Banjarmasin, S Kalimantan (ANTARA) - The Meratus Mountains are known for their profuse variety of fruits. The area that was designated as a national geopark in 2018 is home to many endemic fruits that can only be found in Kalimantan.

However, these exotic fruits have almost been forgotten by the locals, and dozens of them have been put on the list of threatened varieties.

Even Kasturi (Mangifera casturi), the mascot of South Kalimantan flora, has been declared extinct in the wild by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Driven by the concern that many of these unique fruits are little known by the public, a civil servant, Muhammad Hanif Wicaksono, almost a decade ago, started to collect and breed the rare fruits in his nursery Tunas Meratus in Kandangan, South Hulu Sungai district, South Kalimantan.

"In this nursery, we try to conserve the endemic fruits of Kalimantan. Fruits play an important role as food sources, not only for humans but also wild animals. The extinction of these fruits will disturb the ecosystem, some animals may become extinct, too," he said.

In the nursery, Hanif has collected more than 200 Kalimantan fruit species, including 11 species of the durian family, 18 species of the jackfruit family, and 7 species of the mangosteen family.

Some of the fruits have a unique taste. Bangkinang, for instance, belongs to the jackfruit family, but unlike other fruits from the family, it tastes like orange.

Lahung from the durian family has red skin. It tastes sweet but emanates the scent of "telon" oil (Cajuput oil for babies).

There are also tampirik (Willughbeia sp), a species that has an orange-sorbet-like taste, and bindang (Borassodendron borneense), a family of coconuts with sweet and soft flesh.

Hanif, who is a counselor with the National Family Planning Agency (BKKBN), had to use his personal funds to run the nursery, which was built with the help of the South Kalimantan Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology (AIAT).

So far, Hanif has worked alone to manage the nursery and 2.6 hectares of land, which was lent by his friend to be used as an arboretum two years ago.

The arboretum is targeted to collect mother plants of rare fruits. "Just in case we cannot find one in the wild," he said.

In the arboretum, he has planted around a thousand fruit plants of more than 100 varieties and 200 bamboo plants of some 40 species.

"I manage this arboretum all by myself. With my own money. I got the land from a friend who has the same concern on conservation," Hanif said, adding that his goal is to save, introduce, and cultivate the native fruits of Kalimantan.

"Sometimes, when I don't have money, I let these wild grass and weed to grow in the arboretum," he added.


One of Kalimantan's endemic fruits, known by local residents as Landur. (ANTARA/HO-Hanif W)

Meratus geopark biodiversity

The Meratus Mountains were formed by a collision of two continents some 90 million to 180 million years ago and rose from 6 thousand meters below sea level to an elevation of a thousand meters above sea level.

This geological dynamic formed South Kalimantan's highlands, most of which are tropical rain forests, in addition to lowlands, a large portion of which are peatland areas.

Since the formation of the highlands, birds have come to the new land and unintentionally spread fruit seeds from other regions.

"That's why we can find a vast variety of flora and also fauna in Meratus, including fruits," a geologist from the University of Pembangunan Nasional (UPN) Veteran, Jatmika Setiawan, said.

Hanif's decade-long dedication to fruits has attracted the attention of the authorities. In 2019, the government awarded him Kalpataru, an award for individuals or groups who devote their life to preserving the environment.

Before that, in 2018, he received the SATU Indonesia Awards from PT Astra International for his dedication to preserving endemic fruits.

His tireless efforts to preserve the rare fruits of Kalimantan have also received support from the Management Agency of the Meratus Geopark (BP Geopark Meratus).

"We fully support him (Hanif). He has shown the real work to preserve the biodiversity in Meratus Geopark," BP Geopark Meratus' head Nurul Fajar Desira said.

Fajar said that Hanif's work on saving the rare fruits is in line with the geopark’s aim to preserve the geodiversity, biodiversity, and cultural diversity in the area, three main features of a geopark that are tied to one another and have their own stories.

Meratus Mountains got the national geopark status in 2018. The designation of Meratus as a national geopark is expected to encourage people to take part in conservation efforts in the area.

It is also expected to raise people's awareness about the abundant natural wealth in their own backyards, which they can benefit from.

Currently, the agency is preparing to get the geopark declared as a UNESCO Global Geopark (UGG). With the global status, the international community will also monitor the conservation of Meratus Mountains.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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