Indonesia’s villagers are benefiting from funds provided by an international forest-preserving scheme by cultivating mushrooms instead of relying on unsustainable slash-and-burn land clearing techniques, and re-learning the near-lost art of rattan mat weaving.
“The people here feel that the government does not help them,” said Supardi, the chief of Manteran II, a small village in Central Kalimantan province that has benefited from funding provided by Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Deforestation (REDD+) to support alternative livelihoods. “Which is why we’re so grateful for REDD+. Finally, there has been some reaction to our [economic] situation.”
The U.N.-backed program, which is aimed at helping slow climate change, financially rewards forest-rich countries for keeping their trees standing. The scheme is a key element in Indonesia’s efforts to achieve its commitment to cut emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels and 41 percent with outside assistance by 2020. More than 40 REDD+ initiatives have started in the country, including in the pilot province of Central Kalimantan.
While REDD+ has placed a heavy focus on the role of forests in slowing climate change due to their large storage of carbon, Daju Resosudarmo, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), explains that one way to ensure that the environment is protected, is to look after the livelihoods and the well-being of communities.
“Conservation and poverty alleviation is an integral part of REDD+’s success,” she said.
The idea is, when presented better income opportunities, communities are more likely to voluntarily adopt improved farming strategies and techniques that are compatible with environmental protection.
One such project, supported by Indonesia’s REDD+ taskforce and the National Program for Community Empowerment (PNPM), has been training villagers in Manteran II to cultivate oyster mushrooms – a non-timber forest product that is widespread in many temperate and subtropical forests throughout the world.
Previously, all the farmers in the village relied on cutting and burning forests or woodlands to create fields for farming.
“We want to move away from this,” Supardi said. “We are going to focus on mushrooms that can be [economically] productive within months.”
Oyster mushrooms, a delectable treat packed with B complex vitamins and free of fat and cholesterol, are relatively easy to grow indoors on sawdust blocks. A resident there had developed a successful oyster mushroom business, prompting the villagers to ask for REDD+ funds so they could start similar businesses.
“Residents want to know how to do this. We require training and practice on how to grow mushrooms,” Supardi said.
“People have different financial abilities and this is why we looked for funding and training resources.”
The mushrooms can potentially make a bundle for growers. In Pulang Pisau regency alone, oyster mushrooms have been fetching up to 30,000 rupiah (USD3) per kilogram. In some of the bigger cities, they can get 40,000 rupiah a kilogram.
The villagers are in the process of building a structure to house the oyster mushrooms, which they will collectively plant and maintain. There will be 36 people in the first batch of training, which is slated to start in a few weeks.
Re-learning lost crafts
Over a couple of hours drive away from Manteran II is the village of Henda, where scores of women are receiving a different kind of training.
Thanks to a REDD+ initiative, which provides costs for trainings and initial capital, the housewives of Henda are re-learning the traditional Dayak tribal craft of rattan weaving, which many feared was in danger of becoming a lost art.
“Due to modernity, women have forgotten the crafts that were part of our ancestors’ tradition,” said Rina, a local villager who is part of the program’s facilitation team.
Rattan has been cultivated in Kalimantan for more than 100 years, however, over the past two decades, government policies designed to encourage the domestic rattan processing industry have sharply depressed demand and prices.
Some 30 women in Henda village have now received training on how to process and weave Dayak patterned mats. They meet twice a week to skin harvested rattans, splinter them into sections, and weave them into mats, before dying them.
Each colored mat, which takes about a week to complete, is sold for 500,000 rupiah (US$52).
In the future, they will also have sessions on how to market the mats, said Rina.
“We want this [program] to continue because it also adds to our economy,” she said.