Show me the proof, then I’ll adopt: The rubber conundrum in Indonesia


Rubber agroforestry with coconut. Photo by Andi Prahmono/ICRAF

Rubber agroforestry with coconut. Photo by Andi Prahmono/ICRAF

Smallholder farmers in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia are often reluctant to plant improved, high-yielding clonal rubber trees in their agroforestry systems. Dudi Iskandar from Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology, Indonesia, set out to figure out why.

According to Iskandar, in Sumatra and Kalimantan, 7 million farmers depend for their livelihoods on rubber, which is mostly grown in a traditional mixed farming system with unselected ‘jungle rubber’. With this system, the expected annual latex yield will only reach 590 kg/ha, far below rubber monocultures which can produce up to 1310 kg/ha over the same period.

This situation can be improved by applying a system called Rubber Agroforestry System (RAS), developed and introduced by the World Agroforestry Centre . Unlike the jungle rubber system, in which seedlings are unselected, RAS uses clonal rubber. With RAS farmers produce more rubber, continue to harvest other different products from the agroforestry system, while at the same time maintaining the landscape’s environment sustainability.

Despite the benefit it offers, however, the adoption of RAS is still limited.

“When it comes to clonal rubber, lots of farmers have difficulty in identifying it,” said Iskandar. “It is true that they really want to improve their systems’ productivity, which they realize can be achieved by using clonal rubber. But often they were fooled by seedling sellers, who stamp ordinary seedling as clonal rubber,” Iskandar told the congress.

“Later, when these trees don’t produce the desired yield, it makes farmers doubt clonal rubber.”

This is one factor that hinders the adoption, along with other factors such as incentives, income level, the establishment of demonstration plot and land-size.

Iskandar’s study, which looked at 223 rubber farmers in Jambi and West Kalimantan provinces, also found that  farmers with incentives and higher incomes were more likely to adopt RAS, because buying clonal seedlings needs capital.

To support adoption, the establishment of demonstration plots is considered important, because farmers need to see the proof of the benefits of RAS.

“These are smallholder farmers who don’t have the liberty of taking many risks, so before they adopt it, they need to be sure that it actually works,” Iskandar explained.

“Therefore, RAS demonstration plots is the precise way to do so because it provides a visible ‘success story’, letting farmers see the evidence for themselves,” he pointed out.

Iskandar added that RAS is considered as a good option to increase yields, specifically when the farming area is narrow.

Furthermore, Iskandar recommended that the government provides more support to smallholder farmers, such as access to information, credit, loans, as well as incentives in the form of provision of genuine clonal seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides.

“There is also the possibility to build the incentives farmers are longing for into payments for environmental services (PES),” he added.

By Enggar Paramita

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One Person has left comments on this post

» Anna Finke said: { Feb 14, 2014 - 06:02:20 }

It should be mentioned in the blogpost that this is a potentially very double-edged issue. Replacing natural genetic diversity that doesn’t always fit the economical desire for top yields can due to their low genetic diversity significantly lower the resilience of that plot. Furthermore the long-term impact on soil etc. of this “optimized species” are probably not known (if so, I would be glad to be corrected).
Especially when involving trees the whole things needs to last a tad longer than with normal crops (as many agroforesters will know), so I’m really wondering how well researched the long-term impacts are, considering it’s so widely recommended. Or how dependent farmers would become on the supplier of the seeds. If it can be patented. We’ve been there and done that with Monsanto.

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