The humble district of Putussibau is a 15-hour northeast drive away (248.5 miles) from Pontianak, the capital city of West Borneo, Indonesia. The district sits on the Kapuas river, with the downtown located on the north bank of the river. The locals are friendly and kind, with the majority working as farmers. But not everybody knows, though, that there lies a jaw-droppingly vast plantation of one of the most controversial herbs in recent times: the kali kratom.
In this article we’ll discuss everything about the kali kratom farming, valuation, and its farmers economic welfare in Putussibau. So have yourself a cup of coffee or tea for company.
The Geoeconomics of the Putussibau District
Officially the capital of Kapuas Hulu Regency, Putussibau is the region’s economic hub. Prior to kali kratom farming and production, the majority of the locals work as rubber or palm oil farmers. They turned to kali kratom after the prices of those two commodities dropped.
The town of North Putussibau, particularly, is the principal source of kali kratom for the international market. It is the largest kali kratom plantation in the Kapuas Hulu regency.
According to the data from the Department of Cooperatives, SMEs and Trade (2020), the Kapuas Hulu regency has 11,225 hectares of kali kratom plantations scattered across 22 sub-districts. In these plantations, there are a total of 44,491,317 pieces of kali kratom trees grown by 18,120 farmers.
Allow me to give you a perspective of how vast it is. If you drive from Pontianak to Putussibau, you’ll pass through the town of Badau at one point. That means you still have a 3-hour drive to go (approx. 103 miles) to arrive at Putussibau.
But from there, you’ll literally see kratom plantations on your right and left along the way. You’ll get an even clearer picture if you follow the Kapuas river course by boat. If you do, you’ll also pass through the UNESCO biosphere reserve. For your information, the best place to cultivate kali kratom trees is along the river’s edge.
The Valuation of Kali Kratom and the Regional Income
The question is, how much money, then, can these vast plantations earn for the region?
To produce 1 ton of crushed kali kratom leaves, a farmer only needs 22,500 square meters of land (242,187 square feet – or about 3 times the size of a standard rugby field). That means, the Kapuas Hulu regency can produce 5000 tons of crushed kali kratom leaves during harvest. The farmers charge 25,000 IDR for 1 kilo ($1.74 USD at April 2022 currency).
That’s a total of 125 billion IDR, or $8.7 million USD, per harvest. In fact, the total of kali kratom exports from West Borneo province have reached more than 400 tons per month. Data from a local cooperative shows the valuation reached 2 trillion IDR ($139 million USD) in 2020-2021.
Keep in mind, though, that kratom also grows in other Indonesian islands as well, such as Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Maluku. That’s how big the kratom industry is in Indonesia.
The Portrait of Kali Kratom Farmers in Putussibau District
The locals of Putussibau, which is mainly the Dayak ethnic groups, are classified as a traditional community. They uphold their ancestors’ traditions as well as current customs. They preserve excellent behavior in human-to-human relationships as well as in natural environments that promote harmony.
The locals of Putussibau make a living as rice and vegetable farmers and plantation workers (palm and rubber). They usually farm sedentary crops on sustainably managed areas of land. Aside from that, they frequently clear the forest to make room for farming.
When it comes to farming, the locals work hard to keep the soil fertility high. They do it responsibly, regardless of whether it is their own land or the land of the landlord or corporation. To supplement their income, they also engage in other businesses outside of farming.
How the Locals of Putussibau Discovered the Economic Value of Kali Kratom
Kali kratom has actually been growing in Kapuas Hulu for quite some time. According to legend, the native ancestors initially found the trees in the deep jungle, particularly along the Kapuas river course. They commonly used the leaves to treat pain and weariness.
The Putussibau people first learned about kali kratom cultivation from a local who sold kali kratom to the international market. It happens that Putussibau is most suitable for land conditions and topography for kali kratom cultivation.
At the time of its initial cultivation, there weren’t many farmers growing this plant. But the early farmers sold it to the international market for 50,000 IDR (about 3.5 USD – April 2022) per kilo. Kali kratom trees older than 4 years are valued higher since their leaves are believed to have better quality components.
In 2005, more people began farming kali kratom on their own land due to increased demand. The village population is soon aware of activities and potential for new sources of income. This is due to the proximity of the region.
The Influence from the Early Kali Kratom Farmers
The spread of kali kratom cultivation in Putussibau is also influenced by interactions between early farmers with the locals who are unfamiliar with the selling worth of the plant. They see that early farmers are renovating and making their houses better.
Early kali kratom farmers are also seen to consume a wider variety of food. They buy new vehicles such as motorcycles and cars. They are able to send their children to school in Indonesia’s major cities, and buy flagship smartphones.
Slowly but surely, other locals began to follow the path to make ends meet. As time goes on, more Putussibau people are turning to kali kratom cultivation as the primary source of income.
Interestingly, the new farmers who followed the path of the early farmers have no idea why the international market wants the plant so badly. They also have no idea how foreign people use it. However, because of the high selling value and expanding market possibilities, more people engage in this economic activity.
How Kali Kratom Changes the Economy of the Farmers
Rubber and palm oil prices have been falling steadily since 2014, from 13,000 to 6,000 IDR (about 0.4 USD – April 2022) per kilo. This predicament made the majority of farmers switch to kali kratom cultivation. Some of the plantations are larger than 10 hectares, and the majority of the farmers work independently.
Furthermore, kali kratom cultivation is much simpler than rubber or palm oil. From the start of planting to the first harvest, it takes only 6–9 months. After that, kratom leaves can be harvested once a month.
The price of fresh leaves (washed) is 5,000 IDR (0.35 USD) per kilo. When they have been dried and crushed, the price ranges from 24,000 to 25,000 IDR (1.67 USD) per kilo. The price increases 5 fold due to the drying process and a lesser amount kratom leaves. The result of drying and grinding 1 ton of fresh leaves is 300 kilos of crushed leaves.
The Price of Bentuangie Kratom
The price of fermented kratom leaves, or usually called Bentuangie kratom, is around 26,000–27,000 IDR (1.81 USD). Bentuangie kratom is made from fermentation, which is done by drying the leaves for a day before being placed in sacks and firmly sealed for two days, until they are brown and have very little moisture content. The leaves are then dried again and processed into crushed leaves.
Kali kratom farmers can earn anywhere between 1,500,000 to 8,000,000 IDR (104.4 – 556.8 USD) each month. The amount of earning depends on how many kilos of crushed leaves they can produce. It is conclusive that Putussibau’s economic conditions from kali kratom production are adequate to support basic human needs.
Furthermore, because kali kratom farmers still continue cultivating rice and plant vegetables, they don’t have to spend too much money for daily meal. They also regularly clear forest land and plant a variety of crops, including sweet potatoes, bananas, and sugar cane, in addition to kali kratom.
How the Local Government Responds to the Cultivation of Kali Kratom
On March 23, 2022, under the scorching heat of the equatorial sun, the Regent of Kapuas Hulu Expert Staff Roni Januardi symbolically released the export of 1,000 tons of kali kratom to the United States. The event took place in the front yard of the Banana Putussibau Hotel.
The Regent of Kapuas Hulu, Fransiskus Diaan, also encouraged the direct export of kali kratom from the regency. It helps increase the Regional Original Income (PAD) for the Kapuas Hulu Regency.
Rafael Aweng, Chairman of Commission B from the Regional People’s Representative Assembly (DPRD) of Kapuas Hulu, stated that the problem (in response to the issue of kratom ban) would be discussed with the Kapuas Hulu Regency Government. They are open for discussion in order to find a solution in the struggle for the legality of the kali kratom plant.
So, the local government is quite supportive of kali kratom cultivation in Putussibau because the farmers do not exploit local culture or the land. Furthermore, kali kratom is a local plant that grew originally in the Kapuas Hulu area. Thus, the people and local government believe it is a local wisdom that has to be fostered.
Mixed Response from the Central Government
The central government in Jakarta, however, has mixed views regarding the plant. So far, only the Ministry of Agriculture that has issued its decision via Decree of the Minister of Agriculture No. 104 of 2020 regarding Commodities Assisted by the Ministry of Agriculture. It declares kali kratom plants and leaves to be acceptable medicinal raw materials.
The Minister of Agriculture’s ruling, though, makes no mention of kali kratom being made into semi-finished or finished products. It also doesn’t imply that it should be available across the country. It does permit, nevertheless, the export of kali kratom to countries where it is legal.
Other ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security, Ministry of Environment, and especially National Narcotics Agency have not released their statement.
How the Putussibau Farmers Respond to the Issue of Kratom Ban
The locals of Putussibau are a traditional community that has benefited from local government efforts to increase education and sustain a reasonable standard of living. The people have likewise gone through cultural acculturation. So, by now they already receive education about the benefits, risks, and potential abuse of kali kratom.
The Putussibau people believe there is an immediate need of a unified view and solidarity towards kali kratom cultivation and farmers. They believe it serves as a foundation for bringing together public perceptions and viewpoints in public debates and conversations at the village and government levels. Thus the local people share the same vision in order to keep kali kratom farming alive.
As a result, they are quite open to strangers, such as foreign researchers who come to the district to study this recently popular plant. They also send their representatives whenever there is public discussion. The central government has indeed been interested in kali kratom legality evaluation, especially after the FDA’s surreptitious visit to the country.
The Realization of the Local Government Support to Kali Kratom Farmers
In order to grow and improve the welfare of the Putussibau community, the local government in Kapuas Hulu regency has implemented a variety of initiatives regarding kali kratom, including socialization, food independence training, and an entrepreneurship unit. The implementation is a part of modernization efforts to promote welfare and a reasonable level of living.
In contrast to the previous programs, the inclusion of kali kratom’s potential as a new source of livelihood brought some changes. The local goverment implemented the program in Putussibau by partnering with other institutions such as NGOs, cooperatives, and State-Owned Enterprises.
One of the big and well-known state-owned banks, BRI has distributed Bantuan Produktif Usaha Mikro (BPUM – incentives for productive micro enterprises) to adjacent MSMEs in the Kapuas Hulu Regency. The bank is also open for facilitating financial transactions and Kredit Usaha Rakyat (personal loan for enterprise use) for the locals, including kali kratom farmers.
In January 2021, the local government has also collaborated with a local cooperative to build a food-grade kali kratom leaf processing factory in Sibau Hulu Village, North Putussibau. The factory has commenced operations for kali kratom farmers to follow the established Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), often known as food grade standards or Good Manufacturing Practices.
The local government hopes the factory can bring price stability and improve the high quality of kali kratom products and production.
The cultivation of kali kratom in one of the largest rainforests in the world has benefited both the farmers and local government alike. The locals of Putussibau have experienced an improved welfare, and the local government receives an increase regional income.
Both the farmers and local government have supported each other in terms of following the regulations and GMP, attending training and socialization, and supporting the business and legality of kali kratom. The locals also believe they need a unified view and solidarity to bring together public perceptions and be ready for the central government’s decision of the plant’s legality status.