Working Paper No. 29: Haumeni1, not many: renewed plunder and mismanagement in the Timorese Sandalwood industry

Responses and Reactions: the policy question

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Responses and Reactions: the policy question.

The litany of recent reports and newspaper articles detailing the continuing plunder of sandalwood stocks in Timor over recent years reflects the growing and widespread criticism leveled against Government sandalwood policy and practice within the Province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. One of the central concerns being expressed by a wide range of researchers, advocacy groups and even Government staff not to mention farmers themselves, is the continuing effective monopoly ownership of the resource by the Provincial Government (e.g Messakh and Dewa, 1999; Messakh 1999). During 1998, even the Catholic Archbishop of Kupang was move to ask of the Provincial Government leadership:

Why the sandalwood that grows on the land or fields of the people does not become the property of the farmer or their family, but is claimed as the property of the regional government?…Why isn’t sandalwood seen in reality as people’s property and the Regional Government simply take a [portion as] tax (Pos Kupang 26 July 1998).

In my own attempts to gain a clearer understanding of the current policy situation in regard to sandalwood, I met with widespread agreement across the spectrum of stakeholders, including senior Regional Forestry staff that sandalwood policy needed to be liberalised and its ownership de-regulated allowing for individual ownership.20 The Government itself has made some attempts to move in this direction such as the recent 1996 regulation on sandalwood which gives formal effect to a change in the ownership status of the tree. The legislation, which has been ratified, states that:

Sandalwood which grows naturally on individually owned land or land owned by legal bodies, is the property of the individual or body concerned’ (Perda 82: 1996 Pasal 4).21

On the face of it this change in ownership represents a major concession by Government. However, the reality is that control over sandalwood remains heavily circumscribed by attendant regulatory requirements concerning the management and sale of the commodity. Specifically, all sales of sandalwood must be conducted through official marketing channels at prices set by the Government. Moreover the division of revenue from sales provides for 60 percent to the local Government and just 40 percent to the owner/producer.
This recent attempt to meet popular demand for concessions in sandalwood ownership and benefit to growers has clearly had little appeal. As late as 1999, the Government had set the buying price of sandalwood at just Rp3,000/kg. This represents merely 7.5 percent of export market price (approx. Rp40,000/kg). Farmers or communities that fail to accept the offering price can have their trees subject to confiscation provisions (Surat Tugas Bupati Kepala Daerah Tk2 TTS). In such a policy environment it is little wonder that black market sales proliferate.
The sticking point here it seems, and one that has been left substantially unresolved for over a decade at least, is the reluctance of the Provincial Parliament (DPRD; Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah) to reach a consensus over the lifting of Government controls on sandalwood. The major reason for this inaction is likely to stem from the failure of factions within the Parliament to relinquish what has been historically, a lucrative source of regional revenue in an otherwise impoverished Province of Indonesia. Others have reached the same conclusion (Messakh, 1999: 8-9). The recent decline in Provincial revenues from sandalwood sale and export has been compounded by the monetary crisis (krismon) which has had a serious impact on Nusa Tenggara Timur.
A further explanation or justification for inaction is the administrative changes underway as part of the Regional Autonomy (Otonomi Daerah) process (Undang Undang No.22 Pemerintahan Daerah). This formal system of political devolution throughout Indonesia provides increasing opportunities for the management of resources to be undertaken at the District or Kabupaten level of the Province. A recent Provincial regulation (Peraturan Pemerintah No 62/1998) formally transferred the management responsibilities for sandalwood to the respective districts. However, the practical implementation and implications of this policy change, it is argued, need to be clarified. Furthermore, there is also the question of the existing Gubenurial instruction (1997) totally banning further logging or extraction of sandalwood trees, which is said to render any change in sandalwood ownership policy irrelevant for the time being. In this context of shifting and uncertain policy directions the question of sandalwood de-regulation looks to be still some way off.
In East Timor, following the extraordinary political turmoil of late 1999 and the withdrawal of the Indonesian administration, the new United Nations transitional administration (UNTAET) has banned any further exports of sandalwood and sandalwood products from the emergent nation until new inventories of stock are undertaken. Discussions with former Forestry staff in East Timor indicate that by March 1999, when they undertook the last forest inventory of sandalwood, there was very little mature commercial standing stock left in the main production areas of Oe Cussi, Bobonaro, Suai and Liquica (M. Nunes, UNTAET pers com. March 2000).

Future prospects and possibilities in sandalwood production.

The plunder and ecological decline of sandalwood resources across the island of Timor has its roots in the destructive combination of long-term historical neglect and short term economic opportunism. Attempts by successive governments to halt the unregulated trade in sandalwood timber have manifestly failed, as have their efforts to restrict cutting regimes through management supervision and the monopoly control of marketing. In the present climate where economic conditions in Indonesia have deteriorated and Timorese farming communities move ever closer to the margins of subsistence, the prospects for protecting and developing sandalwood resources appear bleak. The recent wholesale felling of aged sandalwood trees, across the once resource rich southern highlands of Timor, means that it will take at least another generation for resource recovery to anything like recent levels.
In the context of this overall pessimistic assessment, there remain a number of positive aspects or outlooks that may yet form the basis for improvements in the situation. Firstly, there is a continuing world demand for sandalwood timber and oils and market prices remain attractive at around USD8000/tonne, especially from a Timorese or Indonesian perspective. Secondly, the particular species of Santalum album growing on Timor retains its world reputation as a premium quality scented wood and oil. The natural conditions on Timor are proven to be conducive to the endemic propagation of sandalwood over wide areas of the island and despite the ravages of recent and past plunder of sandalwood stocks, extensive sandalwood root stock and seed stock remains intact. The spontaneous regeneration of the tree therefore is still widespread and potentially sustainable. Anecdotal reports from farmers and local Government extension workers suggest that there are substantial numbers of immature saplings established across the region and continuing re-growth under present farming conditions. A more quantitative appraisal of existing potential in sandalwood stocks in west Timor at least can be gauged from the results of the 1996/97 inventory of existing sandalwood stocks. This inventory covered the major producing districts of Kupang, South Central and North Central Timor and Belu.

Existing growing stock by height

Less than 1.5m 1.5-3m greater than 3m mature

205,940 85,857 113,666 51,417

Source: Dinas Kehutanan data, Pos Kupang 30-8-98]22
Leaving aside the reported mature stocks that are likely to be significantly reduced in number at the present time, the inventory indicates that there is substantial regrowth and reproduction of the species across the island. In other words the regenerative potential for the species and the industry as a whole remains highly prospective under an appropriate regulatory and conservatory regime.
In these circumstances, one possibility that has had many proponents over the years, is the development of commercially based sandalwood farming enterprises. The idea being here to move away from the harvesting of naturally occurring sandalwood and towards formalised and towards a range of more intensively cultivated plantation agriculture or modified agro-forestry commercial ventures which seek to mimic the natural growth conditions for sandalwood.
Attempts at sandalwood siliviculture in Timor originated in the early twentieth century following a period of evidently unsustainable harvesting of sandalwood (Ormeling, 1956). In west Timor the Dutch Colonial Government attempted to re-establish sandalwood stands during the period 1910-1915 (Rahm, 1925). In the subsequent, so-called Cultuur Contract system the Dutch Colonial Forestry Service developed an arrangement whereby farmers would undertake to tend sandalwood plantings for several years in return for access to arable food cropping land. Interestingly, this system prefigured later Indonesia Government attempts to develop participatory reforestation programs including the so-called ‘tumpang sari’ system, the Hutan rakyat reboisasi and more recent attempts with semi-commercial multi-purpose forestry, (Hutan Kemasyarakatan). As Ormeling noted in the 1950’s however, the results of the Colonial forestry efforts were meagre and never really extended beyond experimentation. He comments for example, that the majority of the 208 hectares of sandalwood plantings in the years 1923-51 had either partially or completely failed (Ormeling, 1956: 176).23
There is small irony in the fact that by 1999, Indonesian government efforts to propagate sandalwood and develop commercial stands, have also not extended much beyond basic experimentation and field trials of cultivation treatments.(e.g. Surata, 1992; Surata, Harisetijono and Sinaga, 1995). A limited area planting trial in south central Timor with a support nursery is about the extent of contemporary attempts by the Forestry Research Institute (Balai Penelitian Kehutanan) to promote commercial sandalwood production. Present researchers comment that efforts to propagate sandalwood artificially have proved difficult to sustain and expand into commercial scale enterprises (Suriamihardja and Susila, 1994). Problems include high rates of seedling failure, selection problems with host plants for the semi-parasitic sandalwood establishment and difficulties emulating the ecological requirements for sandalwood host plant sequences. The extended length of time it takes to develop scented heartwood in the tree makes it less attractive as a commercial commodity and vulnerable to illegal cuttings and damage from fire. Cherrier’s comment, based on studies of sandalwood development in New Caledonia highlights the management challenges. He noted that heartwood content of the tree is inversely proportional to its vigour (1993). In other words attempts to develop or encourage fast growing sandalwood trees may be counter productive in terms of generating heartwood content. Sandalwood requires a degree of environmental stress to produce at its best.
Despite these and other challenges to plantation sandalwood, there has been considerable research undertaken to identify and develop successful silviculture and management technologies of sandalwood (e.g. Radomiljac et al, 1998; Surata, 1992; Surata et al, 1994; Fox, 1990). Recent work in Western Australia on Santalum album has also demonstrated the viability and prospects for plantation establishment (Radomiljac, 1998; Shea et al, 1998). This work has potentially direct relevance to developing appropriate strategies on Timor. Researchers suggest the possibility of incorporating one or more high value timber species within a sandalwood silviculture system to act as long-term hosts for sandalwood. They conclude that a "biodiverse farm forestry system, producing two or more high value timber products appears possible" (Shea et al, 1998: 13).

On the basis of these and other positive research developments, the possibilities for sustaining and promoting sandalwood silviculture across Timor would appear to be reasonably good. Bio-physical requirements are understood, nursery protocols are in place (Barret and Fox, 1995), trained forestry staff are available and reforestation is an official priority in Timor. What constrains further development and the creation of a sustainable sandalwood farm forestry industry is to a significant degree the failure of government policy and regulatory controls. Specifically, this includes the continuing adherence to a State Forestry control over sandalwood stock that discourages conservation, commercialization and farm forestry production. There is also the continuing failure of law enforcement to control illegal harvesting, under-reporting and smuggling of the timber. These factors have combined to defeat the efforts of researchers and forestry managers in Timor to date. However, they also point to an alternative direction in sandalwood policy and programming that may offer better prospects. This requires a shift in focus to the thousands of small-holder farmers of Timor who have for centuries incorporated sandalwood production within their diversified and complex inter-cropping system of agriculture.24

In supporting this policy shift, it is important to recognise the distinction between a sandalwood industry based around commercial industrial plantations or wood-lots and one focused on the promotion of small-holder farm production. The former suggests and implies a higher investment commercial operation utilizing wage labour systems, technical intervention, and long-term protected block cultivation. A farmer based system on the other hand, needs only to facilitate and expand an existing system of agro-forestry where sandalwood has traditionally provided a long-term domestic investment within an economically diversified agricultural asset base.
Apart from an equity argument that supports greater economic benefits to near subsistence farmer communities, the shift to a small-holder farm based commercial sandalwood focus, arguably has distinct advantages from an agro-ecological perspective. This argument has a number of strands.
Firstly, one of the important agronomic factors associated with sandalwood propagation is that new growth can occur either from seed or vegetative regrowth. Much of the research into sandalwood has focused on seed reproduction and improvements in seed quality and nursery propagation. Timorese farmers do not purposefully plant sandalwood. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that vegetative regrowth from lateral rooting of maturing sandalwood is at least as important in regenerating the stock. Nuningsih et al (1994) for example, report that on the basis of their surveys in south central Timor, vegetative regeneration is by far the most common form of propagation in the natural environment. One sandalwood ‘mother tree’ can produce multiple new shoots and regrowth from its extensive lateral root systems. Nuningsih (1996: 20) for example, reports up to 35 new sandalwood saplings regenerating from the lateral roots of one tree, while Hamzah (1976) has recorded up to 40 regrowth saplings in a radius of 8m from one 37 year old mature tree in south central Timor. One of the bio-physical benefits of lateral root vegetative regrowth, is that the young saplings continue to derive nutrients from the main root system during the crucial establishment phase. Thus, unlike seed propagation and transplantation, which have high rates of establishment failure, vegetative regrowth provides effective natural conditions for shoot survival.
More significantly still, Nuningsih demonstrates that under appropriate conditions, which include rocky coralline slopes over 30 percent25 and shallow lateral rooting (0-13cm depth), vegetative sandalwood regrowth is significantly enhanced by the application of fire (1996: 14). Fire induces scorching and fissuring and in the bark of lateral roots promoting shoot regrowth.
This combination of factors suggests that there are strong associations between naturally occurring sandalwood stands and the historical practices of Timorese slash and burn shifting agriculture. In other words there appears to be a strong anthropogenic influence in long-term development of sandalwood across Timor. The promotion of vegetative regrowth as a product of clearing and burning combined with long-term protection of the young saplings form part of the traditional practices of indigenous Timorese mountain agriculture.26 The reality that up to 83 percent of extant sandalwood is found in the fallowed bush gardens of Timorese farmers, and only 17 percent in designated Forest reserves lends supports this contention (I Komang Surata, Forest Research Institute, pers com, Dept Kehutanan 1991: 4). As does the fact that sandalwood does not grow in forest with closed canopies but needs sunlight in order to thrive. These features suggest that there are distinct advantages in promoting and adapting sandalwood production through existing agro-silvicultural techniques and then encouraging long-term protection and tending by local farmer producers. This is a view now acknowledged by some senior staff of the Forestry Research Institute in Kupang who are pessimistic about the prospects for establishing successful sandalwood plantations. It also finds support from earlier notable observers. Rahm, for example, who did some of the first intensive research on sandalwood in Timor commented that, "[sandalwoods] spreading is closely associated with the shifting cultivation of the natives because it finds the best conditions for its growth on these fields. Where sandal is found at present there is nearly always former cultivation" (1925: 533). Ormeling has made similar though less favourable observations. He notes that

Everyone travelling through Timor is immediately struck by the fact that Santalum grows mostly on cultivated or abandoned ladangs [bush gardens]. Sandalwood seeds find a suitable environment in the loose soil where a crop has just been harvested. Root growth here also is favourably influenced by the artificial wounding of the roots, which often occurs on the ladang while planting or weeding. The young sandal plants are protected by the pagar [fence] (1956: 173).

He goes on, however, to observe that the new sandalwood is then neglected and abandoned to grazing animals and fire, but this may be more a reflection of the existing policies on sandalwood and the decline in traditional proscriptions than historical practice. The fact is that a symbiotic relationship appears to have existed for generations between Timorese farmers and sandalwood. This relationship, with few exceptions, is one that has received little research attention but any serious attempt to re-vitalise sandalwood production in the hinterland of Timor (and Sumba) needs to formally acknowledge and support the role of near-subsistence farming communities in its cultivation.

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