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Posts Tagged ‘palm oil’

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Near the southern Sumatran village of Krui, 48-year-old Marhana climbs up the trees to harvest damar, a resin used in paints and varnishes. The trees are part of an “agroforest” that experts believe will help prevent deforestation in Indonesia.

Recent floods in Indonesia have been overshadowed by infernos in Australia, but both disasters are part of the same issue: what careless human stewardship of nature has wrought. The following article from National Public Radio (NPR) talks about an effort to help Indonesian farmers produce something more sustainable than the palm oil that causes flood-increasing deforestation and even threatens orangutan survival.

Julia Simon writes at NPR, “A few times a month, Marhana leaves the village of Krui in southern Sumatra and journeys deep into the woods. Then she finds a tree, lined with triangular holes, each hole dripping with crystalized sap. …

” ‘This is the damar,’ she says in Indonesian, as she looks at the golden droppings.

“Marhana may see damar as her way to make a living, but agriculture experts see this rare commodity as something bigger. They see damar as a sort of anti-palm oil — a model to combat deforestation and climate change. …

“In the 1800s, Dutch colonists used the sap to bind their wood boats for sea journeys. Today damar is used in varnishes, paints, and cosmetics. According to the UN, Indonesia exports tens of thousands of tons of damar and other resins each year.

“But … according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Organization, or GAPKI, Indonesia exports about 2 to 3 million tons of palm oil per month. And those palm oil exports come at a cost: large-scale deforestation of Indonesian forest, which in turn releases large amounts of climate change gases and destroys habitats for animals like endangered rhinos and orangutans. Last year, the Indonesian government stopped issuing licenses for new palm oil plantations and the European Union is now considering an import ban.

“But there’s an issue. [In September] Thomas Hertel, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, co-authored a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He argued that even if the EU ban comes to pass, and even if it successfully reduces the trade of palm oil, local farmers aren’t just going to automatically keep the forests in place. …

“Hertel says that farmers might stop planting palm oil, but they might keep cutting down forests to plant other commodities, like soy or rice. ..

“That’s where damar comes in. Back in Krui, farmer Kamas Usman says he grows damar in something called an agroforest. It may look like a regular forest, but it’s actually an intricately planned farm.

” ‘In this agroforest there are lots of varieties of trees. Durian, jengkol, lots of them,’ Usman says. The farmers plant food crops below — Southeast Asian fruits like durian and jengkol, as well as avocados or coffee. Above in the canopy are the damar trees — also called Shorea javanica — which produce the golden sap. …

“David Gilbert, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says the agroforestry model adds value that’s key to the forest’s survival. First there’s the water benefits: Having your farm in the middle of a forest with natural watersheds and rain cycles is a win for crops’ health.

“And then there’s the business side — all these crops growing together means forest farmers like Usman and harvesters like Marhana have lots of economic incentives not to cut down their trees. …

“With damar agroforests, farmers aren’t reliant on a single product. ‘If the damar price is too low, they can concentrate on selling their coffee or their avocados, for example,’ Gilbert says, ‘So it insulates them from the shocks of these global commodity markets in a way that producing just one crop can’t provide.’ …

In the 1990s, when the palm oil industry came in and tried to persuade locals to cut down their damar trees, it didn’t work. The majority of farmers stuck with damar. Around this time, Indonesia’s forestry minister decided to formally grant the community ownership of several thousand hectares of woods.

“Now the Indonesian government is in the middle of a plan to increase Indonesia’s community-owned forest lands to 12.7 million hectares. And the Indonesian Ministry of Social Forestry is also working on community agroforestry projects on other islands besides Sumatra, including Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.”

You may read the full article or listen to the radio story at NPR, here.

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