Konjac is a native plant of Indonesia which has long been known and used by local communities. This article generally discusses the technical aspect and the economic value especially konjac’s export feature as well as policy support to develop this agricultural commodity in the country. Konjac is generally classified as a secondary plant, and grows on an intercropping pattern under forest stands or in the shade of community forests and shrubs. The cultivation of this plant including its processing has not yet been well-developed. The majority of farmers merely harvest konjac that grows wild under tree stands or around the forest and mostly sells in the form of fresh tubers and partially processed as dried konjac (chips). Recently, the volume and value of exports of konjac increased significantly as a promising agricultural commodity of Indonesia. In order to develop konjac, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture has compiled a roadmap of this commodity for 2020-2024 comprising of the plant’s cultivation up to its downstream channels and its final products. The development of Indonesian konjac should be manageably organized in line with providing the guidance of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) through downstreaming agribusiness aspects, involving investors, and promoting export based on the requirements of destination country administration.
Keywords: Konjac, agriculture, export, Indonesia
Konjac (Amorphophalus muelleri Blume) is classified as tuber crops that can grow in tropical and sub-tropical regions. This crop is also known konyaku potato, voodoo lily, snake palm, or elephant yam. In Indonesia, konjac is often called as porang. As a high biodiversity country, konjac grows throughout Indonesia, particularly in the regions of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara (MoA, 2020a). It is a native plant of the country (Indonesian konjac) which has long been known and used by local communities. Nevertheless, the cultivation of this crop including its processing has not yet been well-developed. The majority of farmers merely harvest konjac that grows wild under tree stands or around the forest and are mostly sold in the form of fresh tubers and partially processed to dried konjac (chips).
Interestingly, the domestication of konjac can be found in Java where it is widely grown by farmers in the surrounding forests and their yards (Dwiyono and Djauhari, 2019). It was noted that konjac was initially cultivated in Klangon village, Madiun regency, East Java province in the 1970s. Chronologically, in 1975, konjac was introduced as profitable crop to the community. At that time, many people attempted to exploit the crop which grows wild in the forest area. Due to konjac’s decreasing supply over time while the market demand was still on a wide prospect; therefore, in 1984, the community tried to cultivate konjac in the forest land of the State-owned Forestry Company (Perhutani). The first harvest was carried out in 1987. Since 2001, a joint Community Forest Management Program (PHBM) has been initiated and in 2005 a collaboration agreement was signed between Perhutani and the Rural Forest Community Institution (LMDH) in the presence of a notary public towards implementing the cultivation of konjac in the respected area (Saleh et al, 2015 and Dermoredjo et al, 2020).
Recently, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) develops konjac particularly in the provinces of North Sumatra, South Sulawesi, and East Java. It is strategically implemented towards fulfilling the demand of konjac, particularly from the international market. The highest demand is from China due to the emergence of industries in this country such as konjac gum and food beverage companies (Anonymous, 2021; Srzednicki and Borompichaichartkul, 2020). Hence, the development of Indonesian konjac is quite promising to enhance agricultural commodity export of Indonesia. It is in line with the priority program of MoA to triple the value of agriculture export in 2024.
This article aims to present an overview of the existing konjac development in Indonesia, particularly those that are related to the export perspective. It discusses the general information about konjac including its technical aspect and economic value especially its export potential, followed by the development policy for this agricultural commodity in the country.
GENERAL INFORMATION OF INDONESIAN KONJAC
Technical aspect of Indonesian konjac
There are approximately 170 types of konjac which are typical lowland plants that grow in tropical and sub-tropical climates from West Africa to the Pacific islands, including Indonesia. According to Saleh et al. (2015), the dominant types of konjac in Indonesia are Amorphophallus muelleri Blume, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius Nicolson, and Amorphophallus variabilis Blume. The development of konjac in Indonesia more focused on Amorphophallus muelleri Blume type (MoA, 2020a). Those types of konjac have been widely planted by people in Indonesia since its tubers contain a lot of starch.
In Indonesia, konjac is generally classified as a secondary plant, it grows on an intercropping pattern under forest stands or in the shade of community forests and shrubs such as teak, rosewood, and mahogany plants. Recently, a monocropping pattern is also implemented. There are some technical requirements to optimally cultivate konjac (Table 1).
The growing period of konjac in Indonesia is illustrated in Figure 1. This plant can grow up to three years depending upon the type of seed. The population density ranges from 20,000 to 60,000 per hectare in accordance with planting space of cropping pattern. It will grow tubers for 5-6 months during rainy season every year. Harvesting time is generally from July to September, while beyond that period the konjac is dormant (DGFC, 2020).
Technically, problems that have been experienced by farmers in cultivation of konjac can be divided into four categories related to its growing condition, harvesting period, productivity level, and product quality (Santoso, 2015 and Anggreany, 2020). They are:
- Growing condition: konjac is relatively easy to grow; however, there is a need for certain requirements for good konjac cultivation. It is related to such growing conditions including climate and environmental circumstances, land preparation, seed tuber management, maintenance, and harvest/postharvest techniques.
- Harvest: konjac can be harvested in 1-2 years after planting, in which it produces large tubers weighing more than one kilogram per tuber, while small tubers must be harvested in the following consecutive period up to three-years without replanting. Consequently, it remains that the harvest waiting period is fairly long.
- Productivity: konjac can be either propagated through vegetative or generative methods which only needs to be planted once. The quantity and quality of seed tuber used per unit area depends on its type and planting space. Since the extent of maintenance is quite low, the productivity level would be less optimum.
- Quality: the cultivation of konjac requires special maintenance. If it were not treated optimally, the level of glucomannan content would be low. To obtain the maximum growth and production, intensive treatment can be carried out, such as clearing weeds that may be competitors in terms of the need for water and nutrients as well as fertilizing when first planted as basic fertilization followed by subsequent fertilization once a year at the beginning of the rainy season.
As an annual herbaceous wild plant, konjac produces tubers containing glucomannan that has many benefits in various food and pharmaceutical industries and has high economic value. The processing of konjac is mainly carried out to obtain its glucomannan components. Konjac products that are commonly processed and marketed from fresh tubers are chips, flours, and glucomannans.
The crude konjac flour contains glucomannan (49-60%), starch (10-30%), protein (5-14%), sugar (3-5%), ash (3.4-5.3%), fiber (2-5%), and the rest are fat and vitamins. According to Saleh et al (2015), there are certain utilizations of konjac, namely:
- Konjac flour can be used as a raw material/food mixture which must meet the international food grade standard. To fulfill this requirement, crude konjac flour must be purified, either mechanically, chemically, or enzymatically.
- Konjac flour is utilized for various purposes, including functional food, animal feed, water binders, thickening agents, coagulants or gels, and diet foods that are low in fat and calories, especially due to its high solubility of glucomannan.
- The purified konjac glucomannan is even widely used in various food products. It has been approved as a food additive and a binding agent in meat products. The glucomannan is also used in industries such as raw materials for glue/paper adhesives, waterproof coatings, paints, tablet fillers, water purifiers, microorganism growth media, celluloid, electrical insulation, negative films, and cosmetics.
With a population of 60,000 plants per hectare, konjac can produce 40 tons of fresh tubers. This plant can be harvested at 1-2 years after planting with the tuber size of about 0.8 kilogram per unit (Saleh et al, 2015). The product of konjac is generally in the forms of fresh, dried (chips), konjac flour, and pure glucomannan flour (Santoso, 2015). Farmers predominantly produce fresh konjac and the rest is dried konjac (chips). Meanwhile, konjac and pure glucomannan flours are commonly produced by factories (industrial processing unit).
Economic value of Indonesian konjac
The supply chain of konjac can be simply illustrated in Figure 2. There are certain players involved namely farmers, collectors, traders, factories, and exporters (Arafia et al, 2020 and Dermoredjo et al, 2020). It was noted that, the price of konjac was quite different among its classification products. They are: (1) fresh konjac (US$ 0.86/kg); (2) dried konjac or chips (US$ 4.29/kg); (3) konjac flour (US$ 17.86/kg); and (4) pure glucomannan flour (can reach US$ 85.71/kg). Meanwhile, the price of konjac seed tuber (bulbil) is about US$ 12.14 per kilogram (Anonymous, 2019). Thus, there is an opportunity for farmers to generate income through improving the production of konjac in Indonesia.
With regard to export feature, during the last four-years (2017-2020), the total volume and value of Indonesian konjac exports was 8,075 tons and US$ 27.65 million, respectively (Table 2). In other words, the volume and value exports increased significantly about 72.10% and 168.52%. This indicates that konjac is a promising agricultural commodity export of the country.
During 2019 to 2020, the annual export volume of Indonesian konjac was 3,613 tons in 2019 and 2,406 tons in 2020 (Figure 2). The majority was exported to China (71.58%), followed by Vietnam (27.02%) and other countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Cambodia, and Bangladesh (1.40%). Total value of konjac export from Indonesia was about US$ 13.39 million in 2019 and US$ 10.23 million in 2020 (Table 3). It was noted that monthly exports in 2020 were peaked in April (growing season) and were very low in November 2020 (right after harvest season). This is due increased demand from countries such as China, Vietnam, and Japan. Conversely, in November 2020 there were increasing interest of konjac cultivation affected the scarcity of seeds towards decreasing monthly export of the country.
DEVELOPMENT POLICY OF KONJAC
Initially, the Indonesian konjac was managed under the Ministry of Forestry. Since 2020, this crop has been included as a commodity target of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), especially the Directorate General of Food Crops regulated under the Decree of Agricultural Minister Number 104/2020 on Commodities Guided by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA, 2020a).
The development of konjac is strategically implemented in Indonesia. This is supported by certain opportunities in terms of technical, sociocultural, and ecological aspects (Table 4). Those aspects; however, must be supported by infrastructure and facilities particularly the availability of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, tools and machineries) and farm road.
The Indonesian MoA has compiled a roadmap of konjac for 2020-2024 which comprises of the following: cultivation of the crop; and downstream channels of its products (DGFC, 2020). In terms of cultivation, total baseline area of konjac in 2020 is about 20,000 hectares with a production of 366,000 tons. In 2024, the total area would be targeted at 65,000 hectares with a production of 1,189,500 tons. The locations include: (1) North Sumatra province (1 district) covering an area of 1,300 hectares; (2) South Sulawesi province (6 districts) covering an area of 39,130 hectares; and (3) East Java province (11 districts) covering an area of 24,570 hectares. The roadmap of konjac production area development in Indonesia is presented in Table 5. In line with downstream products, konjac will be developed into dried chips and glucomannan flour. The former includes starch and fiber products, while the latter comprises of food and food products (Figure 3).
To support the development of konjac in Indonesia, the MoA has released a new superior variety namely Madiun 1 through the Decree of the Minister of Agriculture Number 906/2020 (MoA, 2020b). The type and description of this variety is shown in Table 6.
In order to develop konjac production and its export value, the Indonesian MoA through the Directorate General of Food Crops focuses on partnership scheme, in which the source of fund is predominantly derived from investors, self-reliant entities, and business loans for people (KUR). Meanwhile, the state budget only allocates to finance seeds and processing quality improvements. At least it includes: (1) Implementing direct guidance program in 10 provinces; (2) Facilitating existing konjac cultivation partnership by providing guidance; (3) Attempting and encouraging support from investors in the provision of on-farm and off-farm capital; and (4) Connecting investors through partnerships scheme towards domestic industries and promoting export to destination countries (DGFC, 2020 and Dermoredjo et al, 2020).
The strategy for fulfilling the export requirements of konjac for exporter include: (1) continuing production and quality; (2) implementing off-taker partnership; and (3) providing production inputs (DGFC, 2020). Moreover, there are certain requirements for export of this commodity related to domestic administration and country destination requirements (Table 7).
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Konjac is a new Indonesian agricultural commodity with a wide prospect, along with increasing international demand. The export quantity and value of Indonesian konjac has increased significantly in a couple of the years. However, the technical aspects related to cultivation and processing of konjac is not well developed. The cultivation is more concentrated in existing central producing areas, while processing lacks the basic standard requirements.
The development of konjac is quite imperative in Indonesia, which is not only to expand the cultivation area but also to improve product processing. There is a need to fulfill the quality standard required by the international market, particularly in the form of konjac chips and flours. Hence, this commodity should be manageably organized in line with downstreaming agribusiness aspect includes on-farm and off-farm activities. The guidance of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) including technical assistance must be provided to farmers. Apart from that, it is required that there should be the participation of related stakeholders particularly investors. There is also a need of the export promotion based-destination country administrations supporting the development of konjac in Indonesia. The continuity of konjac development should be maintained in both the on-farm and downstream segments of konjac’s value chain.
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 Glucomannan is a dietary fiber hydro colloidal polysaccharide isolated from the tubers of konjac. Over the last few decades, the purified glucomannan has been offered as a food additive as well as a dietary supplement in many countries. Also, a diet containing konjac flour is considered as healthier, and these foods are popular in many Asian and European markets (Davaraj et al, 2019).
 As a food ingredient, konjac flour can be processed into konyaku (similar to tofu) and shirataki (in the form of noodles) which are quite popular and relatively expensive in Japan, China, and Taiwan. In Indonesia, konjac flour can be used as a composite material in making artificial rice and instant noodles. It is also as an ice cream stabilizer to improve its texture, a gelling agent so that it has the opportunity to replace borax which is risky to health, and as a binder in mixing chicken sausage (Wang and Johnson, 2003; Yuwono, 2010; Kalsum, 2012; Haryani and Hargono, 2008; Anggraeni et al, 2014; and Ika, 2011 in Saleh et al, 2015).