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It’s the end of the rainy season here in West Kalimantan, and the hundreds of newly planted seedlings in the village of Laman Satong are soaking up the last few rainstorms before their upcoming battles with drought and weeds during the dry season.
This batch of seedlings is being helped along by the treatment that ASRI’s previous conservation work has identified as the most successful for reducing seedling mortality – cardboard circles surrounding each seedling that keep out weeds and shield the soil from the baking sun.
In the past, ASRI has tested several treatments to see which works best, including modest use of herbicides, pressing, weeding, fertilizer, and also the cardboard circles. We found that cardboard works better than chemicals, which is reassuring in many ways. As I helped to lay the circles out in the field, I thought about how fitting it was – that a paper product like cardboard that was once made from trees was being used at the end of its life cycle to help new trees to grow.
It’s a testament to the scarcity of resources here in Kalimantan that we actually had difficulty finding cardboard for the treatment. While I was in Laman Satong, the reforestation program manager spent days scouring the markets in the rural countryside to scrounge up enough cardboard – and he still couldn’t find enough.
We do the best with what we have, and as we laid out the cardboard circles, I came upon a few sad looking seedlings that had been torched by the equatorial heat. They resembled dead sticks more than trees, and I skipped over them to save some cardboard. One of the local ASRI workers called me back. “They’re not dead,” she said. “Look here.” I looked closer and continued to see nothing but a dead stick. “There are small buds,” she insisted. “It’s still alive.”
She was right. One week and a few rainstorms later – the dead sticks sprouted leaves. The re-greening of Laman Satong marches on.