Four years after a land-rehabilitation project ended, farmers continue to improve their livelihoods and restore land to productivity, says Robert Finlayson
The province of Aceh, on Indonesia’s westernmost tip, was the scene of a decades-long conflict between an independence movement and the Government that was brought to an abrupt halt with the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 26 December 2004. More than 170 000 people were killed and thousands of hectares of coastal land were lost as the seabed dropped and the sea inundated the land. This further exacerbated the insecure supply of food that had been caused by farmers fleeing from the conflict areas. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2005, losses included 48% of rice land, 75% of upland agricultural systems, 59% of tree crops and 67% of livestock.
While the priority in the first couple of years after the tsunami was the reconstruction of essential infrastructure, such as roads, housing and power stations, aid and development agencies were also soon trying to ensure that farmers could once again work the land productively.
To achieve this, the Canadian International Development Agency collaborated with the World Agroforestry Centre on a project called Nurseries of Excellence (NOEL) from 2007 to 2009. Scientists and technicians from the Centre worked in the districts of Pidie, Pidie Raya, Aceh Jaya and Aceh Barat with farmers and local government officers. They trained more than 5000 farmers, of whom about a third were women, in how to establish and manage tree nurseries for rehabilitating land abandoned during the conflict. More than 300 000 rubber, 72 000 cacao, 129 000 fruit and 31 000 fertilizer tree seedlings were produced and planted on farmers’ and public land.
Four years after the project ended, we returned to interview farmers on video about its impact.
‘I was trained in nursery seedling propagation, root-stock care and grafting’, said Mr Hamdan, the leader of a farmers’ group that now runs a successful nursery business thanks to the training and support they received from NOEL.
The group grows rubber, cocoa and fruit tree seedlings, which they sell to other farmers and to government planting schemes. NOEL helped them register as suppliers of quality seedlings and they continue to be the proud holders of a Tanda Registrasi Usaha Pembibitan (TRUP) certificate from the Aceh provincial government, which they first received in March 2010. Mr Hamdan renewed the TRUP in May 2013. Their seedlings are much sought-after because of their reputation of being hardier and more productive than those from other suppliers.
‘This is a classic example of the importance of quality germplasm’, said Dr James M. Roshetko, the former leader of the NOEL project and a senior scientist with the Centre’s Southeast Asia Program and Winrock International. ‘Farmers want trees that will produce both quantity and quality products. To achieve that, high-quality seedlings are needed along with proper management. That was the whole point of establishing ‘nurseries of excellence’’.
Before the NOEL project there were only a few functioning nurseries. When tree-planting schemes were implemented by government or development agencies, seedlings were brought from Medan, North Sumatra, by truck. The long journey resulted in damage to the seedlings, further weakening them and reducing the number available for planting. Purchasing seedlings in Medan also deprived Acehnese communities of the opportunity to develop skills and earn money by producing the seedlings themselves.
Centre staff also trained more than 60 farmers as specialist trainers, who shared what they learnt with other farmers, creating a ‘snowball’ effect that increased the knowledge of thousands of farmers and their ability to make their land more productive and sustainable.
‘The knowledge NOEL gave us, especially in the Bayu Sepakat farmers’ group, has spread widely’, said Mr Usman, one of the continuing trainers. ‘Thanks to the experience we received from NOEL we not only sell seedlings but we also share knowledge as a form of gift or bonus when they buy from us. The bonus is the knowledge of grafting, planting, pruning and so on.’
With the trees and new knowledge, the farmers rehabilitated the land that had been abandoned during the conflict.
‘Our land before was like “sleeping land”’, said Ms Tarikat, leader of a farmers’ group, who explained that it wasn’t safe to leave their village because of the conflict. Once the fighting had stopped, however, she could return to farming. ‘With help from NOEL, I was able to plant rubber and cocoa on half a hectare’.
‘We can now see productive agroforestry systems on land that was previously idle’, said Dr Roshetko. ‘Some are already beginning to bear fruit or produce latex or other products. Those systems will do so for many years to come. It’s great to see that farmers continue to benefit from what we taught them and are able to build better lives for themselves’.
Watch the videos
This project links to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry