The prospect of a coming food crisis is not far-fetched, so say many experts. Food independence is badly needed, with a coordinated push towards growing produce in yards and sustainably harvesting forest foods.
“These were all gathered from the forest,” the women inform the Sub-district Head of Kahayan Tengan and his entourage. Laid out in front of us are eight kinds of local Dayak cuisine, served in rectangular stainless steel buffet pans: bamboo shoots, rattan umbut, kandas sarai, lauk lais, kandas potok behau, tanak saluang and pais belida with bua lakum. Lining up with our plates, the guests can’t wait to try it all!
I (the author, ed) went for a helping of potok behau, the food I always miss from Central Kalimantan’s villages. Potok is the local name for kecombrang — a peppery, citrus-flavoured flower — while kandas is sambal. The dish features local-caught striped snakehead or behau/haruan, a common delicacy throughout South and Southeast Asia.
Many local foods are served at the Village Forest Management Institute Forest (LPHD) Food Festival in Kahayan Tengah District, Pulang Pisau Regency. The event was held in a field to the side of district road that connects Palangka Raya-Buntok, right on the shores of Lake Sabuah, Tuwung Village.
“I cook bamboo shoots and grilled haruan fish. We don’t buy the ingredients, we can just look for them in the forest,” said Raya Patmajeni, one of the festival’s participants, as she offered a slice of grilled fish for tasting.
According to Raya, a sports teacher and mother of three, the forest in Tuwung Village is a bountiful provider, with no shortage of wild foods to go around. “Even if there is a food crisis, we can still eat,” she explained.
So, what is the role of communities, and particularly mothers, in maintaining these forests? Raya, who is also postgraduate alumnus of the University of Palangka Raya (UPR), told us that community understanding is vital to ensure people take sustainably and only harvest forest foods as needed. Moreover, some mothers here in Tuwung have started planting vegetables in their yards, staying self-sufficient while reducing their dependence on forest produce.
While enjoying tanak saluang, Siswo, the Kahayan Tengah Sub-district Head conveyed his appreciation for the Forest Management Institute’s organisation of this Forest Food Festival. Siswo, who migrated to Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) from Lamongan in East Java as a young boy, said the festival was intended to open people’s eyes to forests as a ‘food pantry’, reiterating the need to conserve them. Many important foods and medicinal plants come from the forest and, “if not us [preserving the forest, ed], who else?”
It wasn’t just food on offer at this year’s Forest Food Festival, but handicraft booths, including flower crafts made from plastic waste, agarwood carvings, and woven purun (a type of swamp grass) and rattan. Those in attendance were also treated to traditional music and dance performances by local children, as well as a mime show from Abdul Khafidz, who was dressed all in white and carrying a hoe like a farmer.
The main purpose of this event was to invite all communities, especially from local villages, to see the importance of looking after the region’s forests and work sustainably towards food independence.
To note: the Village Forest in Central Kahayan District is very wide, around 14,392 hectares encompassing 12 villages. Stipulated in accordance with the Decree of the Minister of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia Number: SK.10388/MENLHK-PSKL/PKPS/PSL.O/12/2019. Tuwung Village itself has a Village Forest of 1,297 hectares.
Head of the LPHD Tuwung, Kamison, said that this year’s festival was the first time it had been held. Although, its message is simple, he believes that what the administrators and LPHD members in Kahayan Tengah have done is meaningful.
This festival is also clear evidence that forests have a lot of potential for supporting self-sufficient communities amidst the threat of a world food crisis.
Although forest produce is plentiful, Kamison, who also works as a traditional fisherman, asked that communities not only depend on wild foods to get by. Instead, they should enhance their food sovereignty by cultivating fish and honeybees, or by growing vegetables in yards. “All of this is now being put into practice, and some are already seeing results,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Forestry Extension Officer of the Kahayan Tengah Production Forest Management Unit (KPHP), Nikolaus Dandy, explained that his party has been supporting residents to conserve their forests and sustainably harvest wild food products. This is done in collaboration with the Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) Indonesia and Tuwung Village Government.
“Right now, we are developing more activities to improve community economies, such as teaching residents how to grow vegetables, cultivate honeybees, and use forest products in their day-to-day lives without damaging nature,” he continued.
Indeed, the forests here are abundant; residents call them a ‘supermarket’. Used sustainably, forests are a powerful means of meeting the food needs of local communities. People needn’t fear starvation while the forests are still green.