Monday, August 12, 2013

Our First Training in Pante Kera: A Community Affair

The first training in the village of Pante Kera at the end of July was by all accounts a rousing success.  We now have 24 beneficiary farmers—all women.  Also participating were community members (some who were actually men) who were not cocoa farmers but who wanted to learn more about best agriculture practices, “green” farming, organic composting, and pest control for their own benefit.

Women cocoa farmers and community members receiveinformation about the week's activities, plus are given an overview of the entire project and how the rest of the trainings will build upon previous ones, eventually discussing farmer/production plant relationships, the value chain, marketing, and expanding/formalizing the association.

An interesting thing that JMD staff did this time was to create a “pre-test” that combined a little bit of reading skills with a lot of hands on demonstration.  Mahyaruddin, JMD’s trainer for this first of 8 trainings was a guy we came to know very well in 2009 when he did an integrated farming training in Simpang Jernih.  The participants really liked his openness, his informal style, and the fact that he devoted a lot of time to answering even the tiniest question that farmers had. 
Farmers took much of the pre-test in the demo field, reading and answeromg questions related to cocoa production.  The questions were multiple choice and farmers put a cocoa bean in the corresponding "answer cup."
 Frankly, that was one of the things I was worried about: when any agency, even a local one, does a project in a rural and isolated area that’s received no prior outside assistance, there’s the tendency for a kind of subtle “us and them” relationship to develop—not consciously, of course, but based on everyday practice, education levels, etc.  For people who are not trained as teachers but as agriculture extensionists, getting a basically shy, insecure population to come out of its collective shell and show their best, most competent selves can be tricky.  Deference and the need to please gets in the way of meaningful dialogue, and what you end up with is a bunch of yes-men (or women, in this case) telling the trainer what they think he wants to hear.
But our trainer and our Field Officer Robert did a great job of making sure everyone felt included and important. 
The trainer helps a participant understand how to use/fill out one of the course documents

Everyone had questions--even the kids!

The 3-day long training covered a wide variety of topics including pruning, pest control, proper bagging of the cocoa, etc., and because of unforeseen travel difficulties (that blasted river) everyone worked to cram 5 days’ worth of information into three longer days—and no one dropped out, with many walking 3-5k to the training every day.  JMD adjusted its budget a bit to be able to hold the next 5-day training twice, in 2 locations over a 2-week period.  That way, farmers don’t have to travel as far . . . and if they want to, they certainly can attend both trainings!

Pruning practice--cocoa farming is traditionall a man's job due to the labor involved--having the right tools are essential to good production.

Between this training and the next one (September) all our new beneficiaries will be given a set of tools that will allow them to harvest, prune, collect, dry and ferment their beans.  Cocoa harvest is behind schedule this year, but we’re told it will be coming up shortly, and our Field Officer is taking some baseline data so we can measure what these Pante Kera farmers are starting out with (which is not much!) and what they are producing in 36 months.
A course participant evaluates the training (and the trainer)
Obviously I am thrilled that the initial phase of this project is going so well.  But we are realizing, here in the US and in Banda Aceh, that there is another very important component of the project that we have not yet addressed—and that in fact most aid agencies do not address thoroughly, and that is the question of how to measure sustainability when one does not understand thoroughly the social ad demographic makeup of a particular region.  We can say this or that project is sustainable because of the internal controls and training we have provided, but when you really think about it, sustainability is in the hands of the next generation.  And in Aceh Timur, as in much of Aceh, not a lot is known about those young men and women who were children or babies during the bloody and devastating civil war—what their daily lives are like, what their hopes are, whether they want to escape the cocoa farm and the province and never look back, whether they do escape and have so few skills they can’t survive elsewhere, whether they are coaxed/coerced into criminal or destructive  behavior . . . we know so little.  And this is what’s important to know, if you want to make a project sustainable.  So I’m going to be musing about that in a day or so, because as they say in The Music Man, “you gotta know the territory.”

 I hope everyone had a restful and joyous Eid al Feitr.

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