Wednesday, 27 September 2017

ACIAR supporting women farmers in Aceh

“ACIAR support is like a yeast,” says Ibu Nazariah.  “It’s a catalyst for the development of women farmers in Aceh.”

The representative from the Balai Pengkajian Teknologi Pertanian (BPTP, “Centre for Agricultural Technology Assessment”) was speaking at a network development showcase for those women farmers held in Bireuën, Aceh, in September. 

Group picture of KWT forum

Just as yeast makes bread rise, so ACIAR, working with its partner BPTP, has improved farmers’ lives in this impoverished, largely rural region of Indonesia.

Since 2009, they have helped women form Kelompok Wanita Tani, KWTs for short (lit. “Group of Women Farmers”).  These groups support the women to grow vegetables and other crops for income, and work closely with extension staff to provide capacity building activities such as farming, training, and women in agriculture forums.

Members of KWT Jeumpa Putih posing with their green soybean

Aceh has rebuilt its infrastructure after the devastating tsunami of 2004 that killed 130,000 people, but rural poverty, poor soil fertility, and lack of water make it difficult to improve agriculture.  Many villagers face food shortages, and a Melbourne University health study found that 25% of children were malnourished.

ACIAR began working in the region with male farmers in 2007.  Since then, agricultural yields have significantly increased, and zero till, skip row, and biochar technologies have helped to rehabilitate soils.  By growing and selling soybeans and corn, farmers have been able to purchase material for fences, and cattle whose manure fertilizes the crops.

Demonstration in making organic fertilizer.
Members of 32 KWTs from four regencies – Aceh Besar, West Aceh, Pidie, and Bireuën – attended the showcase, set up as part of ACIAR project SMCN/2012/103, which develops integrated soil, water and crop management practices for increasing the cost-effective production of crops in rotation, using farmer participatory trials.

“This event is really important because it is a meeting point for farmers,” said Dr. Malem McLeod, the Australian project leader.  “The 32 KWTs run independently without communicating with each other.  This is a good chance for them to learn, exchange information, and build networks.”

Dr. McLeod discussing project with extension staff.

The participants visited the Blang Badeh site, Bireuën, to see and share their knowledge of farming practices.  The Bireuën KWT, Kasih Ibu, farms have the most members and the biggest site of any that attended from the four regencies.  The KWT was formed by Mr. M. Nur Abdullah, who saw that large tracts of land owned by the local government were unused, and could be used to grow vegetables.

By encouraging women to grow vegetables in their gardens or in the surrounding unused land, Mr Abdullah hoped they would be given a purpose that wouldhelp them to rebuild their community and recover from the grief of losing their loved ones in the tsunami.  Now, more than ten years after the project began, women farmers can provide food for both their family and their neighbours, and sell produce in markets.  From growing vegetables, a farmer can generate an extra 50,000 ($3.74 US) to 70,000 ($5.23 US) rupiah a day.

Mrs. Nazariah noticed that the KWTs had improved the women’s confidence.  “They were really shy, but now farmers are able to speak in the forum and discussions.  And of course, women are now skilled in farming, whereas they used not to know about growing vegetables or making organic fertilizer.  They are very active and enthusiastic, which is really good.”

Ibu Nazariah - Project Co-ordinator

Ibu Ismayani, head of the KWT Jeumpa Putih in Beuradeun, Aceh Besar, agrees.  Working with other women farmers in the field is precious to her.  She doesn’t just get extra income, but she bonds with other women, and gains confidence, knowledge – and free stress therapy.

“We move our bodies,” she says; “we’re not just sitting down all day, but we plough, we plant, we clean the grass. Farming is a beneficial work out!”

Ibu Ismayani, head of KWT Jeumpa Putih, with celery
The ACIAR project ends next year, but the KWTs are negotiating with local government (including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Food Sustainability) to support their groups after funding ends.

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