TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The plot in Mundam, Riau, is by no means large, only a quarter of a hectare in breadth. But on that small plot owned by one of the villagers, the Mundam Bersatu (Mundam United) women’s group are sowing their hopes. They have begun cultivating red ginger (Zingiberofficinalevarrubrum), a tuber known to have certain healing properties, including the ability to boost the body’s immune system, increase waning appetites, and to ward off flu and coughs.
"My family and I take the tuber not only when we feel ill, but rather to keep ourselves in tiptop condition," said Yuniarti, a resident of Mundam, Kota Dumai, Riau, in early July.
Yuniarti, known affectionately as Jojo, is the chair of the Mundam Bersatu women’s group. The group of 20 members began trying their hand at cultivating red ginger in October 2017. The Riau Women’s Working Group (RWWG) non-profit initiated the idea. The RWWG had obtained aid from the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF) with the aim of roping in more women in the effort to revitalize peatlands.
Jojo said the peatlands in Mundam were in sad condition, particularly after the forest fires that had raged in Riau forests causing the dire haze of 2014. The devastation caused by the fires had made it difficult for the Mundam community to continue their agroforestry. Even before the fires, the community had already been cultivating red ginger in polybags, no longer using pots. "We found it very difficult to grow anything even in our own yards," said the 38-year-old woman.
The RWWG’s liaison to Mundam Bersatu, Lisa Susanti, 25, said they had encouraged red ginger cultivation in consideration of its economic potential. Compared to ‘white’ ginger, a staple ingredient in every kitchen, the red variety fetched a better price. The market price of ordinary ginger is Rp5,000-6,000. Meanwhile, red ginger fetches prices at Rp15,000-25,000.
The RWWG was also looking toward cultivating red ginger to establish a downstream industry. They thought of developing the tuber into ginger dodol (taffy) or a drink powder. "Red ginger is not endemic to Dumai, so we’re still in the analysis stage of its business potential. But we discovered, with certain intervention, the tuber could be cultivated on peatland," said Lisa. Intervention, according to Lisa, means introducing dolomite chalk to the peats, a mineral capable of neutralizing acidity found in peats.
"We are also planting lemon grass (Cympogoncitratus) and purple sweet potato (Ipomomea batatas) in alternate rows to the ginger, to optimize the use of the plot," said Lisa. But, she added, the lemongrass and sweet potatoes were merely for the personal consumption of the Mundam Bersatu households.
In total, the RWWG provided 100 polybags containing red ginger seedlings to Mundam Bersatu. Besides Mundam, the RWWG also provided similar assistance and training to three other villages, Teluk Makmur, Pelintung and Guntung. The four communities received assistance from February 2017 to March of this year.
Since initial planting in October, in July Jojo and her group harvested around 250 kilograms of red ginger. They set aside a few of the tubers to replant as seed. "RWWG exhorts them to be independent, including in setting up their own capital," said Lisa. "Thus, they are learning the ropes of managing their own cashflow."
Director of Environment in the Ministry of National Planning (Bappenas) Medrilzam, said he is very happy to see agroforestry efforts carried out by communities on peatland. In his eyes, agroforestry is a great strategy to impede deforestation and forest denudation. By doing activities that make use of peatland, the efforts are doubly useful because it helps reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. "The activity is even more important because it can boost the community’s economic potential," he said.