Sumatra is a large island in the Indonesian group, which is comprised of about 13,000 islands. Sumatra stretches from the western end of Java up towards the north west, close to the Malayan Peninsula. The administrative zone of Sumatra includes many smaller islands, notably Nias and the Mentawai Islands, which lay out to the west of the mainland,.

Sumatra is a resource rich country, with mineral wealth, hydro-power, productive agriculture and fisheries. The people of Sumatra are made up of diverse ethnic groups, and the diversity is reflected in religious and social complexity.

Some areas still survive in a state close to original pre-European colonisation conditions, mainly because of the mountainous, remote locations. In some of these areas there are large areas of National Park, which still support the rare Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros and possibly elephant. They also support some native people living a traditional lifestyle in the forest.

Around these areas, there are other people, who still use the remnants of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture to produce a mixture of self-sufficient and market-based crops. In the most remote areas there has been very little use of fertiliser. Although fertilisers are available, they are expensive, and are generally only used by the producers of high-value annual crops, such as corn (maize).

Pesticides are available too. Unfortunately they seem to be unreasonably cheap. While fertiliser price is approaching $AU1,000 per tonne, pesticides are cheaper (relatively) than at home. Pesticide safety equipment is very rarely seen and there are reports of a high level of pesticide poisoning of rural workers.


ForesTrade is dedicated to preserving biodiversity through responsible trade. It is an environmentally and socially responsible International company that directly supports sustainable agriculture, natural resource conservation, and socioeconomic development. ForesTrade aims to produce a consistent supply of highest quality certified organic spices and essential oils, at a competitive price.

In order to facilitate access to the villages, ForesTrade often work with local Non Government Organisation's (NGO's) dedicated to preservation of biodiversity and local culture. These organisations promote economic and social autonomy as a means to ensure the survival and general wellbeing of the traditional people and diverse ethnic groups in Sumatra.

ForesTrade work with NGO's and National Parks to maintain 'buffer zones' of organic production, which will enhance and protect the biodiversity of remaining forested areas, which are disappearing rapidly in Indonesia.

Crops are produced in a modified traditional 'swidden farming' situation. Each grower operates one or more traditional garden/forest plots (or Ladang) in which a variety of annual plants (eg potato, onion), short lived plants (eg cassava, banana, yam) and longer-lived plants (eg cloves, cassia) are produced. As the age of the Ladang matures, the longer-lived trees dominate by shading understorey crops. These trees can be either selectively felled (eg cassia) or left to produce during their mature phase (eg cloves) before the cycle is started again. Organic growers are not permitted to use fire to clear the home garden plots. All slashing and weed control is done by hand, mainly with simple tools like an axe, hatchet, machete or knife.

pepper drying
Organic crops on Sumatra

ForesTrade Grower Groups on Sumatra are involved in the production of a variety of spices and essential oil crops, such as chilli, tumeric, ginger, vanilla, cloves, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg (and mace), black and white pepper, patchouli and cassia (cinnamon). The other important cash crop is coffee.

The home gardens also contain many other food plants, including avocado, mango, durian, jakfruit, coconut, rambutan, nutmeg, cashew, banana, cassava, and pineapple and vegetables such as cassava, yam taro, tomato, sweet potato, egg fruit, garlic, onion and Asian cabbage. Many timber trees and an assortment of Dracaena and other understorey plants also grow under or around the crops.

Tropical soil

In the tropics, soils are usually nutrient poor and the Active rooting zone is shallow. Because of the intense rainfall and warm conditions (which helps to dissolve soil material), leaching occurs quickly, removing nutrients from soil. Iron and aluminium oxides are well represented, because they will not dissolve in ground water. Iron adds a reddish colour to soil, and pure aluminium oxide is white.

Most nutrients are held in the standing biomass - the rainforest vegetation, including groundcovers and grasses, small plants, climbers and lianas, shrubs and trees. The multi-layered vegetation sheds leaves and branches continually, producing a litter layer (mulch) which also contains a significant nutrient load. The mulch enriches the top layer of soil, which in some places is crumbly and friable like good finished compost. The roots of the dense forest vegetation quickly exploit this rich layer just beneath the litter, sequestering the nutrients back into the vegetation, where they are safe from leaching by the heavy tropical downpours.

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