In Maluku, the increasingly unpredictable climate made clove farmers no longer able to depend on the spices that had previously attracted the colonialists.
The scorching sun on Ambon Island in mid-January was too intense. Weather forecast website Accuweather show that the afternoon temperature was as hot as 34⁰ Celsius. Irawan Ruhuputty (33) —a farmer in Tial Country, Central Maluku — shows a dying clove tree. Most of the leaves fall off, leaving only brownish yellow leaves.
"Beta didn't know it was because of an illness or it was too hot. If you have this, you will usually die, "said Irawan on Sunday, January 19, 2020.
Cloves in the Maluku Islands grow naturally. It spreads from the shoreline to the far reaches of the mountains behind the settlement. Don't imagine a regular plantation pattern like monoculture oil palm. The clove trees were scattered irregularly. Sometimes interspersed with other trees, kinds of durian and walnuts.
Cloves and nutmeg have an important meaning for the people of Maluku. Prior to the 18th century, the world's entire supply of cloves and nutmeg only came from these islands. Because of its importance, the people of Maluku used to save their crops as savings. He was only sold when there was an urgent need or when he wanted to pay for a big celebration, such as a wedding.
However, in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to 'save cloves' or simply fulfill their daily needs. The yield of cloves every year is no longer certain. Sometimes farmers can earn tens of millions of Rupiah, but more often than not, the results are used up just to pay for picking labor.
"Not good (crop). Beta I only got 10 kilograms, ”said Thalib Ruhuputty (54), Irawan's father, telling about the September 2019 harvest.
The Ruhuputty family has been farming cloves for hundreds of years in Negeri (village) Tial, Salahutu, Central Maluku Regency. With an area of less than one hectare of inheritance gardens, Thalib only received Rp 700,000 at the 2019 harvest. At that time the cloves he harvested were valued at Rp 70,000 per kilogram.
"There is no beta save again. It's all finished beta selling for daily needs, ”added Thalib.
Not all have the misfortune of Ruhuputty. Because they grow naturally, the productivity of cloves in each region varies when the harvest comes. In Negeri Lima, Leihitu, Central Maluku Regency, it happened to be in the middle of a big harvest. Harvest like this only happens every three to four years. Meanwhile, in normal years, the yield of cloves is only one-fifth of the main harvest. One of the farmers who enjoyed the big harvest last year is Apik Soulisa (55). He can harvest 1 tonne of dry cloves from a garden of more than 1 hectare.
Why do clove yields fluctuate in Ambon Island? Ireng Darwati, a plant physiology researcher from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture's Research Institute for Spices and Medicines (Balittro) explained that fluctuations are caused by variations in climate change that affect phytohormones and gene expression for disposal.
Apart from climatic factors, especially temperature and rainfall, crop maintenance patterns also greatly affect crop yields. Meanwhile, cloves in Maluku have grown without special care. The farmers do not fertilize, nor water.
"At most, we clean it about once a month," said Apik on Monday, January 20, 2020.
It is not surprising that farmers bite their fingers more often when they are not at harvest time. Not to mention the added climatic phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina which only add to the problem. During the 2015 El Nino, Apik Soulisa was only able to reap tens of kilograms of dry cloves from the same garden.
At the beginning of each year, farmers are anxiously awaiting the next harvest. If the heat persists through March — no more or less — they can breathe easy. Clove flowers can grow well and the harvest will be abundant.
However, in recent years the weather has become increasingly erratic. The beginning of the year, which is usually hot, can suddenly rain. Instead of becoming flowers, excess rain will cause the shoots to turn into leaves. Even if the dry season is too long, clove plants will dry out and die.
"When it comes to climate, we just let go," complained Imron Soumena (49), Secretary of Desa Negeri Lima, Monday, January 20, 2020.
According to Ireng Darwati, cloves are very sensitive to climate change. It requires sufficient rain during the flowering process followed by a dry season of two to three months.
The prolonged summer will increase the levels of the hormone abysic acid (abscisic acid /ABA) in the clove tree. As a result, the stomata which are the gates of CO2 entry will be closed and inhibit photosynthesis. Excess heat also prevents cloves from getting water and nutrients.
"The root of the clove is short, so if it is hot it will be difficult for it to get water," he said.
Conversely, too long rain will trigger the acceleration of the hormone gibberellic acid (gibberellin acid/ GA) which affects plant growth. Instead of becoming a flower, the GA hormone that is too high will turn the flower into leaves. The result is predictable, clove flower harvest will certainly decline sharply.
The climate of the Maluku Islands is actually very suitable for growing cloves. Clove plantations that are close to and facing the sea are also very good for growth and production. This is because the difference in temperature between day and night is not too big.
"The ideal temperature for cloves is between 25 ° -32 ° Celsius with an average rainfall of 1,500 mm-3,500 mm," added Ireng Darwati on Monday, February 25, 2020.
It is not surprising that this typical plant is spread in almost all regions except West Southeast Maluku and Aru Islands. Maluku clove production is also number two nationally after South Sulawesi. The problem is, the climate in these islands is increasingly erratic.
"The frequency of extreme events such as El Nino and La Nina is becoming more frequent," said Rion Salman, a pilot from the Pattimura Climatology, Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Ambon, when met on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
El Nino is characterized by warming surface temperatures in the Pacific oceans. This phenomenon generally occurs every two to seven years. When El Nino occurs, rainfall and atmospheric circulation are disrupted, causing extreme climatic disruption in various regions of the world. Indonesia, is one of the countries most affected.
EL Niño occurs with various intensities ranging from weak, moderate, to strong. Scientists previously estimated that the intense intensity El Nino that can cause extreme climate chaos occurs once every 23 years. Recently, a number of studies have shown that global warming is triggering these extreme El Nino frequencies with increasing frequency.
In 2014, a group of climate researchers led by Wenju Cai from The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization published research results on El Nino frequency in the journal Nature. They used computer simulations to select 21 climate events for the period 1900-1999 and compare them with climate predictions for the period 2000-2090 based on current average emission levels. As a result, the researchers estimate that the frequency of extreme El Nino events will double to every 13 years.
It doesn't stop there, Cai and his team also predict that the trigger variables for El Nino and La Nina will be more complicated.
"Predicting El Nino and La Nina events has become more difficult," wrote Cai in the report.
Forest and Climate Manager World Resource Institute Indonesia, Arief Wijaya explained that El Nino is closely related to the increase in earth's temperature which has continued to increase since the pre-industrial era. Even if there is no serious policy to reduce emissions, the earth's temperature is predicted to rise more than 3 degrees.
"The El Nino frequency is expected to be more frequent with higher intensity," he explained on Wednesday, February 26, 2020.
El Nino, according to Arief, has an impact on a drier climate and can trigger fires. When the intensity is strong, this condition can last up to more than a year.
"Plants that live in a certain temperature range will not be able to survive if it is too hot. Maybe cloves and nutmeg are one of them, ”Arief added.
What about conditions in the Maluku Islands? In order to monitor the level of dryness of an area, scientists rely on several methods. One of the most popular is the standardized precipitation index or Standarized Precipitation Index (SPI). The index developed by TB McKee, NJ Doesken and J. Kleist from Colorade State University in 1993 measures the level of rainfall or precipitation that occurs in an area within a certain period of time.
An index of minus 0.99 to 0.99 is defined as normal, whereas if it is above one it indicates wet conditions. Conversely, if the index shows minus 1, it means that the area is in dry condition. In the short term, SPI is closely related to soil moisture. On a longer scale, SPI helps monitor groundwater availability.
Data Resource Watch, a non-profit organization that focuses on research in the field of sustainability, shows that over the past fifteen years the problems faced by the Maluku Islands are not just drought. Conditions that are too wet also often occur. In 2008 and 2017, for example, the SPI Maluku data shows the numbers 2.4 and 2 which means very wet conditions.
El Nino alert
El Nino with strong intensity was last recorded in 2015. El Nino is different from heat waves. This phenomenon causes rainfall to decline, causing a long drought. In the worst case scenario, fires in the residents' clove gardens also often occur.
West Seram Climatology Station Prakirawan Steven Cahya shared that the impact of the 2015 El Nino was felt in the Maluku Islands. This phenomenon was detected since April 2015 and continued until February 2016. The El Nino only subsided in May 2016.
“This (El Nino 2015) is a phenomenon with the strongest intensity ever recorded. Stronger than the 1997-1998 El Nino, ”he said in reply e-mail on Saturday, 8 February 2020.
El Nino 2015, Steven explained, affects the nature of monthly rains and groundwater availability in Maluku. In July 2015 all BMKG stations in Maluku had detected the below-normal nature of rain that occurred in all areas of Maluku. Analysis in August 2015 also indicated a lack of groundwater availability.
"The normal value for each region in each month is different, but it is said to be below normal when the rainfall that occurs is less than 85 percent than usual," explained Stevan.
In general, El Nino makes the rainy season late.
This phenomenon is clearly very detrimental to the economy of people who depend on climatic conditions. Report United States Agency for International Development (USAID) titled Climate and Non-Climate Impacts on Productivity of Cloves and Nutmeg in Maluku Province released in 2017, clove and nutmeg production in Maluku fell by 70 percent during the 2015 El Nino.
Marcus Pattinama, one of the research researchers, explained that the decline in productivity of cloves and nutmeg was also exacerbated by inadequate cropping practices.
"Farmers do not use agricultural production facilities such as certified seeds, superior seeds and adequate fertilizers. Arrangements and spacing are also irregular. The spacing of cloves is too tight between 6 x 6 m to 9 x 9 m, "said Marcus who is also a Professor of Ethnobotany at Pattimura University, Ambon on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
"In addition, there is no maintenance and sanitation of plants from pests and diseases. This non-intensive cultivation practice can reduce plant productivity, ”he added.
Though cloves should be treated intensively. Ireng Darwati, a plant physiology researcher from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture's Research Institute for Spices and Medicines (Balittro), suggested giving manure in the summer. The soil around the clove tree should not be cleaned too often to maintain moisture.
When there is excessive rainfall, farmers are advised to provide retardan paclobutrazol. It is a plant organ inhibitor that blocks the biosynthesis of gibrelin, a phytohormone that stimulates vegetative growth in clove trees.
"High rainfall causes the growth of clove plant vegetation to increase so that it will block the expression of flowering genes," he said.
Why do farmers not apply adequate cropping patterns? The Secretary of Negeri Lima Village, Imron Soumena said that clove farmers only follow the practice of gardening from generation to generation. By the community, cloves are considered a legacy plant that does not need to be cared for. The location of the clove garden which is far from the settlement also prevents farmers from carrying out routine maintenance.
"So far, we just let it grow naturally. There are also no plantation extension workers who come to help, ”said Imron.
"This is how we have been farming since our ancestors," said Imron. (Rezza Aji Pratama)
* Collaboration coverage is supported by grant funding by Earth Journalism Network and Resource Watch, a non-profit organization focused on research in the field of sustainability.