A NOEL approach to rehabilitating Aceh’s smallholder agroforestry systems

As a result of the 2004 tsunami and decades of civil conflict many communities in Aceh, Indonesia have lost vital experience and capacity in tree management. Rolled out in 2007, the Nurseries of Excellence (NOEL) Program has enabled farmers to produce high quality germplasm, advanced tree garden management skills, and improved market awareness. In a paper published in Acta Horticulturae, Roshetko et al summarize the NOEL Program—its approach, activities and impacts. As a result of the program, farmer capacity has been greatly enhanced and a network of 50 nurseries established, catering to the species and seedling quantity priorities of partners.

Aceh, the northern- and western-most province of Indonesia, covers an area of 57,000 km2 and has a population of just over 4 million. Household economies are based on rice production for household consumption, fisheries for income generation, and tree crops for both income generation and household needs. In West Aceh tree crops provide 60% of household incomes. Across the province, smallholders cultivate mixed tree crop systems under non-intensive management. Key species are rubber, cacao, coconut, pinang and fruit species.

Participants at a NOEL nursery establishment and management training course.

Participants at a NOEL nursery establishment and management training course.

The tsunami of 2004 had catastrophic effects in Aceh. Approximately 200,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced. Local economies were devastated and many Acehnese communities lost vital capacity and experience in tree garden management. A generation of young farmers was not mentored by skilled elders. As a result, current tree management practices are non-intensive and farmer access to quality tree germplasm, professional technical assistance and market linkages is limited.Efforts towards livelihood enhancement and land rehabilitation began in 2007, but many of the aid agencies in Aceh lacked staff and experience and information related to tree garden management. Most nurseries in Aceh did not produce seedlings. They purchased them from outside the province for resale in Aceh, which means resources used to buy and transport seedlings are not available for local investment. The quality of the purchased seedlings was often poor and damage occured during transportation. Poor seedling quality leads to poor post-planting survival and performance.

It was important to help farmers produce high-quality germplasm, improve tree garden management skills, and enhance their market awareness. The Rehabilitation of Agricultural Systems in Aceh—“Developing Nurseries of Excellence (NOEL)” Program, implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Winrock International aspired to do exactly that. The program aimed to improve agroforestry-based livelihoods and tree gardens through the use of productive tree crops produced in community-based “nurseries of excellence”.  Working with smallholder production systems to boost the productivity and sustainability of forestry and agroforestry, and increase incomes in forested areas, is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.

Implemented in Aceh Barat, Aceh Jaya and Pidie districts, NOEL facilitated the access of smallholders—both men and women—to high-quality planting materials, and trained them to establish and operate tree nurseries and tree gardens. Initiated in April 2007, NOEL operated through March 2009. Program activities included: introductory nursery training, bi-weekly follow-up, intensive vegetative propagation training, technical consultations, cross-visits, market studies, nursery development and demonstration plot establishment. The name “Nurseries of Excellence” indicates a strong focus on the quality of seedlings.

NOEL partners included farmer groups, dayahs (community Islamic organizations), non-government organizations (NGOs), international development organizations (INGOs), universities and local technical agencies.

What did the NOEL program achieve? In just 18 months, 178 capacity-building events have been conducted, training 3,582 partners. Across all NOEL activities, the involvement of women exceeded 30%. Fifty “nurseries of excellence” were established, 32 by program partners and 18 “susulan” (spontaneous) nurseries by stakeholders who were inspired by the success of NOEL. Over 400,000 seedlings have been produced. There is a 92% success rate in nursery establishment—in huge contrast to many post-tsunami, pre-NOEL community nurseries were farmer groups were provided short nursery training, but no follow-up technical support, as a result of which the nurseries ceased to function or operated at very low levels.

The NOEL farmer extension approach demonstrates that a program of training, intensive follow-up extension, and material support can facilitate the successful development of farmer technical capacity, community tree nurseries, and related infrastructure—even with partners previously unfamiliar with tree nursery operations. Supporting susulan partners further expands program impact. The NOEL approach can effectively be replicated in other sites in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, where land rehabilitation and community livelihoods enhancement are key objectives.

Download the full journal article.

Read a related article and watch videos about the NOEL Program.  

Roshetko JM, Idris N, Purnomosidhi P, Zulfadhli T, Tarigan J. 2013. Farmer extension approach to rehabilitate smallholder fruit agroforestry systems: the “Nurseries of excellence (NOEL)” program in Aceh, Indonesia Acta Horticulturae (ISHS) 975: 649-656


Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on r.selvarajah@cgiar.org

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