Thursday, January 22, 2015

Despite the floods, cocoa farmers are hanging in there

JMD’s director Junaidi went to Simpang Jernih to do some project monitoring . . . just as the worst of the rain and floods hit Aceh Timur.  We always tease Junaidi that he would rather be in the wilderness having an adventure than stuck behind a desk in Banda Aceh, but on this trip he got more than he bargained for.

He sent me this video that Robert took of  him In a motorized skiff; they finally convinced the skiff owner to take them across the river to see the other beneficiaries.  Although the river looks relatively flat, if you look closely you will see that that is a very rough and wild current.  That boat owner was nowhere to be found when they were ready to come back.  The chicken.

Which makes me a little mad—it’s a tough crowd over there in the rainforest.  This community has been hard hit many times.  First of course by the 30-year conflict that displaced nearly everyone, and then again in 2009 with an immense flood that wiped out practically the entire village, forcing people to move a little further up the mountain.  Our first integrated agriculture project there in 2009, actually, was completely washed away.
So the type of community spirit that you expect to see in a rural area like this is still lacking.  JMD staff have had other NGO workers and district officials say to them, “You work in that sub-district?  That’s the place that no one wants to work!” People still are not too trusting of each other, and “working for the common good” has never been a phrase that has benefitted any of them.  This is quite frustrating to the local leader (the Camat) who is growing happier by the day that JMD is there to do some community development and encourage the women farmers, at least, to seek strength in unity.
And by golly, they have.

Even with torrential rains and broken boats and cowardly skiff operators, the farmers’ association managed to save all but about 200 seedlings in their nurseries from either drowning or mold—so now between the two nurseries we still have 3,000 (very hardy) seedlings, almost ready to graft.

And if that weren’t good news enough, the neighboring village of Batu Sumbang has 3 farmers who want to join the association!  Hopefully we will be able to get some funding from one of the donors we’re applying to, so we can supply these new farmers with harvest and maintenance tools as well as nursery equipment.  With 600 trees per HA being an ideal amount, and with most farmers currently only having 200 or 300 trees, we just can’t have too many new cocoa seedlings! 

 (this photo courtesy of Michael Bachelard)

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