As a plant indigenous to Indonesia’s easternmost islands, nutmeg is considered a highly-valued commodity and that has been happening for ages. Nutmeg of West Papua, especially, has been a significant part of this country’s spice trading history. In fact, Indonesia stays becoming the leading nutmeg exporter worldwide. The country gained profit as much as $137 millions from nutmeg exports back in 2017.
In the entire archipelago, there are six areas that have been the major nutmeg producers. They are North Sulawesi, Maluku islands, Nangroe Aceh Darussalam, West Sumatra, West Java, as well as Papua. West Papua Province alone has contributed to the 14% out of the whole country’s production. It is estimated to be around 33,637 tons.
In the region, Fakfak regency has been the biggest nutmeg producer (around 80% of the total provincial produce). Amazingly, the whole nutmeg yield in the regency is produced by the local farmers. It means these farmers are an important part of both provincial and national nutmeg production. Nevertheless, Fakfak is not the only area in the province that produces the valuable plant.
In 2018, the Central Government mandated the regional Government to distribute nutmeg seedling plants for a 1,000-hectare land to the smallholders. The seedling plants would then be spread to two different regencies which were Fakfak and Kaimana. Governor Dominggus Mandacan stated that nutmeg cultivation should be fully supported because the condition of West Papua’s land areas are good for nutmeg growth and that it has great economic potentials.
Nutmeg of West Papua: the Characteristics
Based on the native land of the plant, nutmeg in Fakfak Regency is included in the East Indian Nutmegs. The plants grow in forests, especially in the lowlands with an altitude of 700 metres above the sea. Under the Latin name Myristica argentea warb, Fakfak’s nutmeg has some special characteristics such as its small oval fruits and seeds.
The distinctive features of this variant is that it has round-shaped leaves with medium size and the color of the underside of the leaves is silvery white. Its tree has a cylindrical canopy and branches that face upward. It can grow as high as 15-metre tall. The farmers usually plant nutmeg in gardens located on hilly slopes in a forest.
The locals of Fakfak Regency call nutmeg as henggi. They value the plant very highly and in fact they consider it the tree of life. Cutting down nutmeg trees is considered killing a mother as the trees are treated like a mother who feeds her children. Furthermore, it is believed that the nature itself has grown the nutmeg trees there. Hence, farmers only take care of them and protect them from danger.
The people of Patipi Bay in Fakfak even believe that there are five kinds of bird that help grow nutmegs in the land, namely Tuktukmur, Wamar, Duktubur, Crah, and Wapour. These birds feed on the nutmeg pulp which then spreads out the seeds to all over the land. No wonder, after planting nutmeg seeds, local farmers will usually call out for the birds while beating down old nutmeg trees in the forest. With that ritual, they hope their nutmeg seeds will obtain fertility.
Nutmeg Cultivation: the Benefits
It has long been known that nutmeg is used as a cooking spice for its deliciously-scented essential oil. Its reddish fleshy outer coverings are usually dried to be a spice or nutmeg oil which then get exported worldwide. Meanwhile, the pulp is processed as Fakfak’s special treats such as syrup and sweets. Candied nutmeg is made by soaking the nutmeg pulp in sugary water and then drying it.
There are actually more derivative products can be produced from nutmeg essential oil and butter including biofuels and cosmetics. Many researchers have figured out the great potential but the market for that is still being questioned.
Nutmeg farmers in West Papua have to deal with a number of challenges in terms of improving their cultivation quality and productivity. First of all, the supply chain between smallholders (farmers) and the ultimate buyers are too long.
To make it worse, there are too many actors playing with the prices as well. As a result, smallholders are becoming in the weakest position regarding bargains and are suffering the worst from the market shocks. This what makes them focus more on other economic activities like fishing and seaweed cultivation instead. Meanwhile, the price of nutmeg of West Java has always been relatively stable so farmers there remain safe.
The other challenges are: there is limited demand for nutmegs in Papua island and nutmeg cultivation there is treated as a sacred activity instead of economic. Therefore, land allocations are usually done based on the local customary regulation.
One of the potential solutions to the challenges is to alternate the market of nutmeg produce. In this case, the market can be directed to oleo-chemical industry.
Indonesia is in need of trimyristin at the moment. This compound discovered in nutmeg oil or butter can be changed into a kind of fatty acid required to produce detergents, surfactants, conditioners, and many other products in that industry. This solution is expected to be able to help empower smallholders of nutmeg in West Papua.