Candlenut Seeds, People’s Eternal Savings in the Boto Forest
For residents in Boto, Lembata regency, East Nusa Tenggara, candlenuts are very valuable. Kemiri, as the local people call it, help farmers meet their daily needs. Farmers can live well thanks to the candlenut.
Ferdinandus Mudaj (52) opened the refrigerator door. Instead of fresh fruit, vegetables or meat, candlenut seeds (Aleurites moluccanus) were arranged on each shelf. The forest products were frozen for more than 12 hours.
Still covered in shells, the candlenuts were removed from the refrigerator and then put into the crushing machine. After being ground, the shell was removed leaving the white nut contents. Candlenut was ready to be sold.
"The candlenut seeds are put it in the freezer so that the inside remains round when the machine breaks the shell," said Ferdinandus at his candlenut processing warehouse in Belabaja village, Nagawutung district, Lembata regency, East Nusa Tenggara, on Saturday (28/1/2023).
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Ferdi, as Ferdinandus is affectionately known, bought five refrigerators for Rp 3.5 million (US$235) per unit. With a solid candlenut due to cold temperatures, about 90 percent of the ground is not easily crushed. If not frozen, up to 80 percent of the candlenut can be destroyed.
The condition of the candlenut determines the selling price. The collectors determine the price based on the quality of the candlenut. A round candlenut is considered to be of better quality.
The price of round candlenuts is about Rp 35,000 per kilogram, while broken candlenuts are only Rp 20,000.
The method of freezing the candlenut in the freezer began after the villagers used a candlenut seed-crushing machine for six years. Now the price of one unit of the candlenut seed-crushing machine is around Rp 35 million. In the past, residents broke the candlenuts manually, which took time and effort. The results were not optimal.
“The price of round candlenuts is about Rp 35,000 per kilogram, while broken candlenuts are only Rp 20,000. There is a big difference. In fact, the candlenut comes from the same tree. The key lies in the treatment process," said Ferdi.
In the warehouse, Ferdi employs four people. Every day they move the candlenuts to the freezer, grinding them, sorting out the contents of the whole and broken candlenuts, then packing them into sacks.
Ferdi's candlenut-processing facility has helped local residents. He buys candlenut seeds (still covered with shell) at a price of Rp 6,000 per kg.
The price is the same as the price offered by collectors in Lewoleba. In fact, if the farmers sell in Lewoleba, they have to pay the bus fare. One adult passenger has to pay Rp 50,000 roundtrip. This is excluding the cost of transporting one sack of candlenuts: Rp 20,000. Boto and Lewoleba are 29 kilometers apart.
Ferdi's candlenuts from Boto are transported to Lewoleba, then loaded onto an expedition truck. The truck boards a ferry from Lewoleba to Adonara Island then to Solor Island, and stops at Larantuka Harbor, Flores Island. The truck then took the candlenuts to Maumere, with a travel time of about four hours.
In Maumere, the candlenuts were sold. “I only get a small profit with quite big risks, such as damaged and shrinking goods. I help the farmers here because the price of candlenuts has so far been too low for them," he said.
Ima Baon (45), a resident of Boto, said that four years ago, candlenut farmers in Boto had difficulty in marketing their candlenuts. In the past, after cracking the candlenuts manually, they sold them to Loang, the district capital, or to Lewoleba.
Before public transport operated, they walked. It took at least two hours and a half to reach Lewoleba on foot.
“If we did not go [to Lewoleba], we had to shell them to collectors who brought theirs here. The price was very low and farmers suffered a loss," he said.
As long as candlenuts are still needed by the market with a high selling price, the farmer's path to a better life is still wide open.
According to Ima, the candlenut-processing facilities owned by Ferdi and several others in Kampung Boto are very helpful for farmers. With the current prices, which are quite good for farmers, the villagers have achieved better welfare. They can send their children to school, build houses and develop businesses.
As long as candlenuts are still needed by the market with a high selling price, the farmer's path to a better life is still wide open. Candlenuts are a raw material needed by the industry for the processing of seasoning products, the beauty industry, pharmaceuticals, paints and household furniture.
The people’s settlements in Boto are located in mountainous areas, a suitable habitat for candlenuts. According to data from the Agriculture Ministry, candlenuts can grow to a height of 1,200 meters above sea level. Candlenuts grow in areas with wet dry climates.
When passing through Boto, candlenut trees line the road that divides Lembata Island from north to south. In residents' settlements and gardens, many candlenut trees aged tens, even hundreds, of years, are firmly standing and producing fruit.
Ben Assan, a community-empowerment activist in East Flores and Lembata districts, said the candlenut tree was like the forest savings of the Boto community. Candlenut is the main commodity of the people of Kampung Boto, which consists of two villages, namely Belabaja and Labalimut.
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In Belabaja village there are 209 families, while in Labalimut there are 214 families. Every family in the village has a candlenut garden. In one garden, there can be more than 10 trees. Each tree can produce at least 400 kilograms of candlenuts a year.
“Candlenuts are available all year round. If they need money, they just have to walk to the garden which is a few meters away to pick up the candlenuts that have fallen under the tree. They just sell and earn money. Candlenuts are like a savings account whose balance never runs out even if you keep withdrawing money," said Ben.
It is hoped that the price of candlenuts will continue to be stable so that the people's economy will further improve. It is time to encourage eternal savings in the Boto forest so that they do not just run out for consumption, but can also become capital for productive businesses.
This article was translated by Hendarsyah Tarmizi.