Shorea Shows Promise for Smallholder Timber

Pak Stomo is an elementary school teacher in Tumbang Nusa Village. He owns one hectare of peatland, conveniently located behind his house. In 2015, a great fire swept across his land. Nothing was left standing. “I had planted rubber, rambutan and pineapple. But everything burned, nothing was left,” Stomo recalled.

Pak Stomo’s land (above) became an experimental plot

Working with the project

Despite the fire, Stomo refused to be discouraged. He decided he would help the Gambut Kita project to establish an experimental plot on his land. Since 2020, the project has provided him with a variety of seedlings for field trials, including Durian, Rambutan, Pepper and Belangeran. 

Seedlings ready to be planted out

Pak Stomo was busy planting on the day of our visit. More seedlings from the project had just arrived. He picked up a sack of manure and started walking towards the plot behind his house. His feet looked agile when walking through the wet peatland.

“A week ago it was flooded. Now, that it’s dry, it is time for planting” he explained.

Pak Stomo maintains the trees and replants as necessary

Fifteen minutes later he stopped. He lowered the sack of manure. He looked around his land. Clearly, the replanting effort was well underway. That afternoon, Stomo worked with several women from the village to plant a range of tree seedlings including Belangeran, Kayu Putih (Melaleuca Leucadendra), Vanilla (Vanilla Planifolia) and Kemiri (Aleurites Moluccanus).

High survival rates for Shorea

Based on his experience, Stomo considers Belangeran (Shorea balangeran) to be one of the best tree species to plant on peatlands. Most of his other tree seedlings had died due to flooding.

“I consider Belangeran to be very suitable for peatlands. My plot has been flooded several times, but these have been able to survive and grow well”. He showed us a row of trees two meters tall. “The Belangeran was planted last year. As you can see, the trees are doing well,” said Stomo.

The Belangeran seedlings are now two meters tall

Pak Stomo says it is not difficult to plant Belangeran. One only needs to dig a hole in the ground to a depth of thirty centimeters. The seedlings should be planted when fifty centimeters tall.

“Polybags should be always be removed so that the roots can easily spread into the ground,” said Stomo. “And the seedlings should be supported by a wooden stake one meter high.”

Many of the women in Tumbang Nusa village are skilled in tree nursery work

Care and maintenance

Stomo admits that planting Belangeran is not complicated, but he says that maintaining the trees is a different story. After planting, the tree seedlings must be fertilized every three months. Stomo uses local manure he buys from an agricultural shop in the village for twenty-five thousand rupiah per sack (50 kg). To fertilize his trees, Stomo needs approximately ten bags of manure.

Moreover, to control the overgrowth, Stomo must spray with weed-killer every three months. For that, he buys eight liters of weed-killer, at a price of one hundred thousand rupiah per liter.

“We kill the grass so the trees grow quickly”, explained Stomo, “but also because it is more difficult for fires to spread when there is no grass”, he added.

Planning for success

The dark clouds that covered the evening sky did not dismay the workers. They started to accelerate their tree-planting activities. Stomo said he could no longer remember how many trees had been planted. But he felt certain, the Belangeran trees would survive the rains.

Pak Stomo tells us that he is optimistic about the future

“Belangeran is something for the long term”, said Stomo.”It takes twenty years for the seedling to grow into a tree. But it will bear fruit in ten years, and the fruit can be raised into seedlings”.

Although it will take a long time to grow, Stomo is optimistic about selling the timber one day. This is because Belangeran is a high-quality ironwood and much sought after by local residents. The exceptional timber is usually used when building the foundations of a house or bridge. Famous for its quality, a cubic meter of sawn planks sells for three and a half million rupiah.

The ‘value-creation’ aspect drives Stomo to actively plant Belangeran trees. He understands that the peatlands can provide for him well into the future. This faith has given him the strength and conviction he needs to grow timber on peatlands.