Saving Peatlands with Eco-straws

Purun (Lepironia articulata) is a type of sedge that grows in peatland. This plant is used in woven handicrafts such as mats, bags and hats that are characteristic of Central and South Kalimantan. Tumbang Nusa village in Pulang Pisau Regency is known for its purun handicraft, such as the ones made by Indu Muei (article). More recently, another product made from purun was conceived: straws. This is the brainchild of Marinus Kristiadi Harun from the research center at the Department of Environment and Forestry in Banjarbaru (BP2LHK). In 2019 he held a workshop in Tumbang Nusa on how to make straws from the plant, which was attended by 20 women.

In November, YTS visited the house of Ibu Leni, one of the women who joined the training in 2019. Out of the 20 women who participated in the training, she is the only one who continues to produce these eco-straws. Two other women, Ibu Evy and Ibu Megawati, also make them, but they did not join the initial training. When an order comes in, the quota is shared among them, but they work individually. They cross the Kahayan River to harvest the purun, some of which were planted by their predecessors, and pick stems that are 1 meter long, cutting near the base, where it is wider. One stem yields two straws, which are 20 cm each. A clump of purun that had just been cut would grow back after two months.

The Cleaning Process

Cleaning and drying the stems is a meticulous process that requires 3 stages where the hollow of the stem is scrubbed. Another step is to soak the stems briefly in a solution made by boiling lemongrass, cinnamon leaf and bay leaves. This gives it fragrance and guards against microbes. It takes around a week for them to make the straws, from harvest to finished product and each day one person can process 500 straws.

The straws are soaked with the herbs, which the women take from their garden or their neighbors.

In the beginning, one challenge the women faced was that they didn’t have the capacity to fulfill big orders on time since they did everything manually. From the results of YTS’s Value Chain Analysis (VCA) in 2021, it was concluded that some form of automation during the cleaning process would increase productivity. A machine was made with a rotor that spins the brush which cleans the stem. It was given to the women in June this year. In October, thanks to the machine, they were able to complete an order of 3000 straws on time.

Ibu Leni (right) scrubs the stem using the machine while Ibu Megawati (left) does it manually.

Market Competition

The cleaning process they currently use has evolved from the one they learned during the training in 2019. For example, they added two more stages for scrubbing the inside of the stem. Ibu Megawati explained, “In the beginning, many of the straws we made were sent back because of defects. We learned from our mistakes and modified the process ourselves”. The three women persevered and refined the process to make the quality straws they produce today. They have a competitor in Palangka Raya that are better equipped to produce purun straws, incorporating more machinery. However, “We feel that our product is of higher quality than theirs, because we do it manually and with more care” says Ibu Leni. A single straw from Tumbang Nusa costs Rp200, while one that is wrapped in paper costs Rp300. They have sold to buyers from Bogor, Bandung and Surabaya.

 Most people buy the 100-straw pack (far right), which costs Rp25,000.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

Since purun grows abundantly in peat swamps, it can be a livelihood option for communities that live in and around peatlands. However, in Tumbang Nusa, the number of women who make woven purun handicrafts is decreasing due to competition from South Kalimantan. With the increasing awareness of plastic pollution, consumers are more inclined to buy environmentally-friendly products such as these straws. As long as there is demand for them, there will be an incentive to protect and maintain the peatland, which in turn will hopefully prevent the fires that regularly occur in Tumbang Nusa.