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Social, economic and cultural aspects of Rattan in Malaysia

Importance and uses of rattan
Rattan collection
Rattan marketing by villagers
Rattan processing and manufacturing industry
Contribution to the local and national economy
Commercial cultivation
Prospects for future development
Recommendations for Rattan development

Lim Hin Fui & Nur Supardi Md Noor
Forest Research Institute Malaysia

Importance and uses of rattan

Non-wood forest products (NWFPs), which were regarded as "minor forest products" in the past, are now gaining greater attention as it is realised that these products are important in world trade, and national and local economies. In particular, rattan products emerge as the most important among the NWFPs. Among the marketed NWFPs, rattan ranks the highest in value. It is used not only in the local village economy but also in international markets. In Malaysia, together with round timber, poles, fuelwood, and charcoal, rattan (i.e. Calamus manan and C. caesius) is categorised as a major forest product under the National Forestry Act-of 1984. Indeed, rattan harvesting, its uses and marketing have affected the social, economic and cultural livelihood of the local communities as well as long-term national socioeconomic development.

Rural villagers in Malaysia, particularly the forest dwellers, have been using rattan since time immemorial. The use of rattan products is thus related to their social, economic, cultural and religious activities. Among the important species used in these activities are Calamus spp., Daemonorops spp., Korthalsia spp., and Plectomiopsis spp. Rattan is used as binding, weaving and supporting material for various household items as well as for food, medicinal and ceremonial purposes (Aye, 1988). Among the products made from rattan are baskets (for carrying fruits, food and fish), traps (for catching fish, civets, monkeys), house components (poles, walls and floors), utensils (darts, handles) and musical instruments. Fruits and cabbage of some rattans are consumed as food. Palm cabbage, usually eaten raw, has a medicinal function which cures coughs and stomach ailments. Leaves of rattan are believed to have magical powers to drive away evil spirits (Aye, 1988). Young shoots of Calamus exilis are eaten raw for treating influenza, coughs and throat irritation, while the juice obtained from stems of C. manan and C. ornatus are used for stomachache and diarrhea (Lim, 1992c).

Other than meeting subsistence needs, the sale of rattan is a major source of income for forest dwellers. Of the 106 species of rattan in, 8 genera identified in Peninsular Malaysia (Aminuddin and Abd. Latif, 1992), about 20 have commercial importance. The species that fetches the highest market price and is popularly demanded for furniture making, is C. manan. The commercial canes are treated and then used for making baskets, walking sticks, polo sticks, umbrella handles, furniture, carpet beaters, handles and other products. The forest dwellers, and villagers who live on the edge of forests harvest the raw canes for sale to middlemen.

Rattan collection

Practically all rattan is harvested from the natural forests in Malaysia as the establishment of rattan plantations and smallholdings is still in its infancy. Under Malaysian law, "all forest produce situating, lying, growing or having its origin within a permanent reserved forest or State land shall be the property of the State Authority except where the rights to such forest produce have been specifically disposed of in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other written law" (National Forestry Act 1984, Section 14). In the case of rattan harvesting, to obtain the right of harvesting, a person has to register with the Forestry Department as a contractor. The contractor is to apply for a licence from the State Authority as the law states that "No person shall remove any forest produce from any alienated land, land held under a temporary occupation licence, mining land or reserved land unless he is the holder of removal licence" (National Forestry Act 1984, Section 40, part 1). Licensees are to pay premium and royalties (decided by various state forest departments). They also have to contribute forest development assessments (i.e. 10 percent of royalty) for harvesting C. manan and C. caesius, the two most popular commercial species.

The actual task of rattan collection in Malaysia is undertaken normally by the aborigines in Peninsular Malaysia and the natives in Sabah and Sarawak. These aborigines (known locally as the "Orang Asli") totalled 83,000 people in 1990, while the natives in Sabah and Sarawak numbered 838,000 and 905,800 respectively in 1980. In total, they comprise about 17 percent of Malaysia population. A large proportion of these aborigines and natives are living within or near the forests. The communities have been given special privileges to harvest forest produce. Under the National Forestry Act 1984, a licence is not required for "any forest produce removed from any alienated land by any aborigine for any purpose" (Section 40, part 3). The State Director of Forestry may exempt from royalty "any forest produce and class of forest produce taken from any stateland or alienated land by any aborigine for the construction and repair of temporary huts on any land lawfully occupied by such aborigine; the maintenance of his fishing stakes and landing places; fuelwood or other domestic purposes; or the construction or maintenance of any work for the common benefit of the aborigines" (Section 62).

Traditionally dependent on the forests to meet their needs, the aborigines and natives remain the most important rattan collectors today. It is thus natural for a licensee to request these aborigines and natives to collect the rattan in a specific forest area. In practice, middlemen without licences also request villagers to harvest rattan. This occurs because, unlike logs, it is relatively easy for middlemen to smuggle rattan in vans or small lorries, part local checking stations where the royalty charges are calculated.

Rattan collection is an arduous task, which requires the collector to climb trees, cut the rattan free, gather the canes and carry them out of the forest. Selected species of rattan are cut near the base and then pulled down by strong tugs. Knives are used to remove the leaves and sheaths. When the rattan stem gets stuck, the collector must climb the tree to cut it loose before pulling it down. Normally, for each rattan harvesting trip, villagers form groups consisting of related and extended family members. Each trip normally lasts one day, but more days will be spent in the forest if the destination is far away. Harvesters bring along food and other necessities (such as cleavers).

A case study of rattan harvesting among the aborigines in three villages in Peninsular Malaysia illustrates the following interesting features of rattan harvesting (summarized in table 1):

1. Rattan harvesting is carried out either upon the middleman's request or in times when villagers are looking for cash.

2. It is normally done by a team of related villagers, usually headed by the village headman.

3. Rattan harvesting is usually carried out by male members in the local community.

4. A few females who are usually immediate family members (wives, sisters or daughters) of one of the team members may join the collection trip. Their role is primarily to carry food and provide company, rather than actual harvest of rattan.

5. Cash advances are normally obtained from middlemen before harvesting. The middleman is also important in providing financial assistance when the villagers are short of cash.

6. Rotan manau (C. manan) is the normal cane harvested as it fetches the highest market value compared to others.

7. Each member's share of rattan collected depends on the number of canes carried home by him even though all members helped to harvest the canes. An adult male normally carries 20-25 raw canes. Women and children, whose canes are added to the household total, receive their "shares," in the form of pocket money, from the household heads.

8. The price of rattan manau offered to villagers depends on the grade (size and quality) and the distance of the village from the main road. Larger diameter canes fetch a higher price than smaller canes. If a village is located relatively near to the main road, a higher price is offered as the middleman incurs a lower transportation cost.

9. Members also collect other forest produce during their harvesting trip.

Rattan harvesting is regarded as so important in the aboriginal economy that the aborigines describe the situation as "no rattan, no Orang Asli" (Kiew and Hood, 1990: 233). In fact, the importance of rattan to the Orang Asli economy may not be as great as often perceived by some, a point which will be shown later.

Nevertheless, rattan does play a special role in the Orang Asli economy. Rattan's important position in the aboriginal communities, compared with other local economic activities, may be explained by three reasons (Kiew and Hood, 1990). First, this is the only way for Orang Asli to obtain interest-free credit with assured repayment. This is important particularly when they need cash immediately in the event of sickness or preparing for village social, cultural or religious festivals. Availability of cash for immediate needs is important as the Orang Asli is one of the poorest groups in Malaysia. Second, rattan collecting provides alternative/additional employment and supplements household income. The Orang Asli practice shifting cultivation (especially the Temiar and Semelai) and harvest rattan during the "rest period," i.e. after the hill padi harvest and before the next clearance of land for cultivation. Those who depend on rubber tapping as the main source of income normally harvest rattan during the rainy days and winter period when no tapping is done. Third, rattan collecting can be carried out when other ways of earning a living are not available. Since rattan collecting involves arduous work, the Orang Asli will engage in other activities such as durian (Durio zibethinus) and petal (Parkia speciosa) fruit collection during fruiting season. Once the fruiting season is over and there is no other employment available, the Orang Asli will return to rattan collecting.

Table 1. Rattan harvesting in Tapah forest reserve, Malaysia, 1992


Musuh L.Z.

Sungai Bot

Sungai Rensak

Distance of village from main road (km)




Team leader




Team members

10 men, 2 women

18 men, 1 woman

8 men, 1 woman

Reason for harvesting

Requested by middleman

Planned by villagers who needed cash

Planned by villagers

Advance from middlemen

RM100 (US$ 40) Shared among team members depending on individuals' needs

4 members obtained a total of RM450 (US$ 180)


Departure time

6.00 a.m.

6.30 a.m.

7.00 a.m.

Mode of transport




Arrival at destination

9.05 a.m.

9.10 a.m.

9.00 a.m.

Rattan harvesting

9.30 a.m.-5.00 p.m.

9.20 a.m.- 12 noon

9.30 a.m.-12 noon

Sticks of rattan manan (2.7 meters per piece) harvested




Average price/stick

RM2.50 (US$ 1.00)

RM3 (US$ 1.20)


Total income

RM325 (US$ 130)

RM480 (US$ 192)

RM168 (US$ 67)

Income sharing

Depending on the number of canes carried by each member.

Depending on the number of canes carried by each member.

Depending on the number of canes carried by each member.

Average income received per member

RM27 (US$11.00)

RM 10 (US$4.00)

RM19 (US$7.60)

Other forest produce collected during the trip

Fruits, tortoise, fish for consumption

Forest fruits for consumption

Squirrel and porcupine for self-consumption


Rattan kept and sold within a month. Middleman deducted advance before making payment. Headman received RM50 (US$20) for organising the trips.

Rattan kept and sold within a month. Middlemen deducted advance before making payment.

Ratan kept and sold within a month.

Source: Unpublished field data.

Rattan marketing by villagers

Rattan marketing begins after harvest when the raw canes are transported to the main roads or to the villages. The canes are then sold to middlemen who transport the canes by lorries or vans, process them and sell -them to exporters or local factories for further processing.

It is important to note that rattan is normally sold to local middlemen and there is no direct selling by the collector to the final consumers. The entire marketing process involves the following stages:

Stage 1. After harvesting, the raw canes are transported and stored near roadsides or in the villages.

Stage 2. The canes are sold to middlemen. The prices offered are influenced by transport distance and the grade of rattan. Normally, the price of a mature stick of 2.7 meter manau cane is RM3 (US$ 1.20). A lower price is offered to the harvester if the storage site is relatively far away or the canes are of lower grades (table 2).

Stage 3. Oil curing, saw dusting and drying. To improve the appearance and finish of rattan products, the raw canes are processed by curing, i.e. boiling with a diesel/coconut oil mixture. This curing process has the following advantages: it removes the waxy or gummy/mucilageous substance for better appearance; it creates a golden yellow or white colour; and it rapidly reduces moisture. After oil curing, the canes go through the process of saw dusting which smoothes the canes and improves the glossiness of the surface. The canes are then sun-dried.

Stage 4. The dried canes are sold to manufacturers for making furniture and other cane products.

Stage 5. Rattan products are sold in local markets or/and exported.

Rattan processing and manufacturing industry

Rattan processing is one of the traditional forest-based industries meeting the needs of rural villagers. Traditionally, processing involves only manual work using little or no machinery. Forest dwellers are the earliest workers in this industry. They traditionally collected rattan from the forests and made into various tools for domestic and agricultural use. This type of rattan industry dwindled in importance over the years as modernisation came to the villages, bringing similar products made of plastic at reasonable and affordable prices. Nevertheless, in the remote areas, the use of rattan in making domestic and agricultural products can still be seen today.

Even though rattan had been traded as early as the third century A.D. (Lim 1992a), the development of rattan processing beyond the local household/village economy took place only after Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) achieved independence in 1957. From 1957 to 1986, there were limited attempts to develop a rattan processing industry in the country. However, Many wholesalers concentrated on the trade of semi-processed rattan rather than on whole rattan. The rattan furniture manufacturing industry could not develop further because local investors lacked government incentives, capital, a constant supply of rattan, and time to develop the products and find markets (Anon, 1987). Moreover, Taiwan and Singapore, both important rattan furniture exporters, had managed to capture a major portion of the world rattan furniture trade. As a result, there was limited progress in the local rattan furniture making industry.

More recently, the development of the rattan furniture industry has been affected by the actions of other rattan producing countries of rattan products. Thailand's 1978 ban on the export of all rattan materials except furniture, the Philippines' 1980 ban on the export of rattan poles and Indonesia's gradual moves to ban the export of rattan in 1976, 1986 and 1988 have affected Malaysia's rattan industry development (Manokaran 1989). Indonesia, supplier of 90 percent of the world's rattan, banned raw rattan exports in October 1986 to boost the development of its domestic manufacturing industry.

Table 2. Prices of 2.7-meter Calamus manan poles, 1992

Size (mm)


Unprocessed ex-farm price (USS/stick)

Processed (USS/stick)

































Note: Rattan's grade is affected by defects which determine the quality.
n.a. = not available.

Actions taken in other rattan producing countries have had two results. First, there was an increase in Malaysia's raw rattan exports for three consecutive years (19871990). Exports of whole rattan increased from US$ 2.3 million in 1986 to between US$ 14.3 million and US$ 16.6 million during the 1987-89 period. Secondly, Indonesia's action resulted in the Malaysian government giving more attention to the development of the local rattan processing industry. Reacting to Indonesia's move, Malaysia imposed a heavy tax of RM2,700 (US$ 1,080) per tonne on all types of unmanufactured rattan in 1988 and the subsequent ban on the export of rattan canes from Peninsular Malaysia in December 1989 (Abd. Latif 1989). Export duty of RM1,000 (US$ 250) per tonne for radan cane (not exceeding 12 mm in diameter) and rattan skins was also imposed. This appears to have been effective in encouraging the development of the domestic rattan manufacturing industry as more materials are now available for processing. Consequently, whole rattan exports fell to US$ 4.7 million in 1990 while rattan furniture exports increased from US$ 4.4 million in 1987 to over US$ 20 million after 1987. There was an increase in the number of rattan processing mills in the country from 120 in 1983 to about 700 in 1994 (table 3).

Most of the rattan mills in Malaysia are categorised as cottage enterprises and small-scale mills. Of the 600 rattan mills in Peninsular Malaysia, 276 (46 percent) are cottage enterprises, (less than US$ 100,000 capital investment and 50 workers or less), 204 (34 percent) are small-scale (up to US$ 200,000 capital investment and 75 workers or less) and the remaining 120 (20 percent) are medium- and large-scale factories (more than US$ 200,000 capital investment and more than 75 workers) (Razak, et al., 1989).

While the growth of the rattan processing and manufacturing industry is encouraging, the industry is currently facing two major problems. The first relates to the question of regular and sufficient supply of raw materials for further processing. Many mills have begun to complain of difficulty in obtaining adequate supplies of local raw rattan. Mills which previously obtained their raw material from one state are now beginning to source their materials from other states. Imports of cane are also increasing, from 847 tonnes in 1986, to more than 5,000 tonnes each year from 1987 onwards. In 1986, Malaysia imported US$ 404,048 worth of whole rattan. By 1993, import values reached US$ 6,234,177.

Table 3. Number of mills processing and manufacturing rattan furniture.


Number of mills

Estimated employment










Source: Ooi, 1983; Razak et al., 1989; Abd. Latif, 1994; Poh, 1991

The second problem faced by the industry is labour shortage. Development in Malaysia has reached a stage where local workers prefer to work in other modern manufacturing industries such as electronics, textiles, and food processing factories where they are often provided with good working conditions and lucrative salaries. A factory worker is given a free uniform, works in air-conditioned rooms and earns a minimum monthly income of US$ 240. The rattan processing and manufacturing mills generally have yet to provide such good conditions. As a last resort, many of these rattan mills have to depend on foreign workers such as Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Filipinos whose movement is difficult to control. Some mills complain that these foreign workers also hop from one mill to another in search of better benefits.

Contribution to the local and national economy

Rattan harvesting and processing has contributed much to the socio-economic development of the country. At the local level, rattan-related activities create employment and generate income. At the national level, income is generated for the various state forestry departments through the royalty collected. The government also benefits as the export of rattan products is becoming a more important source of foreign earning.


Employment created by the rattan industry can be categorised into two types, viz. harvesting and processing/manufacturing. Rattan collecting involves harvesters who are forest dwellers or who live near the forests. Harvesters are either full-time or part-time collectors involved in other economic activities. The Malayan Rattan Industry estimated that in 1987 there were 15,000 people employed in collecting rattan in Peninsular Malaysia alone. Employment estimates for this category of workers was reduced to 13,000 in 1990 (Kiew and Hood, 1990). In comparison, 67,372 workers were employed in the logging industry in 1 990.

The rattan processing industry provides a more stable form of employment to workers. It was estimated that employment in each of type of mill ranges from 4-5 persons (cottage enterprises), to 10-20 persons (small-scale factories) and 50-100 persons (medium and large mills). In total, all mills employed 16,120 people in 1989 (Poh, 1991), or an average of 27 persons per mill.

Income generation

The importance of rattan collection as a source of income can be observed from its position in the rural household economy. Kiew and Hood's study (1990) showed that of 14 aboriginal villages surveyed, 8 derived their main source of income from rattan collection. In the other 6 villages, rattan collection is an important source of supplementary income. The study indicated that the annual income received per worker was between RM750 (US$ 300) and RM4680 (US$ 1,872) for fulltime collectors and between RM400 (US$ 160) and RM600 (US$ 240) for part-time collectors. This means a full-time rattan collector is expected to receive an average monthly income of between RM63 (US$ 25) and RM390 (US$ 156). This income is less attractive in comparison with general workers in the agricultural sector who receive an average monthly income of approximately RM300 (US$ 120).

While recognising rattan as the main source of income for villagers who do not have better economic opportunities, rattan's contribution to the rural household economy may be less significant than expected. This is particularly true in cases where rattan resources are declining or where rural households have alternative sources of income. A 1990 study showed that cash income from rattan and income in kind (i.e. use of rattan for household need) accounted for only 1.5 percent (RM3 or US$ 1.2) and 0.1 percent (RM0.40 or US$ 0.16), respectively, of the average household income of RM284 (US$ 114) in a 20household aboriginal village (Lim, 1992 b).

Recent studies show that the importance of rattan in the household economy varies from village to village. Table 4 shows that the share of rattan to household income ranges between 0.2 percent and 14 percent.

Workers in the rattan processing and manufacturing industries earn a relatively higher and regular source of income. Table 5 provides information on the monthly income of workers. Income received by foreign workers is higher than those of local workers. This is because foreign workers, who are also provided with free lodging, are relatively more stable than local workers. Staying in the quarters provided enables and encourages the foreign workers to work more regularly. On the other hand, local workers sometimes refuse to work for various reasons and are relatively more mobile.

Royalties for forest departments

While rattan royalties rates differ among states, the average royalty rate for Calamus manan and Calamus caesius is RM20 (US$ 8) and RM0.10 (US$ 0.04) per 100 meters of cane, respectively.

Royalties collected from rattan form a substantial proportion of total NWFP royalty, i.e. between 8 percent and 23 percent for the 1981 - 1993 period. However, the share of total forestry royalties attributable to rattan is negligible, i.e. less than 1 percent for the same period (table 6).

Foreign exchange earning

With the banning of raw rattan exports in 1989 (except for the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak) and later restriction of partially processed rattan, there is now more incentive to produce value-added products domestically. Consequently, the value of rattan furniture exports increased sharply from US$ 4.5 million in 1987 to US$3 5 million in 1993 (table 7). Rattan products' share of total forest products exports also increased from 0.15 percent in 1980 to 0.93 percent in 1992 (table 7).

Table 4. Sources of average household income in three aboriginal villages, 1992-93.

Distance from main road:
No. of households surveyed:
Average monthly household income:

Kg. Batu 24/25, Jalan Pahang, Perak
15 (48% of total households)
US$ 200.80

Sources of monthly household income

(a) rattan (cash):
rattan (self-consumption):
(b) other forest produce (cash):
other forest produce (self-consumption):
(c) Salary and wage:

none US$ 0.40 (0.2%)
US$ 15.60(7.8%)
US$ 24.80 (12.4%)
US$160.00 (79.6%)

Distance from main road:
No. of households surveyed:
Average monthly household income:

Kg. Songkok, Selangor.
5 (71% of total households)
US$ 58.40

Sources of monthly household income:

(a) rattan (cash):
rattan (self-consumption):
(b) other forest produce (cash):
other forest produce (self-consumption):
(c) Salary and wage:

US$6.00 (10.3%)
US$23.60 (40.4%)
US$ 28.80 (49.3%)

Distance from main road:
No. of households surveyed:
Average monthly household income

Kg. Bukit Telaga, Pahang.
15 (100% of total households)
US$ 394,80

Sources of monthly household income

(a) rattan (cash)
rattan (self-consumption)
(b) other forest produce (cash)
other forest produce (self-consumption)
(c) Other cash

US$ 52.80 (13.4%)
US$ 1.20 (0.3%)
US$231.20 (58.6%)
US$72.40 (18.3%)
US$ 37.20 (9.4%)

Source: Unpublished field data.
Note: Cash income derived from other forest produce includes fruit (durian, petal) and material (bamboo, gaharu). Income in kind for self-consumption of other forest produce comprises durian, petal, bamboo, padi, vegetables, wild meat and fish, firewood, water supply and others. Other cash includes the sale of other fruits, wildlife meat and rubber. Salary and wage refers to cash income received from non-forestry sources.

Table 5. Monthly income of workers in two rattan manufacturing mills, 1994.

Type of workers

Average monthly income/worker (US$)

Local unskilled worker (male and female)


Local skilled worker (male)


Local skilled worker (female)




Foreign unskilled worker (male only)


Foreign skilled worker (male only)


Foreign production supervisor


Source: Field data.

Table 6. Peninsular Malaysia: royalty collected from rattan (US$).




Total forestry royalties

Proportion of NWFP royalties from rattan (percent)

Proportion of total forestry royalties from rattan (percent)















































































Source: Department of Forestry, Peninsular Malaysia.

Commercial cultivation

The development of the rattan harvesting, processing and manufacturing industry is closely related to the availability of resources. Before 1980 when resources were plentiful, little effort was made to plant rattan commercially. As the country's forest area was reduced, however, and rattan exploitation has intensified, rattan resources have declined significantly. Visits to rattan mills that rattan mills previously obtained their canes supplies from the same state where the mill was located, but by the 1990s supply had to be obtained from other states as well.

Table 7. Value of rattan exports from Malaysia, 1981-1993 (in US$ million).


Rattan whole

Rattan split

Rattan furniture

Total rattan exports

Total forest products exports

Proportion of total forest product exports from rattan (percent)



































































































Source: Department of Statistics, GOM (1992).
Note: Major timber products comprise sawlogs, sawntimber, plywood (inclusive blockboard and laminated board), veneer and moulding.

Envisaging that the future supply of rattan from the natural forests will not be sufficient to meet the needs of the expanding value-added rattan manufacturing industry, efforts are being made to plant rattan commercially. The initiative encourages government agencies and the private sector to plant rattan, based on feasibility studied showing internal rates of return of 13.4 percent and 14.8 percent at 10 and 12 years after planting, respectively. Gross income is estimated at US$ 1,343 to US$ 3,399 per hectare (Aminuddin et al., 1991; Nur Supardi & Abd. Latif, 1991).

Government planting efforts are being made in logged-over forest areas and rubber areas, i.e. smallholdings (less than 42 hectares) and estates (42 hectares and above). During 1980s, a total of 14,030 hectares of logged-over forests were planted with rattan (Table 8). By region, the planted area comprises 4,046 hectares in Peninsular Malaysia, 9,760 hectares in Sabah and 24 hectares in Sarawak. The main species of rattan planted is C. manan. In Peninsular Malaysia, this species accounts for 80 percent (3222 hectares) of the total planted area while the rest consists of C. caesius (813 hectares) and C trachycoleus (21 hectares). Under the sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-1995), the Forest Department of Peninsular Malaysia is to plant a total of 15,500 hectares of rattan (table 8) in logged-over forests (Poh, 1991).

The second effort made by the government is rattan planting in rubber smallholdings, particularly those Under the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA), the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) and the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FELCRA). During the 1980s, rattan intercropping was established on 1,584 hectares of rubber smallholdings in Malaysia (table 8). Under the Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-1995), the area planned for rattan planting includes 4,600 hectares by RISDA, and 2,000 hectares each by FELDA and FELCRA. In Sabah, the Sabah Forestry Development Authority (SAFODA) plans to establish 15,000 hectares during the same period.

In addition to the rattan planting of government agencies, the government also encourages and promotes rattan planting by the private sector. For the period 19911995, it was expected that 2,000 hectares of rattan would be planted by the private sector in Peninsular Malaysia alone (Poh 1991).

Table 8. Area planted and planned for rattan cultivation (hectares).

Planted area in Malaysia (1980-90)

Planned area Peninsular Malaysia
in (1991-95)

Logged-over forests



Rubber smallholdings



Private estates






Source: Poh (1991)

This target has actually been achieved much earlier. Three private companies alone have planted a total of about 4,000 hectares. Since government efforts to promote downstream processing industry and rattan planting in the 1980s, a total of 18,794 hectares of rattan has been planted by the private sector in forest areas and rubber estates.

Although a detailed evaluation has yet to be made on rattan planting programmes, indications are that planting in logged-over forests and private estates is more successful than in smallholdings. Under the Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-95), annual planting in logged-over forest is expected to increase from 1,403 hectares in the 1980-90 period to 3,100 hectares. The number of private companies engaging in rattan planting also is expected to and increase in the future.

Compared with the government agencies and private estates which invest in rattan planting on a relatively large scale, smallholders' participation has been much less successful. Initially, the government viewed RISDA, EELDA and FELCRA as the potential agencies to implement rattan planting on smallholdings. Among these three agencies, RISDA is the only one to actively promote rattan planting among rubber smallholders.

Under the Fifth Malaysia Plan, RISDA identified a total of 39,494 hectares of rubber smallholdings suitable for rattan intercropping. RISDA provides free seedlings (400/hectares) and fertiliser (4 bags/hectare) amounting to RM900 (US$ 360) per hectares. Between 1986 and 1990, 189 smallholders in Peninsular Malaysia participated in RISDA's rattan planting programme covering 518 hectares (Aminuddin et al, 1991).

Prospects for future development

To sustain the raw materials needed for the expanding rattan processing and manufacturing industry in the country, efforts in rattan planting need to be intensified. The private sector and smallholders need to play a more active role. Malaysia still has large areas of forest where rattan can be planted. Currently there are 1.8 million hectares of rubber estates and smallholdings. It has been estimated that if only 1 percent of all these areas were to be planted with rotan manau, Malaysia can easily become a major producer of the commodity (Amiduddin et al., 1991: 80).

Market forces have led to an increase in commercial rattan planting. The current outlook is good for the long-term development of the rattan industry which will likely require increasing amounts of raw materials for downstream processing. In view of the strong demand for rattan products in domestic and international markets, there is no reason for Malaysia to hesitate in enhancing investment in commercial rattan planting.

Recommendations for Rattan development

Future development of the rattan industry depends on rattan's value relative to other timber products and close substitutes. There is a general lack of information on the rattan trade and on consumers' attitudes and preferences for rattan products. At the local level, farmers do not have adequate knowledge regarding rattan planting. Better cooperation and collaboration among various agencies and institutions at the international, regional, national and local levels is also needed.

At the international level, FAO, with collaboration from producing agencies, should publish statistics regarding the rattan trade at both world and regional levels. These statistics should cover imports and exports of various rattan products. FAO has been supportive in terms of providing facilities, manpower and funding to support/sponsor workshops/seminars. This role needs to be intensified. In addition, FAO should develop recommendations on how to improve trade and utilisation of rattan. FAO's efforts should complement those of the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) whose programmes include information, training and technology transfer; production research (plantation and natural forest); genetic conservation; socio-economic research; and post-harvest technology.

The role of the Rattan Information Centre (RIC) and the Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) in disseminating information should also be expanded. The newly established Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) can also play an effective role in rattan research and information dissemination. These organisations should work closely with the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) which has strong agroforestry networks in Africa and plans to develop similar networks in Asia and Latin America (Sayer, 1994).

At the national level, rattan development requires long-term planning. Databases have to be established to organize scattered information. Research and development needs to be intensified in priority areas. Greatter understanding of what motivates smallholders and the private sector to plant rattan is also needed.


The development of the rattan industry must be viewed from the perspectives of future demand for rattan products and possible sources of supply. As world population increases, the demand for rattan can be expected to increase. On the production side, population increase, agricultural land expansion, industrialisation and other development activities will lead to further reduction of world forest areas. This means a likely fall in the production of natural forest resources, including rattan. However, if large-scale rattan commercial planting is carried out by severed countries at the same time, the possibility of a glut in the market cannot be ruled out.

As far as Malaysia is concerned, future development of the rattan industry has to be planned within the context of national development while taking into consideration world demand and supply of rattan products. While rattan products may have a bright future, their potential socio-economic contribution to the nation's development is relatively less significant compared to timber products. It is national policy to gradually integrate the forest dwellers and those living on the edge of forests into national development through various programmes, especially educational attainment. Thus, while rattan is regarded as important to local livelihood, its future development must focus on the economic value derived and not its links to social and cultural livelihood. In this regard, encouraging rubber smallholders to plant rattan is a wise move as the supplementary income received is expected to improve their living standards.

Sustainable production of rattan resources is essential for the development of the rattan industry in Malaysia. Resources are getting scarce in the midst of industrial expansion. Concerted effort is needed to plant rattan commercially. Some encouraging progress has been made by the public sector and the private companies while more extension work is needed to promote rubber smallholders' participation. With systematic planning and implementation, Malaysia can expect to increase its share of the international rattan trade.


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The beauty of rattan is striking in both nature and finished products.

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