Teak wood is prized for a variety of reasons, not least its durability. Considered the gold standard for outdoor furniture, it is common for teak items to last well over 70 years. Indeed, they are often passed down to future generations as heirlooms.
And like the tropical hardwood it specialises in, a community forestry business in Central Java, Indonesia is proving itself something that is built to last. It’s been non-stop growth for the teak and mahogany farmers involved in the Dipantara Community Trading Initiative.
Based in Gunung Kidul, the southeastern portion of Yogyakarta Special Region, which is known for its wild and untamed coastline and its spectacular limestone outcrops, the initiative began in 2008 with just 10 farmer groups.
Since then, Dipantara has grown to become a viable, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood trading business helping over 100 farmer groups with around 6713 members manage and sell their wood.
Like many such grassroots initiatives, when first formed, the farmers’ groups lacked the market knowledge and the forestry management skills to maximise the potential of their resources. As a result farmers were receiving much less for their prized timber than what was possible.
“As a result of the training from both Dipantara and TFT, we could expand our understanding about what wood maintains or absorbs water especially in Gunung Kidul,” said Lina Juwarti, one of the forty women that make up the Bulusari Farmer Group. “Therefore, we choose teak wood because besides maintaining water levels, it also has a high price.”
Pruning and thinning rarely took place, trees were often planted too close together and some farmers were using prohibited chemicals such as Sevin and Furadan, which are known to decrease soil fertility over time.
In 2009, TFT (The Forest Trust), a partner of the Australian and U.S Government funded by the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) Program began to work with Dipantara to help them develop a successful business model based on community collaboration and environmental awareness.
In September 2012, Dipantara reached a milestone by achieving FSC certification under the group SLIMF (Small Low Intensity Managed Forests) standard. As a result, more than 1000 farmers and their families immediately began selling FSC certified teak – creating more stable access to wood markets and providing a lasting incentive to encourage the uptake of sustainable forest practices.
In 2013, TFT and Dipantara have focused on helping farmers to maintain their FSC certification while also expanding the group certificate to include 700 new farmers.
Workshops in land management have taught members how to improve the quantity and quality of trees grown on their plots. Meanwhile, tree nursery development and monitoring has taught farmer groups to produce their own high quality seedlings, using materials and tools that are available locally.
Additional training in timber harvesting and planning has taught members how to limit the impact of timber harvesting on nearby agricultural crops, water bodies, wildlife habitat, and areas of cultural or religious significance.
Tree inventories, grading, and chain of custody trainings enable participants to estimate timber volumes, calculate sustainable harvest levels, and follow the wood administration system Dipantara has developed for Chain of Custody certification.
“I think that the benefits of this training are plain for us all to see,” said Pak Adi, a member of one of Dipantara’s farmer groups. “Through it we have learned how to maximise the potential of our product and make the most of our land. We are also moving down the road towards proper certification of our teak and mahogany plantations which can only mean better access to foreign markets in the future.”
In 2011, farmers earned on average 20% more for their teak by selling to Dipantara instead of local middlemen. Dipantara, in turn, sells the wood on to factories, many of which are selling to TFT member companies based in Europe or the US that require FSC certified wood.
To guarantee ongoing orders in the early stages of their support to Dipantara, TFT teamed the collective with its member retailers in France, homeware firm Maisons Du Monde and home improvement chain Leroy Merlin. These retailers continue to source from Dipantara, a ringing endorsement of the collective.
Extensive efforts have also been made to address the practical issues of complying with Indonesia’s Timber Legality Assurance System, known as SVLK.
SVLK is a mandatory Government scheme that helps Indonesian timber producers assure the international market of the legality of their products. SVLK certification is required by the European market as part of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed with Indonesia in September 2013.
“Social responsibility is important for both the industry and our country,” said Mundakir, who works for TFT in Indonesia. “For the industry, it is their commitment to be able to sell their products. For the country, it provides good credentials for other countries that we are committed to protecting our forest.”
This kind of technical support provided by TFT is particularly important for smallholders who are at a disadvantage when it comes to absorbing costs associated with legality verification and investing in staff capacity to satisfy related requirements.
The enduring benefits of teak are likely to be felt by the families of the farmers working with Dipantara, as the business model they have established with TFT’s help has been developed with the aim of providing a sustainable source of income for decades to come.