The Katingan Farmers Rattan Group, or P2RK, represents more than 200 farmers in Central Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of the island.

The process of drying out the rattan

Harvesting rattan, a climbing vine-like palm native to the region, can be a sustainable way for local people to make a living. Widely used in furniture, handicrafts and other applications, rattan supports a global industry worth more than US$4 billion a year. Because it needs trees to grow, rattan can provide an incentive for communities to conserve and restore the forest on their land.  

However, prices paid to rattan harvesters in Indonesia are low. As a result, many smallholders are turning away from rattan production to less sustainable alternatives. With FSC certification, P2RK smallholders are in a stronger position to command higher prices from buyers supplying high-value markets. WWF research has shown that FSC-certified operators – particularly small producers in tropical countries – earn more than those without certification.

“Because they don’t get an economic benefit, some farmers have sold their rattan fields to palm oil companies, or converted them to other crops like banana, vegetables or rubber,” says Joko Sarjito, manager of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) in Indonesia.

“The area where P2RK operates is identified as High Conservation Value (HCV) forest, so protecting it through implementing responsible rattan management is very important,” says Sarjito.

The raw material of rattan harvested from a well managed forest

The old-growth dipterocarp forest contains habitat suitable for orang-utans, as well as other primates and endemic birds. Since the majority of Borneo’s critically endangered orang-utans live outside protected areas, conserving their habitat on community-owned land is crucial.

“If the trees are disturbed or cut down, then the growth of rattan is disrupted and the quality will decrease,” says P2RK secretary-general Oscar Sukah. “The farmers participate in maintaining and preserving the forest to maintain certification.”

WWF-Indonesia began working with P2RK in 2011 to help them prepare for certification, building on similar projects in Laos and the Greater Mekong. Achieving certification has been a challenging process. Previously, there was no formal recognition of who owned the land, or of how much rattan was being harvested. WWF worked with the community, village leaders and local authorities to map and legally register land ownership, and to conduct a survey to determine the volume of rattan on farmers’ land and how much can be sustainably cut each year.

“With the certification, there is an increase in the value of rattan products so that farmers feel secure and maintain their rattan fields,” says Sarimanto, one of the members of P2RK. “Then they can send their children to school or build a house.”

Traditional rattan processing in Tewang Kadamba village

The project has been financially supported by IKEA, through their partnership with WWF. The Swedish home furnishings giant uses rattan in more than 100 products, from outdoor furniture to baskets and lampshades. From the beginning of 2018, IKEA will include rattan within the scope of its forestry standard – meaning all suppliers will need to meet minimum standards, and start working towards more sustainable production.

 “I believe there’s an enormous opportunity to improve the way rattan is grown and extracted. By supporting projects like this, we have a big opportunity to improve farmers’ livelihoods and make sure the forest will continue to be there,” says Mikhail Tarasov, IKEA’s Global Forestry Manager.