Monday, 21 September 2020

Jengkol Against Oil Palm

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  • Seliwati harvesting jengkol at her plantation in Uraso, North Luwu, South Sulawesi, last March. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari

    Seliwati harvesting jengkol at her plantation in Uraso, North Luwu, South Sulawesi, last March. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A large number of residents of Uraso in North Luwu earn their living from the hundreds of trees in their fields, from dogfruit to pepper. Dispute remains with PTPN XIV.

    SOME women were seen cooking beside Alpius Tando’s house on stilts in Likudengen, Uraso village. They were preparing dinner for the hundreds of guests coming from regions all over Indonesia to attend the International Women’s Day celebration event on March 11 and 12. A woman was tasked with preparing jengkol (Archidendron pauciflorum) or dogfruit.

    “They say we should add coffee to prevent the smell,” said one of the women.

    But we can find jengkol not just in the communal kitchen, but also in the venue tents. Indeed, dogfruit is the mainstay for many residents of Uraso in Mappedeceng subdistrict, North Luwu Regency, South Sulawesi. They had just begun planting dogfruit some eight years ago. Some had yet to harvest their plants, but others had done it for some times, such as 54-year old Damaris Z.B, wife of Alpius, who began harvesting jengkol last year. She was getting ready for another harvest, which she said is due in April.

    Another villager, Seliwati, who owns eight-year-old jengkol trees, had been reaping multiple harvests. The 49-year-old woman once earned almost Rp40 million from the harvest.

    Aside from jengkol, locals in Uraso also earn their living from seasonal fruits such as durian, rambutan, cempedak (jackfruit-like fruit), lanzone, and pepper. Peppercorn currently fetches Rp32,000 per kilogram, while the price of durians depends on their size. “A couple days ago I sold six bundles of durian (24 fruits) for Rp160,000,” said Alpius.

    Locals previously also earned a regular income from the oil palm plasma plantation, though they consider the sum to be modest. However, it is currently undergoing revitalization, so there will not be a harvest for some time.

    For Alpius, Seliwati, and others in Uraso, the meaning of jengkol and the other trees extends beyond economical significance. “They are also used against the oil palms,” said Seliwati. She sees the trees as a means to achieve their greater goal, and that is, “To struggle for the land.”

    More than 200 residents of Uraso village, mostly from Kampung Baru and Kumila hamlets, are now planting the fields situated within the cultivation rights tittle (HGU) area of state plantation company PTPN XIV. Around the early 1980s, Luwu regional administration planned to open a palm oil plantation in Mappedeceng, partnering with PTPN XXVIII (now merged with PTPN XIV).

    However, the palm oil plantation was never established until PTPN XIV finally obtained its HGU license in 1995. Until now, only 140 hectares from the 2,020 hectares concession area have been utilized. “Due to financial issues,” said Andi Evan Triwisno, PTPN XIV’s manager of Luwu oil palm plantation business unit, when contacted by Tempo. Cocoa trees were once planted in some parts of the planned plantation, but failed to flourish.

    Around the 2000s, Alpius and his friends began planting on the abandoned lands. They now occupy more than 400 hectares of land. “These are the land of our ancestors,” said Alpius Tando.

    Jengkol decorates the International Women’s Day celebration in Uraso village, last March. TEMPO/ Purwani Dyah Prabandari

    They formed groups. “We help each other in clearing land and taking care of the plantations,” said a villager, Yuli Meja. Within just two years, the lands that previously laid bare were again teeming with various trees, from durian, rambutan, cempedak, and pepper. “We cut the forest down, but then we turned it back into a forest that yields produce,” said Seliwati.

    Saenal Abidin, who is now the head of Wallacea Society of Palopo, began counseling local residents in their struggle for the plantation lands which later also turned into a settlement named Likudengen. Saenal and later Wallacea lend assistance in developing various economic activities, from providing plant seedlings, promoting the formation of a cooperative, to training people in agriculture. “Pak Saenal, Wallacea, and many others are helping us,” said Yuli Meja.

    Saenal said that aside from helping local economy, all the agricultural activities also, “Become the resistance against oil palm commodity.”

    The road ahead of them, though, is long. “There is still the problem of access to market. Jengkol, for example, is mostly unfamiliar to people here,” said Saenal. Farmers are still selling their produce to collectors to come to the village and set prices for the commodities.

    During a discussion with North Luwu Regent Indah Putri Indriani and regional government officials on March 11, some residents expressed these problems. Regent Indah Putri Indriani said the government would help in giving added value to the locals’ produce. “So, it is geared more towards post-harvest processing,” she said.

    North Luwu Food Security Agency Chief, Alauddin Sukri, later added that the government would assist in absorbing farmers’ harvests through region-owned enterprises, to be delivered to the market.

    Indah also said that the people’s request to own the land they are farming had been communicated to the authorities in the upper level. She had also discussed it with PTPN XIV. The regional administration, according to Indah, will possibly not recommend HGU extension for PTPN, which will end in 2030, because it has neglected the land. “This momentum coincides with the agrarian reform,” she said.

    Andi Evan Triwisno confirmed that Regent Indah did submit a request regarding the land in Uraso. “But that is not my authority. The decision lies in the shareholder, the ministry (of state-owned enterprises).”

    As for the neglected lands, Andi said PTPN XIV is planning to start working them in 2021 or 2022. “So, work will resume on all of the HGU lands, in line with instruction from the principal to start planting on the lands not yet planted.”

    Locals, however, have their own plans. “Maybe this could become a tourist village,” said Seliwati.

    PURWANI DIYAH PRABANDARI

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