PONTIANAK, Indonesia (UCAN): A provincial government in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo Island, has offered the Catholic Church rubber trees for parochial financial self-sufficiency.
"Ideally, each parish in the Archdiocese of Pontianak should receive a prime grafted rubber plantation of at least five hectares," West Kalimantan Vice Governor Laurentius Herman Kadir told 17 Pontianak archdiocese parish priests.
For the 2007 fiscal year, however, the government is providing a two-hectare parent estate each for Pontianak archdiocese and Ketapang diocese, Kadir said.
The priests gathered in the West Kalimantan province capital for a May 18 presentation on rubber-plantation programs by the vice governor, a Catholic. He was accompanied by Idwar Hanis, a Muslim, who heads the provincial plantation office, and Capuchin Father Jeremias Melis, head of Pontianak archdiocese's Komisi Pengembangan Sosial Ekonomi (commission for socioeconomic development).
"We ask the Church to graft prime rubber saplings and offer them to the parishioners who have land to cultivate rubber plants," Kadir said during his presentation. He added that each government-provided, one-hectare parent estate has 8,000 grafted plants, which can produce at least 2 million rubber trees each year.
Under standard cultivation, a rubber plantation can have 20 productive years, he added. During these years, a plantation can be a cornerstone to help people improve their economic situation.
Furthermore, "the government has prepared funds as working capital, available through easy bank loans, to revitalize rubber plantations," he said. To qualify for financing, farmers need only to set up a cooperative farmer group, prepare land and register with the district or municipal government.
The government has an interest in rubber plantations, according to Kadir, because rubber has long been important in Kalimantan's economy.
The governors of all four Kalimantan provinces, he added, have committed to improving rubber plantations in the 5 million hectares (50,000 square kilometers) set aside for agricultural plantation in Kalimantan. This amounts to 9 percent of the total area of 547,891 square kilometers.
In the past, Kadir said, the West Kalimantan government had the impression that it did not get full cooperation from the local Catholic Church in helping people improve their livelihood. Besides Pontianak archdiocese and Ketapang diocese, West Kalimantan is also home to Sanggau and Sintang dioceses.
According to the vice governor, that impression did not take into account the efforts of Capuchin missioners, who came to the area of Sejiram town in Sintang diocese in 1890. "They gave instructions on how to plant rubber trees," he said, adding that the rubber plantation they started there is still active.
To improve people's welfare, he suggested, the Church must encourage people to diligently work on productive economics, especially through rubber plantations.
After the vice governor's presentation, Father Melis thanked the government for the prime rubber parent estates. He promised that the parishes would gradually develop their own rubber plantations.
"With a prime rubber plantation under standard cultivation, each parish can attain a set income. It will be a good example of relying on productive economics instead of the generosity of nature," the Netherlands-born priest said.
With a coordinated, integrated effort, Indonesia can be a major producer of natural rubber by 2015, Suharto Honggokusumo, executive director of the central board of the Rubber Association of Indonesia, told UCA News on May 19.
Annual global demand is 11 million tons of natural rubber, he said. But in 2006 only 9.2 million tons were produced. Of that, 49.7 percent came from Thailand, 21.8 percent came from Indonesia, 18.1 percent came from Malaysia and the rest came from other countries.
He believes that by 2020, Indonesia will be able to supply 3.5 million tons, which will boost the country's foreign exchange and farmers' incomes.