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A place called Pulau Burung

The main research ground of Tay Juhana Foundation located within a plantation that lies in Pulau Burung District, Indragiri Hilir Regency, on the eastern coast of Riau Province, Indonesia.

This plantation is maintained by a local private company, PT Riau Sakti United Plantations (PT RSUP) under Sambu Group, as a hybrid coconut (Cocos nucifera) plantation since 1985. Part of the plantation has also been converted into pineapple farm since the early 1990s.

Beyond the plantation area, Pulau Burung enable us to observe a larger interaction of the ecosystem’s components. The important stakeholder here includes smallholder coconut farmers who resides in 14 villages under the district.

Pulau Burung Map

The Water Management Trinity

Pulau Burung’s suboptimal land is the overlap of flatland, lowland, wetland, and peatland. In managing land with peat characteristic, water management becomes the most important aspect to ensure the sustainability.

In his days, our founder worked on a water management system to address the challenge from the suboptimal land. The soil is highly porous that allows too much water seepage and excessive evaporation which become more serious during the dry seasons. The Water Management Trinity (WMT) was then established for capturing and keeping freshwater as a resource, instead of letting it leave back to the ocean.

The combination of a high precipitation rate (over 2,500mm/year), the existence of Bukit Barisan in western Sumatra, and the low and flat characteristics of our lands, made this land a highly potential area to capture and store freshwater. The WMT comprises of three main components (i.e. the Canals, the Dams and Water Gates, and the Dikes) which supports the three aspects of sustainability. It is still being used until now and has been acknowledged as first of its kind in the world.

The Canals
Our man-made canals consist of the primary, secondary, and tertiary canals that add up to more than 8,000 km in total. It made available more than 25 million m3 volume of freshwater all year round. These canals hold four main functions:
1. Water retention/reservoir
2. Fire mitigation
3. Freshwater supply for all purposes
4.Transportation of people and the harvested crops.
The Dams and Watergate
Their integral role is basically to act as the water level regulator as well as the locus of control of water retention. The gates control water distribution to individual areas and ensure adequate supply of water at certain levels is consistently maintained.
The Dikes
The dikes are maintained periodically with differing frequencies which depend on the age. Its design follows specific formulation which enables them to withstand the pressure better and last much longer. Our dikes are built all around the area where they hold important containment function to separate the seawater and freshwater and to effectively manage the water level.
Crop Growth
The principal function of WMT is to enable crop growth in peatland while conserving the main ecosystem of peatland itself. Dragonfruit is one of food crops that is proved to grow very well in the area.
Waterways as Transportation
In Pulau Burung, the main transportation is through water canals. It is more efficient and effective to bring goods and people via waterways compared to land roads. The road network between villages is not all connected and it only accommodates 2-wheel vehicles.
Houses on stilts
Peat soil has a spongelike character which made them very fond of water. For a building in such peatland regions, stilts are important to make the struture robust. Many houses in Pulau Burung are built on stilts, with some houses have poles visible above soil surface and some fully submerged underground.

Environmentally, the WMT is evident to enable our lands to be fire proof. It ensures our lands to receive the amount of water needed to keep the soil moisturized while slows down subsidence and abrasion as the dikes and water gates minimize the rain to simply erode the top soil.

The WMT also ensures the provision of freshwater supply, that is a vital for regulating all economic activities in the vicinity, including the agricultural development, industrial operation, and human survival. Consequently, it creates direct and indirect employment opportunities. It reflects the social commitment that adds to the environmental and economic functions.

These impacts of WMT supports the idea that cultivating suboptimal land is more viable in a long run compared to expanding arable land in a habitable or densely-populated area. The process may require higher initial investments for making the land less acidic and building basic infrastructures. However, afterward, it produces a better quality of arable land and requires less maintenance expenditure in the long run.


In doing our research, we often collaborate with the competent staffs of PT RSUP’s Research and Advisory Laboratory. Besides researching the WMT and its impacts, we are experimenting some projects to study and observe the feasibility of various crops to be cultivated in this type of land. Besides, the interdependence of all stakeholders and surrounding ecosystem components also offer broad themes of research for the betterment to our food and agriculture systems.

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