Stabroek News

To dye for: Indonesia's carbon-rich mangroves in fashion with women weavers


PEDEKIK, Indonesia, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In a rural office on Bengkalis island, off the northeast coast of Sumatra, 30-year-old Mayasari runs a face mask dyed with tree sap through an antique sewing machine.

The day before, Mayasari, who goes by one name, and a dozen other women in Pedekik village learned to make hand sanitiser with an extract from the mangrove trees that fringe the coast.

“Alhamdulil­lah (praise be to god) - if this comes from nature in Bengkalis, then it’s great,” Mayasari told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Bengkalis training is the first government programme aimed at addressing the double hit from coronaviru­s and climate change among mangrove-dwelling communitie­s in Indonesia.

The face masks made by the Pedekik women’s group are sold for 2,000 rupiah ($0.14) each, offering a new source of income for members.

Besides this scheme in Riau province, others are also underway in South Sumatra and South Kalimantan, in a bid to demonstrat­e to communitie­s the practical value of keeping their mangroves standing.

Indonesia - the world’s largest archipelag­ic country and its biggest home of wetland forests - counts about 3.3 million hectares (8.15 million acres) of mangroves across its rivers, basins and shorelines, an area larger than Belgium.

These mangrove ecosystems provide vital services to local communitie­s, from food to protection against storm surges.

Mangroves also have an outsize role in sequesteri­ng planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions, storing onethird of the world’s coastal carbon stock and about five times as much per hectare as Indonesia’s upland forests.

But according to a 2015 study from the Center for Internatio­nal Forestry Research (CIFOR), about 40% of Indonesia's mangroves were lost in the previous three decades.

They are often ripped out to make way for shrimp ponds and other small businesses like charcoal production, which provide economic security for millions but account for most mangrove loss.

Last year President Joko Widodo expanded the remit of Indonesia's peatland restoratio­n agency to include ambitious plans to restore 600,000 hectares of damaged mangrove forests by 2024.

“A target of this magnitude has not been attempted anywhere else in the world,” said Daniel Friess, a mangrove researcher and associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

Earlier government efforts had rehabilita­ted only about 10,000 hectares per year, said Muhammad Ilman, director of the oceans programme at Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN), a Jakarta-based conservati­on group.


About 90% of the budget allocated this year to Indonesia's Peatland and Mangrove Restoratio­n Agency (BRGM) was for planting seedlings, but a small amount was earmarked to foster change in how communitie­s view mangrove forests.

Mayasari first learned to weave local batik and tenun textiles aged nine. Today she makes four metres (13 ft) of traditiona­l fabric every few weeks, earning about $150 a month.

But the single parent, with two children to put through school, makes only a small profit because she must buy expensive and unhealthy chemical dyes.

This year the mangrove agency began working with Achmad Nur Hasim, an Indonesian designer who has supplied tenun fabric to French fashion brand Christian Dior.

Achmad said 90% of traditiona­l textiles in Sumatra are dyed using synthetic products.

He hopes textile weavers in Pedekik and elsewhere will instead adopt natural dyes derived from the sap and fruit of local trees, supporting broader efforts to conserve mangroves.

Mayasari said she can find the jengkol tree used for darker shades, pinang for orange and bixa for red just outside her home.

The Bengkalis women's group this month won a public vote for the best collection of handwoven clothes at the TENUN Fashion Week in Malaysia, which showcased work by 45 women’s weaving communitie­s across Southeast Asia.

Oil extracted from the mangroves is also used to make a hand sanitiser patented by a university in Semarang city, on Java island, and accredited by Indonesia’s industry ministry.

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