From Palm to Jernang: A Padang Gantiang Tale of Resilient Farmers and Reviving Forests

Bingkai Karya – Nestled amidst the lush greenery of Solok Selatan, West Sumatra, lies the village of Padang Gantiang. Its verdant embrace stretches across 1,579 hectares, designated as a social forestry area back in 2017. Yet, beneath the canopy of emerald, whispers of unease once swirled. Oil palm, a lucrative crop but an environmental enigma, had begun claiming its territory. Unease turned to concern as villagers witnessed firsthand the dwindling water sources, a casualty of the palm’s insatiable thirst. The delicate balance of their ecosystem seemed precariously tilted.

But the spirit of Padang Gantiang is woven from sturdier threads than doubt. In the face of this ecological crossroads, a quiet revolution bloomed. Farmers, their hands weathered by years of tilling and tending, embarked on a remarkable journey, one that swapped the familiar fronds of the palm for the graceful tendrils of jernang, a type of rattan prized for its medicinal and artisanal value.

This wasn’t just a shift in crops; it was a reclamation of identity. The rubber price slump, coupled with the pandemic’s stranglehold, had tightened the villagers’ belts. Day labor, with its meager wages of Rp70,000 for women and Rp100,000-Rp120,000 for men (a mere US$4.70-$7.70), barely kept the hearth warm. The men, burdened with the task of clearing the land, earned a pittance more than their female counterparts who diligently planted the seeds of survival.

Yet, amidst the economic adversity, hope sprouted anew in September 2020. The pandemic, a global scourge, ironically became the catalyst for an internal transformation. A jernang farmers’ group, a beacon of collective resilience, took root. Its members, bound by the shared soil of their ancestral lands, found solace and strength in each other.

Government aid arrived in the form of precious jernang seedlings. In 2021, 34 families, entrusted with 24 saplings each, became custodians of a future brimming with promise. The act of planting wasn’t merely about nurturing a valuable crop; it was about weaving a protective cloak around their beloved forests. Jernang, with its gentle embrace of the soil, promised not just economic prosperity but ecological restoration.

But the path to verdant abundance is seldom smooth. Pests and diseases lurk in the shadows, testing the mettle of even the most seasoned farmer. Technical knowledge, a vital weapon in this verdant war, is often scarce. Yet, the Padang Gantiang farmers refuse to be daunted. They stand hand in hand with government agencies and NGOs, forging alliances against these invisible foes.

Their fight extends beyond the boundaries of their forest. Workshops and exhibitions, vibrant threads in the tapestry of their endeavor, aim to educate and inspire. Jernang, once a whisper in the forest, now resonates in local markets, its exquisite products whispering tales of resilience and revival.

The story of Padang Gantiang is far from over. But in the rustling leaves of the jernang, a melody of hope takes flight. It speaks of communities rising above adversity, of environmental stewardship woven into the fabric of their lives, and of a future where prosperity and harmony go hand in hand. In the verdant embrace of their forests, the farmers of Padang Gantiang continue to write their tale, one jernang sapling, one drop of sweat, one shared dream at a time.

Source: Mongabay


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