Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Organic fertilizer made from local materials: you think it’d be an easy sell . . . .we’ll see

JMD is about to start its second cocoa cultivation improvement training under the Finnish Embassy’s Local Cooperation Fund 3-year grant.  This will be a great training for farmers and community members in the riverside villages of Simpang Jernih and Pante Kera.  Since Pante Kera is the newest community in which JMD is working, we decided to hold the first training there, and our intrepid Simpang Jernih farmers made the trek across the river each day. We realized that this was rather a hardship for these women, and took away from valuable training time, so JMD decided to offer the training twice this time, first in Pante Kera and then, after the weekend, in Simpang Jernih.  We’re hoping that people will come to both, and we may get our wish since this is such an important issue: the creation and application of organic fertilizer made completely from materials grown and naturally occurring in the area.  The two villages, while close together, have some marked differences regarding what’s growing where—Pante Kera, for example, is home to many more water buffalo than Simpang Jernih, meaning a LOT more available nitrogen and . . . well . . . quantity of raw materials.

I mean, look at this guy.

That’s a lotta organic fertilizer!

Anyway, one of the things that JMD will be doing is assessing what types of things can grow best in each area that are the best for organic fertilizer (soy, peanuts, etc.) plus materials with sulfur content, and all the crop and food detritus that comes from a household.  Originally we had thought that farmers would want to use a mechanized thresher to grind up all the materials but we learned after a year that they really preferred a manual method, even making as much as would be needed to fertilize up to 1HA (2.5 acres) of trees.  So JMD has been altering the plan to suit the specific wishes of the community; we put the money received for threshers into what are basically weedwackers, one of the few power tools that they really adore in Aceh Timur, and so useful around cocoa trees for keeping weeds down and pests off.  During this training farmers will also learn how to make liquid fertilizer that they can spray on the plants as a pesticide.  Some farmers are reporting a 75% loss of beans from pests; we hope to reduce this significantly by the end of the project.

Just because the materials are plentiful and cost next to nothing does not mean that farmers will rush to take this idea to their bosoms.  Those farmers who have in the past used fertilizer buy it, and it is a chemical mix.  It’s fast, lightweight, and no one has (in recent memory) used organic fertilizer, at least in a mixture that appropriately blends the right concentrations of the needed ingredients.  So the training will focus not only on how to make the stuff, but the real, tangible benefits of doing so, so that farmers will a) want to fertilize, and b) want to do it so that it doesn’t hurt the forest.  But saving money is the first carrot. It’s hard to think about esoteric matters like environmental protection and helping the world’s oxygen supply when your kids go to bed hungry and a flood has just taken away all your possessions for the 6th time in as many years.

Staff just completed a very thorough (and very depressing) baseline survey that showed that the majority of farmers in Pante Kera had received no assistance, ever, from the provincial or national government by way of tools, training, or support in making cocoa economically viable.  Many women were using regular scissors and dull hunting knives to do whatever pruning they thought should be done, but really had never had any training in it. 

The government did, however, plant several small 2-5HA plots of .(wait for it) rubber trees in Pante Kera, as part of their “reforesting” initiative.  Hmmmm . . . I wonder where they got the idea that this was an environmentally appropriate and helpful crop?  Could it have been from the palm and rubber companies up the road? Remember in my previous post I spoke of the Bumitama company in palm oil-strangled Kalimantan—its representative said he could not understand why their workers/indentured farmers did not take advantage of all the wonderful things the company had done for them—like all those rubber trees they’d planted for them to tend . . .

Even though cocoa farming is generations old here, remember that the last generation was wiped out by the conflict, and for 30 years there has been no one to teach, no one to be taught, and nowhere to show how to conduct good farming.

The cocoa fruit is growing now, and farmers are getting ready to harvest, so the fertilizer will be applied after the harvest; now is a perfect time to learn how to make organic fertilizer, and all community members can benefit.  Whose garden does not need a little assistance?  Staff and the trainer are expecting about 30 participants in each training, which include all our farmer beneficiaries.  I told them to take lots of photos.

Here is a group of some of our newest farmer beneficiaries in their fields.

We’re going to try and get them to smile for the cameras during this next training, but as I know very well, the Acehnese have not had very much to smile about lately.

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