Fruits of labor: Limited access to quality fruit tree seedlings could hamper rehabilitation efforts in Aceh

Pidie farmers_DurianFarmers in Aceh, Indonesia who are now trying to rehabilitate their gardens – in which they grow fruit trees, rubber and cocoa under mixed agroforestry systems – are struggling to access quality planting material.

A new study published in the journal Acta Horticulturae has found that nurseries in Aceh cannot supply fruit tree seedlings of the quality and quantity needed to meet demand, and looks to measures that can be taken to improve farmer access and knowledge about improved germplasm.

“There is enormous potential for fruit production in Aceh to improve livelihoods,” outlines Endri Martini, Agroforestry Extension Specialist and lead author of the study. “But it is only those farmers who are better-off who can afford to purchase good quality seedlings of popular fruit trees such as mango, orange, rambutan, durian, mangosteen and snakefruit.”

Prior to the December 2004 tsunami which devastated the province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and a period of intense civil conflict that followed, perennial horticultural systems and tree crop agribusiness played an important role in the region, supplying Banda Aceh, Medan and other areas with areca nuts, durian and citrus fruits. In 2004, agriculture contributed 25 per cent to Aceh’s Gross Regional Domestic Product.

The tsunami destroyed the region’s infrastructure and the ensuing conflict restricted access by many farmers to their gardens, making them less productive.

Now, assisted by post-tsunami and post-conflict aid, smallholder farmers are once again looking to earn income from local resources. With local farmers producing most of the fruit found in village markets, and prices on the rise, there is mounting interest in planting fruit trees.

“If these farmers are to successfully rehabilitate their gardens to become productive, they need access to good quality seedlings of superior species,” explains Martini. “This would ensure tree productivity and have a positive impact on livelihoods.”

The study identified 45 fruit seedling nurseries in the province but only 3 of these were producing improved seedlings themselves. Most of the quality seedlings were coming from Medan in North Sumatra and too expensive for the average Aceh farmer to purchase. Instead, these farmers either produce their own seedlings of uncertain quality or purchase lower quality seedlings. “This directly affects yields and may require greater labour, fertilizer and other inputs,” says Martini.

For the study, Martini and colleagues conducted an inventory of fruit germplasm resources, both indigenous and introduced cultivars. They focused their efforts on areas most affected by the tsunami (Aceh Barat, Aceh Jaya, Pidie and Banda Aceh) and the area supplying commodities to tsunami-affected regions (i.e. Medan in North Sumatra). They also looked at the demand for tree seedlings in Aceh.

The findings indicate that improved fruit tree germplasm is relatively abundant in North Sumatra with around half of the seedlings produced by 13 commercial nursery operators in North Sumatra being sold to Aceh. However in Aceh itself, the tsunami and conflict have impeded the development of improved germplasm.

Improving germplasm quality can be initiated by selecting quality mother trees, followed up by detail observation and laboratory experiments. In Indonesia, the Bureau of Seed Control and Certification (Badan Pengawasan dan Sertifikasi Benih or BPSB) is responsible for developing mechanisms to improve fruit tree and vegetable germplasm.

In Aceh province, Balai Pengawasan dan Sertifikasi Benih (BPSB or the government institution for fruit planting material certification and monitoring) and Dinas Pertanian (the district agriculture department) have mapped sources of superior mother trees of unique fruit species/cultivars in each district. However, smallholder farmers in Aceh seem to have limited access to the superior species/cultivars released by BPSB.

Farmers in Aceh have a long history of establishing tree nurseries to supply them with seedlings for their planting programs but they have limited experience in producing superior species/cultivars through vegetative propagation.

Martini and colleagues believe there needs to be greater transfer of knowledge from research centres and the BPSB to farmers so that they can enhance their capacity in vegetative propagation.

The study also recommends local government support be provided to farmers in accessing fruit germplasm resources. In Binjai district, North Sumatra, this has successfully occurred through the establishment of a budwood garden of rambutan ‘Brahrang’ by the local government. Farmers are able to access high quality rambutan seedlings and better run nurseries as a main source of income.

Download the full study (with subscription):

Martini E, Roshetko JM, Purnomosidhi P, Tarigan J, Idris N and Zulfadhli T. (2013). Fruit Germplasm Resources and Demands for Smallscale Farmers Post-Tsunami and Conflicts in Aceh, Indonesia. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 975:657-664'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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