In many villages around Central Kalimantan rubber tapping is a profession that has been passed down from generation to generation. One of them is Pilang in Pulang Pisau Regency, where around 70% of households cultivate rubber. Pak Jonedy, the head of one of the neighborhoods, harvests latex from the trees in his small plantation of more than 40 ha that he inherited from his family. Three times a week, he takes his kelotok (small boat with a motor) up the Kahayan River for 30 minutes to get to his plot, which is secluded by natural forest lying on shallow peat. On a typical day he makes new incisions on the trees along one path then goes back to the starting point and applies the coagulant to the containers that are full of latex, which then hardens after 2-3 hours. This practice has remained virtually unchanged over the past 50 years
In May and June, Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta held two training sessions for the smallholder rubber farmers in Pilang. One was about how to deal with pests and disease that attack the trees and the other focused on how to improve the quality of the latex that they produced. PT Kahayan Berseri, the company that buys rubber from the farmers, was involved in the training. This is the first time that the farmers received any formal training for rubber farming. They learned of a better method that would improve the quality of the latex product.
What determines the price of the product is the amount of DRC (dry rubber content). Normally, the latex that is collected is left out in the open. It is submerged in water and foreign objects are added to increase its weight, in the hopes that it would increase the selling price. This type of rubber, called bokar basah (wet rubber), has around 50% DRC and sells for Rp6,000 -7,300, whereas bokar bersih (dry rubber) with 65% DRC sells for Rp11,630 – 12,350. During the training session, PT Kahayan Berseri, which owns the processing factory, taught and encouraged the farmers to produce bokar bersih, a win-win situation for both parties. With bokar basah, the factory has to put more time and energy into cleaning the product and the farmer gets less money. To reach 65% DRC with bokar bersih, the collected latex has to be put in a simple shelter that protects it from the sun and rain and not be soaked in water. A rubber farmer has to invest around Rp200,000 to build the shelter. Most farmers who joined the training were reluctant to try it, saying it is too much of a hassle, complicated and costly.
Fortunately, a few households, including Pak Jonedy’s, tried the new method and had their first sale of bokar bersih on September 19th. Pak Jonedy and Pak Rahmat sold 126 kg and 139kg, respectively, at a price of Rp11,630. The next month was even better, with 5 households selling 418 kg at a price of Rp12,853/kg. The farmers were ecstatic when their rubber was appraised at 65% DRC. “I prefer this one rather than the one that we soak, “said Pak Rahmat, one of the people who adopted the bokar bersih method. Hopefully, this sets an example for the other rubber farmers and they will soon follow suit, seeing how it is more profitable. If all the rubber farmers in Pilang were to incorporate this simple, but effective, method, it would raise the overall prosperity in the village.