Thursday, June 26, 2014

The cocoa's flowering again!

While the Presidential campaign continues to astonish both foreigners and Indonesians alike with its pandering, double-speak, and charge/counter-charge/counter-counter charge, most people in the provinces are quietly trying to go about the business of keeping body and soul together and taking care of their families.   The unspoken, or maybe murmured, refrain of the general population seems to be “And the choice we have is those two?  Really??”

So we will leave the candidates to their slimy machinations today, and take the 13 hour road trip and then 5-hour boat trip to Simpang Jernih subdistrict, where 24 farmers in two communities are trying to make the cocoa flowering season as productive as it can be.

The beach along the river separating Simpang Jernih village from Pante Kera village
 Town dock, Simpang Jernih :)
The last time the cocoa flowered was in late March/early April, when journalist Michael Bachelard visited Aceh to speak to ex-combatants about the legislative elections.  As you will remember, a cocoa flower is a beautiful thing.

But cocoa farming is not for sissies.  Even the large plantations face a host of problems, from monkeys and wild pigs constantly eating and damaging the pods, to the pollination process itself, which happens on only 2% of all cocoa flowers—if farmers are lucky!  

Midges (small flies) and bats are the only things that will pollinate the flowers and turn them into fruit.  And midges live in the rainforest so will not travel very far out of it—that is why there are so few flowers that get pollinated (only 3 out of every 1,000 flowers gets pollinated) The object is to keep the flowers on the trees for as long as possible, before they drop off.  Here is where the home-made organic fertilizer comes in, which the women spray on the trees, to give those flies and bats a fighting chance.  
Getting the ingredients together

Turning it into mush

The final product, ready to spray: a fertilizer and bad-pest pesticide all in one.

Small, "wilder" plantations like those in Simpang Jernih are becoming more popular because they encourage an "exchange" with the rainforest and its flies and bats.  So the type of farming that JMD is encouraging is actually producing more cocoa per HA than big plantations, because the big farms go far away from the forest and the flies don't travel that far.

So let’s hear it for the flies and bats, and for cocoa farmers, who Robert says are still hanging on here in their ancestral villages only because “they really love cocoa farming.”  The continual destruction of the forest for palm oil (far easier to grow, and completely destructive to the ecosystem) insures that the difficult, methodical and symbiotic practice of cocoa farming will soon be extinct in Indonesia.  One, or both, of these presidential candidates better wise up.  Or they will presiding over a vast, sterile desert.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
--Shelley, Ozymandius

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