Meet Indu Muei: a 67-year old purun farmer from Tumbang Nusa

Indu Muei at home in Tumbang Nusa village

Seeking Market Opportunities

This November, Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta presented the results of a Value Chain Analysis on the economic potential of Purun for local stakeholders. The presentation took place at the Jabiren Raya District Office and brought together a small group of Purun farmers and weavers from the village, as well as some Purun buyers, local government representatives, and other related parties from Central Kalimantan. A lively discussion ensued about the steps that need to be taken to promote sustainable and peat-friendly livelihoods, particularly with regard to Purun processing in Tumbang Nusa Village.

That morning, just as the clock hit nine, a white-haired woman wearing a batik shirt and a woven bag made of Purun (a tall swamp reed commonly used for weaving) rushed into the room looking as if she didn’t want to miss anything that might be important to her life. She was Indu Muei, a Purun farmer from Tumbang Nusa. Her clothing was still wet up to her knees, as the village was in flood. She and the other Purun farmers had all had to travel in a Kelotok (a local wooden canoe) just to reach the provincial highway. And here, the trucks were queuing up to break through the rising floodwaters.

Deep flooding along the provincial highway

Promoting Purun Products

Aged 67, Indu Muei still looked very enthusiastic when she came to discuss the use of this crop for making village handicrafts. She first became a Purun artisan fifty years ago, when she was only 17 years old. It was at this time that the Purun was deliberately planted by her parents in the village of Tumbang Nusa. But she also looked sad when she heard that young people in the village no longer have an interest in making Purun products.

This is mainly due to the economic uncertainity that lies in unreliable access to markets for her products, and because there are very few parties cooperating with the farmers to develop the future of the Purun economy in the village. The present uncertainty about accessing buyers means people in the village no longer wish to rely on Purun as a primary source of income despite its huge economic potential if it were well-marketed.

Indu Muei explaining the wide market potential for Purun products

Needing More Support

Indu Muei has been weaving Purun products consistently for the last 50 years in order to support herself and her family. She told us that the future development of these village-based handicrafts will all depend on the support activities carried out by the private sector and the government. Such activities can dramatically increase the demand for Purun products. But unfortunately, during the current pandemic, the restrictions on community activities have had a very serious impact on the harvesters and the artisans in the village. Currently, she is only able to sell about five Purun products per month.

Indu Muei showing the various products she makes

Harvesting Through The Floods

In addition, there are several challenges in the harvesting of Purun. One of them is the seasonal changes in the rainfall. During the dry season, the harvesting site becomes remote. Boats cannot get there, so people have to carry the Purun bundles out on their shoulders. This is not easy in a swampland. And during the rainy season, the high water level also makes it difficult, as the harvesters have to swim and dive to cut the reeds.

Harvesting reeds from wetlands is hard work

Facing An Uncertain Future

Another challenge faced by the village producers is the very tough competition from the neighbouring province of South Kalimantan, where the Purun processing technology is more advanced if compared to the manual processing that takes place in Tumbang Nusa.

As a result, there is a huge difference in the price of the finished products, such that buyers and investors prefer to buy those made in South Kalimantan. For these reasons, Indu Muei hopes that the Purun farmers of Tumbang Nusa village will get more contributions from the government, the private sector, and NGO’s in order to help the community build this peat-friendly livelihood and improve their economy.

When we took Indu Muei back home, the conditions in the village were quite severe. The floods had inundated people’s homes, forcing them to live in small huts until the water recedes. At this time of the year, the Purun farmers usually receive a large number of orders from buyers, however due to the high rainfall and flooding this year, it has been very difficult for the farmers to access this valuable and sustainable resource.  

Elaborating on the findings of the Value Chain Analysis

Planning for Success

Discussing the findings of the Value Chain Analysis was an initial step in moving towards making local action plans to improve the access to markets. Based on the participation of the community and the government decision-makers at the event, we feel positive that further steps can taken in the future that will be more measurable in helping to improve people’s living standards through Purun harvesting and making woven products.

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