The Ph.D. candidates and Post-Docs at the Chair of Tropical Forestry regularly meet up to discuss our research progress. During our January meeting, we had the pleasure to listen to the field experience of our Ph.D. candidate from Indonesia, Sri Astutik, who specializes on medicinal plants and rural livelihoods. Sri Astutik recently returned from her field work in various places in Indonesia: Meru Betiri National Park (East Java), Solo (Central Java), and Sukabumi (West Java). The Meru Betiri National Park (henceforth MBNP) extends up to 580 km2, providing habitat for countless fauna and flora, while Solo and Sukabumi were selected to represent a type of highland farming area.
Sri’s Ph.D. research seeks to compare the production systems of medicinal plants in the study site. This research is a continuation of her master’s thesis research conducted a few years back. In fact, some of the local people still remember her after more than a decade, especially in the buffer zone of MBNP. Being back in the village, Sri was impressed with the infrastructure in the village. In comparison to her last visit, the road condition has improved and telecommunication towers are in place, making it easier for her to be mobile. As she can’t ride a motorbike, she has been traveling with a bicycle within the villages. However, local people were also happy to give a ride on the motorcycle for her, especially to reach remote areas.
Immersing herself with the local people for about four months, Sri reminded us again of the importance of living-in among the villagers, so as to gain their trust and to maintain amicable cooperation. In some cases, people could think that the presence of an external person is to bring some tangible funding. Hence it can be a challenge to convince that it is for research purposes. Notwithstanding, in most cases it is a courtesy in Indonesia that you should give a token of appreciation for the respondents of your household survey. Considering local culture is very vital in conducting empirical research.
Sri’s research was conducted in two villages near or at the buffer zone of the MBNP, and two other villages in Solo and Sukabumi. Sri looked at 3 different production systems of medicinal plants: outgrower scheme, forest gathering, and forest farming.
Within the outgrower scheme, there are two types. The first is the outgrower type who cultivates 16 different species, in which Plantago major and Centela asiatica are the favorite species due to minimum maintenance. They sell through a village trader and then a farmer’s association, while the second is the type who only cultivates 1 species Curcuma xanthorrhiza (Javanese turmeric) and sells directly to the farmer’s association. Outgrower farmers cultivate on their private lands.
Sri also shared with us her experience of joining a farmer in a quest to gather some medicinal plants in the forest. In total, they work with almost 11 species, in which Aleurites mollucanus (candle nut) is frequently harvested and it is likewise a crucial source of cash income. Generally, local people assume that there is no restricted access to the forest area and they involve in wild gathering activity since a teenager.
As opposed to the forest gatherers, forest farmers use the state forest area as they have the right to use. They plant totally around 17 species and one of them is a highly valuable species, Piper retrofractum (Javanese long pepper). These forest gatherers and farmers are motivated to plant because they are more supply-driven, whereas the outgrower farmers are motivated because they are more demand-driven. Despite the farmer’s association, a cooperation system among these farmers is still lacking.
Regardless of the production system, these farmers, in general, are still not satisfied with the returns they obtained. In terms of importance rate, most respondents mention that medicinal plants contribute to livelihood moderately, but it is still low for outgrower scheme type 2. Hence, Sri will work on analyzing the performance and profitability of these production systems. Sri strives to deliver a framework for a more remunerative market system for medicinal plants in these villages, thus improving their livelihoods.
Sri would like to extend her deepest gratitude to Prof. Dr. Jürgen Pretzsch as her Supervisor, Dr. Jude Kimengsi, Meru Betiri National Park, local people of Andongrejo and Sanenrejo (East Java), Nglurah (Central Java), Cidolog (West Java), Cibodas Botanic Garden-The Indonesian Institute of Sciences, The Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education-Republic of Indonesia, Field assistants: Pipit, Arina, Walet, Arif, Ayu, Deka, Weullas, Anshor, Fauzi, Family of Bapak Riyadi, Bapak Kliwon, Ibu Wiji, Bapak Harso, Bapak Sugiono, and Bapak Saepullah, Dr. Achmad Sjarmidi, Dr. Yuli Widyastuti, Bapak Ir. R. Soedradjad, M.T., Ibu Nuning S. Barwa and PT Martina Berto, and all of contributors, who made the fieldwork possible.
By Kendisha S. Hintz, with the support of Sri Astutik