Pak Margo: The Man Who Grew Jelutung

Having always wanted to grow a mini jelutung (Dyera costulata) plantation in his backyard, Pak Margo says it took him 18 years of trial and error, and a substantial part of his personal finances to learn how to do it properly. But now, at the age of 65, he has finally realized his dream.

Margo (65) has a mini ‘jelutung’ forest in his backyard

Margo’s wish to plant jelutung arose from his observations of the changing natural conditions around his home in Tumbang Nusa village. He noticed that whereas many of the native trees (such as jelutung) were being felled for timber, and the peatland was slowly being cleared of forest, the local farmers were still unable to use their cleared lands successfully.

Because of his innate curiousity, he was willing to pay from his own pocket in order to learn how to cultivate jelutung successfully. “Actually, I learned the nursery techniques from the jelutung growers among the Dayaks in Hampangen[1]. There were two experts living there at the time, and I also purchased the seeds from them. That was in the year 2000, and they taught me the cultivation techniques there for a training fee of 2 million rupiah,” Margo explained.

Margo had practiced various methods which he had already learned from within his community before deciding to take the ‘expert course.’ He said this was necessary because his previous efforts had always failed prior to receiving the ‘formula’ from the experts. He explained that the main issue in growing jelutung lies in taking care of the seedlings. He says that the seedlings must be treated as if they were little children, who must be taken care of at all times. And that many communities make the mistake of not caring for the seedlings after planting them out.

Nowadays, Margo shares his knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning about jelutung seedlings, as he says that there are still good business opportunities for those who want to do jelutung nurseries for profit. Using his own profit-sharing strategy, he now provides prospective breeders with fruit containing jelutung seeds, and takes a 25% share of their sale proceeds. Every year, the jelutung blooms in September and bears fruit in March. Before the fruit falls to the ground, it must be picked quickly. Each fruit carries around 10 seeds.

“When my trees fruit, the harvest is 10-20 kg per season (once a year). The fruit is worth Rp. 3.5 million per kg. One kilogram of fruit contains eleven thousand jelutung seeds,” he said.

Raising Jelutung Seedlings

According to Pak Margo, these are the necessary steps for raising jelutung seedlings:

Seed selection

Select seeds carefully and avoid seeds that are old, thin, or of a dark brown color. White seeds are also best avoided.

Sprout phase

After that, sow the seeds and wait about 2-3 weeks, until shoots appear.

Transfer sprouts to polybags

Place each sprouted seedlings in a polybag and allow to grow for about 1.5 years in the polybag. Grass should be kept to a minimum in the area.

Out-planting into the field/garden

Plant the seedlings only when the stem is already a dark green colour and is hard enough to survive being planted out.

*With careful selection and handling the expectancy is that 50% of the seeds will become successful ready-to-plant jelutung seedlings.

 

Harvesting Latex and Timber

Margo says that he also tapped wild jelutung trees in the forest many years ago. But this did not last long due to the risk of being attacked by wild animals in the forest such as snakes.

“It is less difficult to tap than rubber and more productive. On average, each tree can produce around 1 kilogram of latex.” And although the latex can be difficult to sell due to a general lack of collectors and buyers, the product commands a much higher price than rubber. Furthermore, the latex only requires dousing with hot water before being sold to the collector.

Pak Margo added that, apart from the latex, jelutung trees can also be grown in plantations to be harvested for timber: “12 year-old trees can be used, but the wood deteriorates quickly. It is different with 30-40 year-old jelutung, that age is good and even suitable for guitars,” he added.

Contributing to Forest Research and Rehabilitation Programs
The jelutung mini-plantation that Margo owns is also used for research purposes

The 1.5-hectare mini jelutung forest behind Margo’s house is of two species: a lowland peat swamp forest variety called jelutung rawa (Dyera polyphylla) and an upland hill forest variety called jelutung bukit (Dyera costulata). His mini-forest serves as a living laboratory for many scientists from Indonesia and other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

“I am proud to be able to prove to the children and the community that the wild plants that God has planted in the forest can also be cared for close to the house,” he explains.

The jelutung forest canopy

Margo received a ‘windfall’ opportunity ten years ago when he realised that jelutung was becoming popular for peatland rehabilitation programs in Central Kalimantan. With his backyard plantation, he was well placed to provide seeds to these programs. At the time, each polybag full of jelutung seeds was worth Rp. 1,500 and he found that he could produce 50-150 thousand polybags of jelutung seeds per year and sell them to the government through a tender process. His costs were only around Rp. 250 per polybag (planting media and labor costs) excluding maintenance costs. He said that there were no obstacles to selling the seeds because they were all used to meet the needs of the government’s forest rehabilitation programs.

[1] An area in Katingan Regency, about 67 kilometers from the capital city of Central Kalimantan

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