Jakarta, 12 January 2021 - Based on the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) data in 2018, Gonystylus bancanus, or better known in Indonesia as Ramin, is threatened with extinction due to overexploitation for commercial purposes, unsustainable deforestation, habitat degradation and forest conversion. Ramin is one of Indonesia's endemic species, home to various animal for foraging, nesting and sheltering. However, following its sharp decline, the remaining Ramin population in its natural habitat has become highly fragmented.
Ramin has been included in the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2001 as critically endangered species. It is also included in the Convention on International Trade in Plants and Wildlife of Threatened Species (CITES) since 2005, which means that the trading of Ramin is specially and heavily regulated.
"There is a need to expand the study on Ramin species, such as the detailed biological information on Ramin and how to produce the fruit efficiently. Such knowledge is critical for us in order to preserve Ramin’s genetic varieties so that the future evolutionary adaptation of these species is more secure. To this day, there are still many important things about Ramin that we do not completely comprehend,” said Prof Dr. Tukirin Partomihardjo, an independent researcher who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Rare Tree Forum (FPLI).
In response with those challenges, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Sinar Mas together with the Center for Forest Biotechnology and Tree Improvement Research (BBPBPTH) under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (BBPBPTH-KLHK), are collaborating to develop a Ramin research center to conserve the species. This is a first ever partnership on Ramin conservation initiative by the private sector in Indonesia.
"The presence of Ramin in the wild is one of the measures of peatland conservation. APP Sinar Mas, through its consistent and leading genetic conservation efforts, both on micro- and macro-propagation techniques, has succeeded in encouraging the sustainability of the Ramin species, " Dr. Asri Insiana Putri, a researcher from BBPBPTH-KLHK explained.
The partnership was launched in 2012 in Riau province, Indonesia, and covers an initial area of 20 hectares within the company's conservation area, to be used for planting areas for the seedlings resulting from the macro propagation technique. This conservation site is located on peatland with shallow water levels, which are considered ideal for growing Ramin seedlings.
"During the first year, our activities were largely focused on identifying the distribution of the species; collecting genetic materials from Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan provinces; and Ramin propagation research through stem-root cuttings as well as tissue culture method," she added.
To further support the research on Ramin propagation, APP Sinar Mas built a special nursery facility in PT Arara Abadi, one of its pulpwood suppliers in Riau province, which has 65,000 seedlings capacity. Aside from that, APP Sinar Mas and BBPBPTH-KLHK team collected some 12,300 wild Ramin samples from 4 natural conservation; Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve in Riau, Ketapang in West Kalimantan, Palangkaraya and Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, as well as from production forest areas on the east coast of Jambi.
According to APP Sinar Mas Chief Sustainability Officer Elim Sritaba, the Ramin conservation effort is an important part of APP Sinar Mas' Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).
"We have conducted a Ramin genetic analysis to understand the genetic structure and relationship between the various Ramin populations we have collected. Through these efforts, we also ensure that the sample collected during the program is good enough to represent the natural population of Ramin in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Both LIPI and CFBTI have acknowledged that the genetic collection of Ramin owned by APP Sinar Mas’ research and development (R&D) team is the most comprehensive collection in Indonesia, even exceeding their collections. Furthermore, the genetic of Ramin owned by our R&D is considered pure as there is no mix of cultivation amongst the different Ramin populations” Elim explained further.
"The seedlings resulting from stem-root cutting, which is then planted on the field with high genetic diversity helps to conserve Ramin. This is important in conservation efforts as low genetic variation can reduce the species’ resistance levels," explained Tukirin.
After more than 7 years of research, the team of BBPBPTH-KLHK and APP Sinar Mas has now succeeded in growing the roots of Ramin through tissue culture techniques. Although the progress is still at the laboratory level, it is still the most advanced stage ever achieved in Ramin tissue culture research globally.
Ramin seeds in the nursery facility, which are results of macro propagation and collection from the Giam Siak Kecil biosphere Reserve is now being used for peat forest restoration and repopulation in protected areas within APP Sinar Mas concessions.
Ramin must be protected because it is classified as a light wood tree with high selling price and targeted by the international market for furniture production.
"There are many obstacles to restoring the Ramin population, for example irregular annual fertilization cycles, its blooming season that dependent on the location, and the regeneration process that is relatively slow compared to other species in the same habitat,” Asri added.
Despite the obstacles and challenges to preserve Ramin, APP Sinar Mas continues to strengthen its commitment.
“The success we have achieved so far has raised our hope for Ramin conservation. By mid-2020, there were more than 8,500 Ramin seedlings and cuttings in the nursery, about 6,500 were ready to be planted. We hope to share best practices with other parties who have the same concerns and are able to continue and advance this research in the future" Elim concluded.