women in Pahmungan. Thirty-year-old Yani, a woman tapper in this village, claims to be able to collect around 6 kilograms a day from three resin trees. At harvest time, she can collect at least 50 kilograms from 100 trees.
Plantation workers are usually allocated one kilogram out of every three kilograms of resin harvested. In fact, only a few owners of damar plantations do the tapping work themselves today. Most of them have moved to the city and employ workers to take care of the trees on a production sharing basis.
Middlemen buy the gum regularly at around Rp 3,500 per kilogram, and it is then transported to Krui market in the district town in West Lampung, before being sent to Bandarlampung or Jakarta for export.
Tens of thousands of hectares of resin trees can be found along the northern coast of Krui, West Lampung regency. Repong damar, as the resin plantations are locally called, form a green buffer zone bordering on the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (TNBBS). In existence since the 19th century, they not only protect the park but also provide a source of livelihood for local people.
The resin of the Mata kucing tree (Shorea Javanica) has been harvested by Lampung people since the 19th century. Most of the plantations today are managed by local communities and have been handed down from generation to generation, with a small portion comprising replanted areas that have yet to enter into production.
Figures from the Lampung Cooperatives and Trade Office show that 80 percent of Indonesia's annual production of around 10,000 tons of resin come from Krui. More interestingly, almost all of the resin produced in Krui comes from trees belonging to the meranti (Dipterocarpaceae) family -- particularly Shorea javanica -- that have been cultivated by the coastal people for over 200 years.
The country's natural forests produce three principal types of resin: turpentine resin (from pine trees), copal (from the agathis tree) and damar (from the meranti family). Damar is generally seen as being lower in quality than copal or turpentine resin, but the mata kucing variety, which comes from Shorea javanica trees, is of the same quality as the other two.
Of the 70 villages in the Krui coastal region, only 13 (20 percent) do not have repong damar. Over half of the Krui population is engaged in resin production as plantation owners, middlemen, workers, wholesalers, hauliers and sorters. The Krui green buffer zone is expected to be grow in the future.
According to Darsan (35), a Pahmungan villager, Krui people have for centuries relied on resin for their living. Before the region was exploited for the planting of oil palms, the resin plantations in Krui covered hundreds of thousands of hectares. With the opening up of the oil palm plantations, the area of the resin zone declined and disputes with the oil palm firms became commonplace.
"Locals are now united and no longer willing to sell their resin plantations to large-scale oil palm companies," said Darsan. Kurniadi, a facilitator with LATIN, a non-governmental organization, said the resin zone cultivated by the Krui people had become a part of Lampung's heritage and supported both the economy and the TNBBS.
The Krui tradition also retains the rule that married couples with children are required to make available damar seedlings for planting. Adherence to local custom and tradition prevents any random felling of resin trees. "A resin tree that is cut down must at least be replaced by another. In this way, repong damar will be conserved for future generations," Darsan explained.
However, Krui's resin plantations are facing a serious problem with the conversion of 25,000 hectares to smallholder and nucleus oil palm plantations since 1995, undertaken by PT Karya Canggih Mandiri Utama. Problems have also arisen from Minister of Forestry Decree No.47/Kpts-II/1998 on the special designation as protected and limited production forest, which designations now affect 29,000 hectares.
A number of environmental activists and researchers who have studied Krui's repong damar believe that without proper control, the community-based resin management system will break down.
The mata kucing variety of resin harvested in Krui is said to be the best in Indonesia. By cultivating resin, local villagers can afford to pay for their children to finish school, some of whom have progressed to become local officials. Over six tons of dry resin from Krui are exported. Krui's income from resin is estimated at Rp 21 billion a year.
Sadly, the Krui resin industry faces problems connected with an excessively long supply chain, the replacement of resin trees with oil palms and the use of synthetic resin by major industrial users, which has lowered the price of resin.
To the coastal people of Krui, the repong damar not only provide income, but are part of their heritage and must be maintained for their high economic and historical value. They have proven that conserving forests by upholding tradition is far more rewarding than simply airing highfalutin slogans.