You may already know that Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) is dedicated to orangutan research and rehabilitation but you may be surprised to learn that we have expanded our research focus to include sustainable agriculture. OFI’s Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) is located in Pasir Panjang, Kalimantan – a small village just outside of the larger city of Pangkalan Bun in Indonesian Borneo. Pasir Panjang literally means “long sand” in the Indonesian language and any green thumb can tell you that sand is not an ideal growing medium for most crops. Since the soil in Central Kalimantan is not very fertile, some of the fruit given to the orangutans comes from Java. In order to operate more sustainably, OFI has taken steps to grow fruit on site.
A papaya tree with growing fruit
With help from Mr. Jamie Reinart, a horticultural student knowledgeable about gardening and OFI volunteer from Canada, OFI staff member Pak Majid started an experiment to determine if sustainable fruit farming is a feasible option for OFI. The main focus of this experiment is to develop nutrient rich soil from sand, compost and sawdust. In the past, the compost collected after feeding the orangutans (banana peels, rambutan husks, bean pods, etc.) was taken off site to a private composting facility. With Pak Majid’s innovation, the compost is now collected and kept on site where it is mixed into small piles to decompose and turn into nitrogen-rich soil. This collection of compost is already a big step towards a sustainable system in itself.
Compost piles at the OCCQ containing mostly rambutan husks and seeds.
The next step in the process is to mix the compost with natural soil and sawdust. This combination of materials will hopefully produce a growing medium that will support the growth of fruit trees. To begin with, Pak Majid has planted 50 trees in the field behind the OCCQ. The goal of this experiment is for ten of these 50 trees to produce large fruits (approximately five fruits each). If this goal is reached, the project may be expanded and will allow OFI to supplement the fruit given to the orangutans with locally grown fruit and produce from the Care Center itself. It is unlikely that OFI will ever be able to fully feed the orangutans from fruit grown on site due to spatial limitations as well as the sheer number of mouths to feed; however, it is a step in the right direction. The information gained from this experiment may also be helpful to the local community and lead to future economic opportunities.
Pak Majid working on his garden at Camp Rendell.
Pak Majid has started a similar project at Camp Rendell; a 40-minute drive from the OCCQ. Camp Rendell is a new facility built on land recently acquired by OFI. This site is where two of the three volunteer construction teams stayed and worked this summer The facility was built with the generous donation of a member family of OFI. The camp consists of a brand new house, sleeping enclosures for 25 orangutans, much forest habitat and a 250 meter bridge leading over the swamp forest down to the river. Since there are fewer orangutans and more space here than at the OCCQ, the potential for a sustainable fruit farm is much more feasible. It is difficult to grow anything except for pineapples in the current dry season but Pak Majid is confident that when the wet season begins, so will the fruit. He has already started the germination process with previously collected durian and other fruit seeds.
Durian seeds in a planter box at camp Rendell.
With sustainable horticulture, OFI can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the local landfill, reduce harmful emissions from the transport of produce across the Java Sea, provide new farming techniques to the local people, reuse biomass for compost and begin to change attitudes about waste management. The orangutans at Camp Rendell and the OCCQ will benefit by eating freshly picked fruit still warm from the sun.
Pak Majid in action! He is clearing the field to plant pineapples.