Sago Palm: A highly productive crop that thrives on peatland

A Resilient Plant

True sago palm (Metroxylon sago) has a great potential to be a sustainable source of livelihood for communities that live around peatland. The plant is native to the eastern parts of Indonesia, specifically Maluku and Papua, where it is eaten as a staple food1. The palm encompasses 5.5 million ha in Indonesia and 95% of it is in Papua2. Sago palm is very resilient, able to grow in neutral to highly acidic soils, organic and mineral soils and even tolerates highly sulfuric soils. It can survive brackish water and is resistant to pests and diseases, prolonged droughts, floods and storms3. In fact, it thrives on peatland and performs better with occasional flooding, so there is no need to drain peatland in order to grow it. Moreover, true sago palm does not need additional fertilizer and barely any maintenance. It takes 12-15 years to reach maturity, reaching a height of 15 meters4.

Sago palm produces flour 20-40 tons/hectares/year. Image taken from Al Manar, P et al. (2023), Jurnal Manajemen Hutan Tropika

Possible Solution For Food Security

Sago palm  flowers only once in its lifetime and at that time the stored nutrients are converted to starch. Harvesting during this time ensures a maximum yield. When harvested on the spot, the tree is cut down and the trunk is split open5. Afterwards, the pith is scraped out and ground into a powder, which is then mixed with water and filtered through a cloth. The starch then settles in a container. The harvested product is sago flour which has an established national and international market. There is much discourse on sago as a substitute for rice in Indonesia. Sago’s productivity is six times that of rice paddy fields and its adaptability to harsh environments gives it an advantage to endure extreme weather caused by climate change6. Indonesia’s reliance on rice imports from neighboring countries make it vulnerable to international price hikes, which can cause domestic inflation. Sago seems perfect to bolster Indonesia’s food security, but to change people’s taste and preferences is a whole other matter.

Its productivity on peatland has been seen in Riau Province. To date, there are 61,689 ha of sago plantations in Riau, making it the largest producer of sago in Indonesia7. Most of its production (90%) is in the Meranti Islands Regency. In this area, the palm grows on peat with a depth of 100-300 cm and deeper. According to an FAO guidebook, sago palms that grow on deep peat produce less starch and take longer to mature (more than 12-17 years) compared to ones that grow on shallow peat, which take 8-12 years. One tree produces 150-250 kg of dry starch8. Local food products derived from this are noodles, crackers and cakes9. Dry grated sago, called sapuring, is fed to chickens and cattle.

A sago farmer transporting tual in Tohor River. Image taken from vik.kompas.com.

Untapped Potential

In Tohor River Village there are 14 processing plants collecting sago from farmers in the form of tual, sago trunks that are one meter long10. The current price for one tual is Rp60,000. The refined sago flour that is exported to Malaysia is sold at a price of Rp2,000/kg. However, Haris Gunawan, Deputy of Research and Development of the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM), feels that with this low selling price, the market is stagnant and he wishes to develop the value chain. BRGM organized an event in the village called Nusantara Sago Festival, held on 14-15 March 2020. Haris hopes that this event would inspire people involved in the sago trade to make innovations of sago products that have higher value. Parallel to their mission of restoring Indonesia’s peatland, BRGM also strives to develop peat-friendly livelihoods and true sago palm is a potential solution. 

BRGM encourages the planting of sago on peatland for its restoration. Sago production systems improve the water retention of the land it grows on by improving soil infiltration, reducing water velocity in the channels and reducing overland flow6. As a result, if grown on peatland, it can mitigate flooding as well as maintain the moisture of the peat, which is vital to prevent fires. As of now, there is no cultivation of sago palm in Central Kalimantan on record, but it is present in West and South Kalimantan.

 

References

  1. Tata, H.L., & Susmianto, A. (2016). Prospek paludikultur ekosistem gambut Indonesia.Bogor, Indonesia: Forda Press.
  2. Ahmad F, Bintoro MH, Supijatno. (2016). Morfologi dan produksi beberapa aksesi sagu (Metroxylon spp.) di Distrik Iwaka, Kabupaten Mimika, Papua. Bul. Palma. 17 (2):115–125.
  3. Wulan, Saptarining (2018). SAGO AS AN ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE FOOD RESOURCE IN THE CLIMATE CHANGE ERA. Journal of Environmental Science and Sustainable Development, 1(1), 53-73. Available at: https://doi.org/10.7454/jessd.v1i1.22 
  4. J.J. Lal, SAGO PALM, Editor(s): Benjamin Caballero, Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), Academic Press, 2003, Pages 5035-5039, ISBN 9780122270550, https://doi.org/10.1016/B0-12-227055-X/01036-1.
  5. Metroxylon sagu, Sago, 2024, accessed 8 January 2024, https://www.foreststreesagroforestry.org/tree/metroxylon-sagu/
  6. Borensen M., Weterings R, 2021,Sago Palm: A Sustainable Solution for Food Security and Peat Conservation in Indonesia, FORCLIME, https://forclime.org/documents/Briefing%20Note/English/Policy%20Brief%20-%20Sago%20Palm.pdf  
  7. Sutrisno, 2023, ‘Kerja Nyata Mengerek Nilai Sagu Meranti, Indonesia.go.id, 23 August, accessed 9 January 2024, https://indonesia.go.id/kategori/editorial/7380/kerja-nyata-mengerek-nilai-sagu-meranti?lang=1 
  8. FAO, 2014 Towards climate-responsible peatland management, Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture Series, https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/b872c167-7ecf-4ed7-9007-4464db946ef5
  9. Yusran, Y.A., Yasin, A., Kuswondho, H., Nasir, A.A., Bridging the Gap Between Economics and Ecology in Peatland Restoration (Case Study: Paludiculture of Sago in Pulau Padang Peatland Hydrological Unit, Riau), Brawijaya International Conference 2022, AEBMR 235, pp. 81–90, 2023, https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/bic-22/125986214
  10. Sitinjak, 2020, ‘Sagu Sungai Tohor, ‘Permata Terpendam’ di Belantara Gambut Kepulauan Meranti’, GoRiau.com, 17 March, accessed 5 January 2024, https://www.goriau.com/berita/baca/sagu-sungai-tohor-permata-terpendam-di-belantara-gambut-kepulauan-meranti.html

 

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