The high demand for rattan is disturbing the ecosystem of the tropical forests in Indonesia. To enable sustainable production of rattan, IUCN NL’s Indonesian partner NTFP-EP and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment & Forestry collaborated on a label for sustainable rattan. The Dutch company VDS was the first to receive the label, which was launched this month. The label sets requirements for ecological sustainability, social and cultural welfare and traceability, among others.

Header photo: Rattan seedlings in a PGS ROLES pilot area in Eheng, Kutai Barat, East Kalimantan. Photo by Wahyu Widhi / NTFP-EP

Rattan is a liana-like plant with hard stems that grows in tropical rainforests of Indonesia and elsewhere. In the 1960s, the motorization of river transport and the increase in international trade of rattan led to high prices for local, Indonesian rattan harvesters. However, this also attracted people from outside who had no traditional knowledge of the forest system and did not recognize traditional land rights. As a consequence, the tropical rainforest was overexploited and degraded.

Successive governments tried to stop the destruction of the forests with export quotas or by banning the export of raw rattan. The powerful lobby of large exporters of rattan furniture played a major role in this: they benefit from measures that keep the price of raw rattan low.

Participatory guarantee system

For ten years, IUCN NL has been supporting its partner organization NTFP-EP Indonesia (Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme) to make the rattan value chain more sustainable. Since 2012, NTFP EP ID has been working with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment & Forestry on the development of a participatory guarantee system (PGS). This system is based on two principles: the harvesting of forest products must be sustainable and not undermine the ecosystem, and rattan production must contribute to the economic and social well-being of local communities.

Launch after ten years of development

This month – after ten years of consultations and field trials with farmers, scientists, government officials and market participants – the PGS certification for sustainable rattan (ROLES) was officially launched. The PGS certification system is based on self-assessment, social networks, knowledge exchange, peer review, transparency and inclusiveness. The five criteria that the product must meet are legality, production sustainability, ecological sustainability, social and cultural wellbeing and traceability. There are currently three areas where certified rattan is produced: Central and East Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi.

Dutch company receives rattan certificate

The Dutch company Van der Sar Import (VDS) has set up a factory on Java, where plant baskets are made from rattan that has been sustainably harvested in the rainforest of Kalimantan. ‘We share the principles of NTFP EP in the area of ecological sustainability and economic and social welfare and have worked together with them on certification of the rattan products that VDS brings to the European market,’ says director Gerard van der Sar. Both the rattan farmers and the factory workers have better working conditions and a higher income than is common in Indonesia. VDS is the first company in the world to receive the PGS ROLES certificate.

Last buffer against deforestation

‘We have been working with NTFP EP for many years and have supported them financially from the beginning in setting up this certification system. It is important that rattan farmers have direct contact with companies that want to make rattan more sustainable and that they are not at the mercy of conglomerates that are mainly interested in getting the lowest possible price for raw rattan. This certificate is a very nice example of bottom-up initiatives for sustainable production and trade, which benefit both nature and local communities,’ says Evelien van den Broek, senior expert environmental justice at IUCN NL.

In many parts of the world, the management of forests and the sustainable harvesting of forest products by local communities is the last buffer against deforestation. That is why IUCN NL supports organisations and communities that produce and use products such as rattan in a sustainable way through the programme Forests for a Just Future.

Newspaper Trouw about sustainable rattan

Following the launch of the Seal of Approval, the Dutch newspaper Trouw wrote an article on the sustainability of rattan, in which Van den Broek and Van der Sar are interviewed.

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Evelien van den Broek
Senior Expert Environmental Justice