Kratom’s Role in Indonesia’s Environment and Economy
Indonesia provides around 95% of the world’s kratom with most of the product being shipped to the United States with an estimated 2 to 4 million kratom consumers. Kapuas Hulu in the West Kalimantan province is the main hub for kratom production, generating U.S. $13 million per year. The region has several kratom plantations that are fertilized by the seasonal floods of the Kapuas River.
In a 2018 Bloomberg report, the Indonesia Kratom Entrepreneurs Association reported that Pontianak, a city 350 miles west of Kapuas Hulu, exported around 400 tons of kratom a month in 2017.
Kratom has dramatically increased the quality of life for rural farmers in Kapuas Hulu and given the area’s economy a much needed boost. Many farmers have stopped farming cash crops such as palm oil and rubber in favor of growing kratom which is far more profitable and sustainable.
How Does Kratom Farming Affect the Environment?
The Indonesian rainforests are home to a wide variety of animals and indigenous communities that live in the forest and depend on sustainable farming practices to survive.
Farming kratom is much better for the environment than other cash crops commonly harvested in tropical areas, such as palm oil and rubber. It is well-known that palm oil has a terrible environmental impact on the rainforests and the orangutans who live there. Palm oil plantations, which take up more than 27 million hectares and produce 66 million tons of oil per year, are cleared by bulldozing or burning down the rainforest.
Rubber is made from latex, a milky liquid that drips out of a rainforest tree — similar to the sap used to make maple syrup. It is used in making auto tires, shoes, surgical gloves, sports equipment, sportswear, and as an additive for other chemicals and many other products.
Tropical forests in Southeast Asia are being cleared for rubber plantations, putting endangered birds, bats and primates at risk. By 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will be needed to meet the demand for rubber, report UK researchers in the scientific journal Conservation Letters. One review found that the numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.
In contrast, kratom can be grown without any damage to the tree or surrounding area, thus allowing for greater rainforest preservation.
From Tree to Tea: How is Kratom Produced?
How is kratom produced? Is it made in a high-tech greenhouse or a lab? Actually, not much has changed over the centuries when it comes to kratom farming practices. You’ll be happy to know that kratom is naturally and organically cultivated and produced from the leaves of kratom trees which are picked, washed, ground up and dried.
In the Beginning
For millennia, the local people of Southeast Asia have been cultivating the kratom tree to benefit from its medicinal and recreational properties. The earliest known reports of kratom consumption in Malaysia is 1836. Kratom belongs to the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee and gardenia plants. These towering evergreen trees with their large glossy leaves are quite impressive and can reach up to 80 feet or more.
Kratom trees grow naturally throughout the jungles of Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia but are also planted by kratom farmers for cultivation on private land. These trees require a tropical climate and are very sensitive to frost and drought.
Traditional Use/ Ethnobotany
Kratom has been used for various purposes in Southeast Asia for centuries, including as a household remedy for various ailments, as a recreational drink (primarily among men), and in some Thai villages, it was used as part of religious ceremonies. Farmers, fishermen and other manual laborers in Southeast Asia would also chew the fresh or dried leaves to combat fatigue and improve work productivity. The leaves could also be smoked or brewed or steeped into tea.
In traditional use, rural populations would ingest kratom leaves to treat common medical problems, such as diarrhea, fever, cough, anxiety and pain and even used it as a wound poultice. It is still popular in Asian village communities during social gatherings.
Protecting Kratom Farming in Indonesia
Currently, the Indonesian government allows the growing and harvesting of kratom for export, although local sales and distribution are illegal. In June 2019, however, Indonesia’s Minister of Health proposed a potential kratom ban that could become effective in 2024. According to the government, this would allow farmers 5 years to transition their livelihood away from kratom and toward other crops.
If the law comes to pass, it will harm both the economy and the environment as these farmers would likely have to go back to farming rainforest-destroying products such as rubber and palm oil.
In an Indonesian news report stating that the government was considering a ban on growing and exporting kratom, a kratom leaf farmer from Bunut Hilir Subdistrict, Syaparudin, is quoted as saying (translation) “Of course for us it is very unfortunate. Because purik [kratom] leaves are a livelihood after rubber latex, which is cheap.” According to Syaparudin, the government is expected to reconsider the proposed ban.
“Honestly, this is our hope as a society to fulfill our daily life and pay for our children to go to school and college,” he said.
Another kratom leaf farmer named Ahlan from Jongjong District had similar sentiments. He stated (translation) in the article “Kratom leaves have become our hope to meet family needs.”
Potential Effects on the U.S.
Indonesia’s massive production of kratom — and its legality — is important to countries such as the U.S. where the demand is strong and growing for both personal use and business investments. An increasing number of business owners are opening kava bars and online shops and some are adding it to their smoke shops and other small businesses. In turn, the higher exportation rate further boosts the production rate. Only time will tell if the proposed ban will be enacted or repealed.
Americans make up the large majority of kratom consumers worldwide. According to the American Kratom Association, “nearly 5 million Americans consume kratom as a part of their health and well-being regimen and have done so for decades.” Some data suggests there could be up to 15 million kratom consumers in the U.S. Surveys reveal that kratom users are educated, middle-income, employed and have health insurance, according to the AKA.