Maize farmers convert to agroforestry

Farmers in Gorontalo, Indonesia are turning to agroforestry as a solution to the increasingly long dry seasons that have devastated their maize crops. New techniques are being taught by the World Agroforestry Centre.

Up until a few years ago, farm life in the Indonesian province of Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi had a routine annual schedule with regular daily activities that revolved around growing and harvesting maize. The crop was the main source of livelihoods for the majority of Gorontalo’s farmers, who make up two-thirds of the province’s 1.5 million people.

The prolonged dry season in 2015 that has affected most parts of Indonesia hit hard in Gorontalo. With no rain for 90 days at the time of writing and none on the horizon, the maize crop has failed, farmers have no incomes and water for domestic purposes is being delivered to households by the local government.

In this situation, the World Agroforestry Centre’s project, Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi: Linking Knowledge to Action (AgFor), is offering hope to farmers through training in agroforestry. AgFor is funded 2012–2016 by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. After establishing itself in South and Southeast Sulawesi, operations in Gorontalo began in early 2014. The project received a warm welcome, with workshops about nurseries, management of commodity crops and agroforestry being attended enthusiastically by farmers and government officials alike.

Failed maize crop. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Amy Lumban Gaol

Failed maize crop. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Amy Lumban Gaol

‘It really is a big help for me to know more about agroforestry’, said Mr Abdullah Ali, a farmer in the village of Ayumolingo. ‘Through AgFor, I have been taught how to establish a seedling nursery, produce organic fertilisers and make a propagator. Now we are at the stage of preparing our mixed tree garden. I used to plant only maize without any plan. Now, I have hope for additional income from my garden. I can sell some crops, like coconut and chili, directly to the market without involving a trader’.

The District Government of Boalemo had earlier recognised the dangers of farmers focusing only on maize and had distributed cocoa seedlings a few years ago under the Million Cocoa Program (Program Sejuta Kakao). However, the distribution of the seeds wasn’t accompanied by information on how to correctly plant and maintain the crop and so the results were not satisfactory.

More than 1000 farmers in 12 villages have participated in AgFor’s training in nursery management and tree propagation, with the close involvement of the provincial government, including staff of the provincial secretary’s office, Regional Development Planning Agency (Badan Pembangunan dan Perencanaan Daerah/Bappeda), Department of Agriculture and Department of Forestry.

‘We have been implementing a different approach in each village because each has different characteristics’, said Mr Duman Wau, AgFor coordinator in Gorontalo. ‘For example, in Boalemo District where most of the community is new to agroforestry, we have held many training sessions and workshops about nurseries and organic fertilizers as well as distributing quality germplasm [seeds and seedlings]. But in Dulamayo Village, our approach is different because agroforests are already present although not well implemented’.

Mr Ali watering his seedlings. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Amy Lumban Gaol

Mr Ali watering his seedlings. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Amy Lumban Gaol

Agroforestry itself in Gorontalo is not new. In one of the oldest districts in the province, Dulamayo, most people have mixed gardens that provide harvests throughout the year. The gardens typically consist of at least three commodity crops grown with hazelnut, banana, papaya, cocoa, clove, durian and nutmeg. Walking along the village’s streets, you see many different trees in people’s home gardens but creating their own nurseries is something new for the community, who are used to buying seedlings rather than producing their own.

‘It never crossed my mind previously to have a nursery’, said Mr Ardin from South Dulamayo. ‘But I decided to make one of my own because I have experienced many benefits from being part of AgFor’s nursery group. Planting with proper knowledge taught by the AgFor staff through training workshops has shown good results and great harvests. I just have to apply this knowledge in my private nursery. I grow clove and cocoa seedlings because they are easy to produce and bring profitable sales’.

Rumbia Village is again different from the others and requires a different approach by AgFor staff. As part of the Remote Indigenous Communities (KAT) program, the village receives special support from the government, including housing.

‘I never knew that agroforestry could be so very useful’, said Mr Harmain Bilatulah, the head of the farmers’ group in Rumbia. ‘I have received a lot of knowledge through AgFor about seedlings, planting, digging holes of the correct size and keeping the right spacing between plants. I tried once to plant clove seeds but they failed because I didn’t have the knowledge I have now’.

AgFor staff will continue to work with the farmers of Gorontalo, sharing new knowledge and encouraging them to share with other farmers throughout the province so that their food supply and incomes can be more secure than when they only grew maize.

Blog by Amy Gaol


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AgFor Sulawesi is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry'

Amy Lumban Gaol

Amy Lumban Gaol is the World Agroforestry Centre’s Communications Coordinator for the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor) project based in Makassar, Indonesia. She coordinates an integrated communications strategy within the three provinces where AgFor is working (South and Southeast Sulawesi and Gorontalo), including video production, writing stories and promoting AgFor through various media. Her interests include photography, social media and humanitarian activity.

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