IDEP Foundation

Realizing the Important Role of Forests, West Kalimantan Farmers Want to Implement Sustainable Agriculture

Over the past three years, West Kalimantan has experienced frequent flooding that can last for months. “This disaster happens due to excessive forest exploitation, gold mining, and river silting. So there are no more water catchment areas,” said Aidi Sapri, IDEP Introduction to Permaculture training participant.

Sapri explains his plans to develop sustainable agriculture (Photo: Gusti Diah)

The forest encroaches every year, and the community often faces prolonged flooding. Most land conversion is intended to build monoculture plantations such as oil palm and rubber. Whereas long before the company came and introduced oil palm, the local people had been growing food crops to fulfill their needs. “Our ancestors have planted food crops, including rice, and that was around 20 years ago before we took jobs in the oil palm and rubber fields,” said Sapri, who from Nanga Nuar, West Kalimantan.

Generations before Sapri have owned knowledge about sustainable agriculture. He added that before getting to know fertilizers and chemical poisons, the farming system applied by local people was more traditional by using local materials.

The Beginning Entry of Palm Oil Industry in the Community

Palm oil is a new thing for the community, and they need to switch their method into a monoculture, want it or not. Moreover, the people only follow all the government’s recommendations because the government is the one who allows the forest to encroach. “Frankly, it’s the government that determines the forest area; It’s the government that says it’s permissible not to cultivate it; it’s also the government that gives permission. Not us,” said Sapri.

The palm oil sales system also depends on company rules because the community cannot use palm oil directly, and only in the company’s factory, palm oil can be processed. Therefore, no farmer wants to protest about the price set by the company.

There are two types of sales from farmers to companies. First, farmers who own small-scale plantations sell them to middlemen. Second, farmers with larger land can directly sell it to the company. Like Zulkipli, who owns about 60 hectares of land, can sell it directly to the company. “If we go to the Salim Group (Palm Oil Company) directly use their price, the price is higher than the middleman,” said Zulkipli, a farmer from Nangan Silat Village, Kapuas Hulu.

Each participant presents their plans for agroforestry design (Photo: Gusti Diah)

In contrast to Sapri, who owns relatively small land, he has to sell it to middlemen. In addition, land issues also often occur between the community and the company. “Honestly, our area is included in the HPT [Limited Production Forest]. In 2000 government asked the local community to hand over their land to palm oil companies. We didn’t know that our land was not allowed to plant palm oil from the company,” said Sapri. He also added, “People who know regulation about forest conservation has reported those companies, and in 2011 government sent a letter to stop the company’s activities that destroyed forest, but nothing has been implemented. 2018-2019 is there, but only a little.”

Apart from bringing palm oil, the company also introduced chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to the community. For years, people have used those chemicals, and pests are becoming more and more resistant every year.

Rukiyah takes chili for seed-saving training (Photo: Gusti Diah)

A Recall of Sustainable Agriculture

Through Introduction to Permaculture Training held on November 1-4, 2021, participants began to realize that their dependence on agrochemical and companies could threaten their economic stability. Moreover, the community is also aware that land conversion into monoculture plantations has caused disasters such as floods. However, efforts to protect forests and change agricultural systems to become more environmentally friendly are not enough to be done by one farmer or a group of farmers. This step needs support from various parties, including the need for roles and responsibilities of the government and companies. “If a small group wants to change Kalimantan as big as it is, it’s not easy; it needs support from the community, companies, and the government. Moreover, the company has an obligation because they work in our village. They have to contribute,” said Sapri.

Participants design a permaculture garden (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Besides, Sapri hopes that training he received from IDEP can be held in his village, “so, the level of disaster can be minimized in the future,” added Sapri. Another participant said, “Hopefully, there will be training again, and we will receive more scientific assistance,” said Sohemah from Kerangan Panjang Village, West Kalimantan. (Gd)