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  • Tamanu trees making money in arid Wonogiri, new study shows

Tamanu trees making money in arid Wonogiri, new study shows

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Bees gather on organic honeycomb in West Kalimantan. Photo by L. McHugh/CIFOR

The tamanu tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) has been helping humans out since prehistoric times.

Tamanu is native to tropical Asia, and was carried by Austronesians on their migrations to Oceania and Madagascar: the tree was as valuable to these voyagers as oak was to their European counterparts. Also known as mastwood, tamanu has been used by shipbuilders for millennia because it grows tall and strong in sandy, rocky areas.

In Polynesia, indigenous groups affectionately refer to the tamanu tree as “beauty leaf,” as they use the oil from the fruit kernel as a moisturiser and healing balm. They also use it as a hair grease and painkiller. These days, tamanu oil is used internationally in a range of skin and hair-care products.

Now, the fragrant, deep brown oil may serve another purpose: bioenergy. A mature tamanu grove can yield up to 20 tons of crude oil per hectare each year. In Wonogiri district of Central Java, Indonesia, a new study shows that cultivating tamanu for bioenergy on degraded land can achieve multiple benefits for farmers while restoring the land, as well as helping to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Read more: Integrating bioenergy and food production on degraded landscapes in Indonesia for improved socioeconomic and environmental outcomes

Beyond oil palm

Indonesia has pledged to increase its biodiesel and bioethanol consumption to 30 percent and 20 percent respectively, of total energy consumption by 2025. However current levels of biofuel production are far from meeting these targets, and boosting production at the scale required comes with its own environmental challenges.

So far, almost all of the biofuel produced in the country has come from oil palm. But land conversion from food cropping to oil palm for biodiesel has an impact on food security. In many cases oil palm plantations have encroached upon rainforests and peatlands, threatening biodiversity and releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Fresh palm oil fruit piled up in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by N. Sujana/CIFOR

This is why researchers have begun exploring alternative bioenergy options, looking at species with multiple uses that can grow on degraded land on which other crops struggle. A recent study showed that there are around 3.5 million hectares of degraded land across Indonesia that would be suitable for growing at least one of five key biodiesel and biomass species, including tamanu. As well as bioenergy, these crops are capable of improving soil function and boosting biodiversity, thus playing an important role in restoring the land.

Infographic: Nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum): Alternative bioenergy crop and powerful ally for land restoration

Farmers hit the honeypot

Planting trees on degraded lands is difficult, and the returns are slow. Farmers need other sources of income, too, if tamanu cultivation for biofuel is to be sustainable.

In Wonogiri, scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), whose work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), together with the Center for Forest Biotechnology and Tree Improvement Research and Development (CFBTI) and the Korean National Institute of Forest Science (NIFOS) sought to find out if the figures add up in the farmers’ favor.

They collected data from 20 farmers who grow tamanu on degraded land (which locals call nyamplung). The farmers intercrop the tree with maize, rice and peanuts, and make use of it in honey production.

The researchers found that while the rice and peanuts were not profitable, and the maize was only marginally so, farmers grew them anyway to feed their families. The big money, however, lay in honey production, which was almost 300 times more profitable than maize, said CIFOR scientist Syed Rahman. “We were all surprised to see just how profitable it was,” he added.

The results suggest that tamanu can be grown sustainably as part of an agroforestry system that also utilises honey production and subsistence crops in the area. What is needed now, says CFBTI senior scientist and professor Budi Leksono, is for the market for biofuels to be developed further to create economies of scale.

“The market for nyamplung oil is not really developed yet,” said Leksono. “But we’re anticipating an energy crisis, and [by doing this work now] we are preparing for the plantations of the future.”

However, the policy around this needs to be designed extremely carefully, cautioned Rahman. “Because it’s potentially so profitable,” he explained, “the risk is that people will expand this system to forestland, too.” He added that careful constraints must be applied to ensure it is cultivated only on degraded and underutilized lands.

The implications are exciting. As CIFOR senior scientist Himlal Baral noted, while national and global interests and commitments for forest landscape restoration are increasing, success so far has been limited by a lack of solid business cases or financial viability. “In order for funding to flow into landscape restoration, it needs to be profitable,” he said.

Tamanu-based systems may well offer a compelling case for restoration that is worth everybody’s while.

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

This research was supported by the CIFOR Bioenergy project funded by NIFoS (National Institute of Forest Science, South Korea).

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  • Nyamplung's biofuel potential could support landscape restoration in Indonesia

Nyamplung’s biofuel potential could support landscape restoration in Indonesia

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Nyamplung grows in a bioenergy trial in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Catriona Croft-Cusworth/CIFOR

Research is aiming to demonstrate methods of bioenergy production that do not compete with food production and environmental conservation, but contribute to them.

Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Korean National Institute of Forest Science (NIFOS) and Indonesia’s University of Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya (UMP) are currently conducting research through a collaborative research project to identify the most promising and productive bioenergy crops suited to degraded and underutilized lands.

Biofuel plantations could be central to meeting landscape restoration targets in Indonesia, while also helping the country to meet growing energy demand.

The total area under scrutiny in the research project is a 7.2-million hectare tract of mostly degraded land in Central Kalimantan province, which has been largely devastated by forest fires and conversion to agricultural and mining activities. More than 40 percent of residents in the province do not have access to electricity and rely on woody biomass for cooking fuel.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, regional and local level governments jointly implement the Bioenergi Lestari (Sustainable Bioenergy) program to establish bioenergy plantations on 62,500 hectares of land.

“Overall, Indonesia aims to meet 23 percent of its growing energy demand from new and renewable energy sources by 2025 with a 10 percent share from bioenergy,” said Himlal Baral, a scientist with CIFOR’s climate change, energy and low carbon research team.

“We can now share preliminary but promising results, which have isolated specific trees and crops that can provide energy, food security while simultaneously restoring land.”

Scientists undertook their research in Buntoi village, Pulang Pisau district, where the population of 2,700 people was largely dependent on rubber plantations and subsistence agriculture until 2015 when fires swept through destroying forests and peatlands.

“The research plot is a flooded area in the rainy season and very dried out in the dry season, leading to fires,” said Siti Maimunah, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at UMP.

A community member plants on a trial bioenergy plot in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

After planting tree trials, the scientists tentatively identified nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum) as the most adaptive bioenergy tree species for degraded peatlands in the area, their report states. The nyamplung grew best when it was planted in a mixed agroforestry setting, rather than monoculture.

“This is a win-win solution – growing biofuel using an agroforestry system can be a better land use strategy considering its potential to enhance farm production and income, biodiversity and support sustainable development,” Baral said. “Planting biofuel on degraded land can avoid compromising agricultural production and related negative environmental consequences.”

Planting trees for biofuel can help offset greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of the nyamplung only the seeds are collected to produce biodiesel and replace fossil fuels, which means the tree remains in the landscape providing other environmental services.

“Our objective is not intended only to restore burned peat land with a strictly biofuel production approach, but to enhance it with appropriate policies concerning environment and development goals,” said Syed Rahman, a researcher with CIFOR.

Biofuel production can help offset the high costs involved in meeting such land restoration goals as the Bonn Challenge, an international commitment made during UN Climate talks in 2014 to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Landscape restoration is at the forefront of national agendas as countries implement efforts to meet UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 on life on land, by 2030.

By Julie Mollins, originally published by CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Himlal Baral at

This research was supported by the National Institute of Forest Science (NIFOS) and the Republic of Korea.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • What’s holding back biodiesel industry growth in Indonesia?

What’s holding back biodiesel industry growth in Indonesia?

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A woman shows freshly collected oil palm fruit in Indonesia. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Despite Indonesia’s reputation as the largest producer of palm oil in the world, its bioenergy production remains relatively low. Recently, a study has found that a range of policy and technical obstacles are preventing the sector’s growth.

A team from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) interviewed key informants from central and regional Indonesian governments and the business sector during research on the opportunities and challenges presented by policies relating to the development of palm oil–based biodiesel, leading to the release of a working paper.

“We found a number of policies and technical challenges that still hinder the development of biodiesel production in Indonesia,” says CIFOR Scientist Ahmad Dermawan.

Among the constraints identified in the study is the fact that biodiesel production cannot grow consistently due to policies that do not support one another.

“Existing policy frameworks give a mandate to biodiesel blending targets. However, in practice, this has not been optimal because, first, they are still focused on the transport sector, and second, they still emphasize public service obligations [PSOs],” says Dermawan.

He also said that within the country’s new and renewable energy development sector, there is a belief that biodiesel development still lies with the central government, causing a lack of understanding about the role of subnational government. Though small, the role that regional governments play in developing policies supporting biodiesel use in the region is rarely in focus.

“In the National Energy Policy, the central government is required to put together a National Energy Plan [RUEN], and the provincial government is required to have a Regional Energy Plan [RUED]. Currently, many provinces have yet to develop their RUED.”

Read more: The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil

A couple collects oil palm fruit in Indonesia. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR


Indonesia is the world’s largest producer and consumer of palm oil, producing more than 38 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO) in 2017. With around 75% of its total production exported, the commodity contributed USD 23 billion in export revenue in 2017.

Despite global contention around palm oil (earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to end the use of palm oil in biofuel by 2030) it is by far the most efficient vegetable oil when compared to other oil-producing commodity crops, meaning it requires relatively less land to produce the same amount of product.

Oil palm also remains one of the most important agricultural commodities in Indonesia for the production of bioenergy, with at least two potential forms of energy produced from the crop: biodiesel and biopower. The former is produced through refining palm oil, while the latter is produced by further processing bunches of fresh oil palm fruit to generate electricity.

Bioenergy for electricity is also being developed from wood biomass, but oil palm still prevails. “The source of biodiesel production varies quite a lot,” says Dermawan. “At one point, Jatropha and Nyamplung were developed as raw materials for biodiesel,” he added, referring to a flowering plant and an evergreen tree, respectively. “However, Indonesia’s large production of palm oil makes it the most commercially ready for development.”

Read more: Governments’ oil palm strategies too focused on expanding plantations, scientist says


The paper also studied the financial cost of producing biodiesel and compared it with that of diesel fuel, which still receives government subsidies.

“Production cost for biodiesel is higher because there are additional production steps to be done before buyers – in this case, Pertamina and other PSO companies – will accept the biodiesel,” Dermawan explains.

In mid-2015, the government formed a unit under the Ministry of Finance to manage funds collected from levies paid by the exporters of CPO and its derivatives. This unit, the Oil Palm Plantation Fund Management Body (BPDPKS), uses the funds to develop human resources as well as promote, research and develop palm oil as a commodity.

“The BPDPKS provides incentives by covering the gap between the price of subsidized diesel fuel and the production cost of biodiesel,” says Dermawan.

Aside from sheer cost, biodiesel production is complicated on other fronts too. From the management side, production is often contingent on fluctuating supply and quality control.

“Some biodiesel companies get their raw materials from palm oil mills that receive oil palm kernels from farmers,” says Dermawan. “The mills do not always receive their fresh fruit bunches consistently in regards to quality and quantity. Low fruit quality will impact the quality of the palm oil and, in the end, impact the quality of the resulting biodiesel.”

Getting deeper into the technicalities of production, Spent Bleaching Earth (SBE), a residue from biodiesel production, is regulated as a hazardous and toxic material, known in Indonesia as B3. As such, it should be handled with extra care, which results in additional costs for biodiesel producers.

However, studies have shown that SBE contains oil that can be further processed into something useful, and more research is needed to explore its potential. Despite challenges, Dermawan says opportunities remain to optimize biodiesel production.

By Nabiha Shahab, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Ahmad Dermawan at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the “Forest in Global Bioeconomy: Developing Multi-Scale Policy Scenarios” program funded by the German Ministry of Economic and Development Cooperation (BMZ).

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  • Impact of biogas interventions on forest biomass and regeneration in southern India

Impact of biogas interventions on forest biomass and regeneration in southern India

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Programs to provide alternative energy sources such as biogas improve indoor air quality and potentially reduce pressure on forests from fuelwood collection. This study tests whether biogas intervention is associated with higher forest biomass and forest regeneration in degraded forests in Chikkaballapur district in Southern India. Using propensity score matching, we find that forest plots in proximity to villages with biogas interventions (treatment) had greater forest biomass than comparable plots around villages without biogas (control). We also found significantly higher sapling abundance and diversity in treatment than control plots despite no significant difference in seedling abundances and diversity in treatment forests, suggesting that plants have a higher probability of reaching sapling stage. These results indicate the potential for alternative energy sources that reduce dependence on fuelwood to promote regeneration of degraded forests. However, forest regrowth is not uniform across treatments and is limited by soil nutrients and biased towards species that are light demanding, fire-resistant and can thrive in poor soil conditions.

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