Published on 18 January 2023
Gray clouds blanketed Palangka Raya that morning, as we drove 20 minutes from the city center to the village of Kereng Bangkirai in the nearby Sebangau District. Getting out of the car, we crossed a rickety walkway over the peat-swamp to a small wooden house, propped up on stilts above the black water.
Women’s laughter could be heard from within. Glancing through the window, we saw a group of ladies sitting and weaving together, while others spread plant fibers out to dry at the back of the house. The women were here to make purun bags, a sustainable alternative to the plastic polybags often used in large-scale planting projects.
The bags will be purchased in bulk by the Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) for their 1 Million Trees reforestation initiative, which aims to plant 1,000,000 trees in fire-damaged rainforest by 2025. Purun (Lepironia articulata) is a grass-like plant, commonly found in peat-swamp habitats. It is also a popular natural material for weaving crafts, used to make everything from hats to baskets.
Jaliah, the house’s owner, and a mother with decades of experience in the art of weaving, explained the process of making polybags in detail. The purun she and the other ladies were using was collected just 15 minutes away by klotok boat, taken from the swamp and brought here for processing.
The purun is washed with lime powder and ashes, before being left to dry for several days until its fibers fade from green to a light brown. “If the weather is hot and sunny, two days is usually enough,” Jaliah added.
Once the purun is dry, she continued, we pound it with a wooden mortar to flatten the stems. Then the strands are ready to be woven into polybags.
“In accordance with BNF’s needs, the polybags are made to measure roughly seven centimeters across. However, since we weave manually without a machine, there will be some variation in the size of each bag,” Jaliah said.
In a single day, Jaliah can produce up to 10 polybags. For her, weaving purun is like weaving hope for the future. As well as providing additional income for local families, every seedling planted in these purun bags represents regrowth and hope for Borneo’s forests. “If the seedlings grow successfully, we are all happy because the forest will be green again,” Jaliah concluded with a smile.
Purun decomposes quickly to become a natural fertilizer, which makes it especially suitable for use in planting polybags. The broken-down purun bags will help nourish the seedlings, allowing them to grow big and strong.
“Plastic polybags have to be removed before planting, whereas purun polybags can be planted along with the seedlings,” explained Aman, one of BNF’s habitat restoration staff.
“Seedlings planted in purun bags grow faster and taller. While using plastic polybags can stress the plants, causing them to die more easily, purun helps to store water in the soil and improves seedling survival rates,” said Aman.
In short, using purun as an alternative to plastic polybags reduces plastic waste, creates a natural fertilizer to enhance seedling survival, and supports sustainable business initiatives led by local women.
In 2022, approximately 150,000 native tree seedlings have been planted in rehabilitation zones of the Sebangau National Park. These seeds are part of BNF’s #1MillionTrees program to restore the peatland ecosystem.
See also: Restoring Ecosystem with Native Plants
Written by: Yohanes Prahara, Content Creator and Media Liaison BNF Indonesia
Photo by: Yohanes Prahara/BNF Indonesia