INDONESIA: Rubber farmers in Mappi struggle to cope with falling prices

Edera is one of 15 districts in Mappi regency and is home to 748 hectares of rubber plantations. The entire community has previously relied on rubber farming as the main livelihood source.

"We like tapping rubber as it is a trade we have learned from our parents since we were young and our children have learned it from us. We are only used to tapping and selling rubber to earn a living,” said Policarpus.

Success stories are abundant among residents who have engaged in rubber farming in Edera. "We used the proceeds of selling rubber for our children's education and for buying daily necessities,” he said.

The houses in Gimikya seem to be in better condition than those found along the river banks that The Jakarta Post passed during a boat ride from Mappi regency's capital of Kepi to Edera's district capital, Bade.

The sight of motorcycles parked in front of the houses was commonplace.

"They bought them (motorcycles) through selling rubber. They are mostly used motorcycles but still in good condition. They are brought in from Surabaya, East Java, and then sold to the residents here for around Rp 12 million each,” said Mappi regency administration spokesman Eko Purwanto, who accompanied the Post and some other journalists to the rubber farms in Gimikya village last week.

From the 1980s to the 1990s, rubber farmers in Bade, Merauke and Boven Digul, all located in the southern part of Papua, experienced boom times thanks to the presence of the Irian Jaya Joint Development Foundation (IJJDF), locally known as Jodefo, which bought rubber from farmers at set prices without following the fluctuating market prices.

"Previously, when Jodefo was still around, our rubber was bought at a fixed price so we could keep earning money to fulfill our daily needs. Then, all the farmers were eager to tap rubber,” said a rubber farmer in Bade, Mathius Yame.

Rubber was the main source of income for residents in Bade. The rubber farms were established by the Dutch colonial administration in the 1960s as the plant was suitable to be grown in the southern part of Papua, including Mappi.

Every farmer in Bade has the knowledge to tap rubber and produce crude rubber.

After the Dutch left, the rubber farmers further expanded their farms under the guidance of missionaries, such as Pastor Cornelis JJ de Rooij, who in the early 1980s brought in rubber seedlings from Java.

Following the dissolution of the IJJDF in 1992, the market for rubber fluctuated and became dominated by middlemen.

"Farmers need an institution like IJJDF that buys rubber from them on a regular basis without being influenced by the market price,” said Mappi Plantation and Forestry Office head Suhaedi in Kepi, Mappi.

The rubber market is currently monopolized by middlemen, so they can easily manipulate prices.

The provincial administration, added Suheadi, would seek investors to invest in community-based rubber farming, so rubber could be produced on a regular basis.

Rubber from Papua, said Suhaedi, was of good quality as it grew naturally on fertile land without the use of chemical fertilizers.

He said there were currently 2,073 hectares of rubber farms in seven districts in Mappi, cultivated by 3,641 farmers.

Every year, the Mappi Plantation and Forestry Agency carries out expansion of community-based rubber farms. From 2009 to 2011, 415 hectares of rubber farms were added with as many as 68,000 rubber seedlings.

Farmers have planted the superior PB 260 and IRR 118 varieties of seedlings in the area.

"The Mappi regency administration wishes to turn rubber into a primary commodity, along with other commodities, like agar wood,” said Suhaedi.

"Farmers will start tapping rubber again when the price of rubber improves, above Rp 15,000 per kilogram if possible,” said Policarpus.

Source: Daily "The Jakarta Post", Jakarta; 30 Sept 2013(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)